A-levels vs BTECs: which should you take?
Thinking about taking A-levels or BTECs, or a mixture of both? Both offer paths to university, or into work. To help you decide, the qualifications are going head-to-head...
What do you want to do later?If you don't know the answer to this question, don't worry; you don't have to rush into a decision now. But if you do have a rough idea or some possibilities you'd like to keep open, this could play a significant factor in whether you choose to take A-levels or BTECs.
If there is a hands-on aspect to the field you want to pursue, BTECs are worth considering as a real alternative to the traditional A-level path. This is because they tend to offer more practical opportunities in a particular field. something which might appeal more and actually be rather useful depending on the subject. A-levels tend to be more theory-based and lacking in actual practical skills. This is where BTEC students may flourish in their application.
Which is more flexible?So you're halfway through your A-levels or BTECs and you change your mind about what you want to do next – it'spossible, right? Could you easily switch direction if you wanted to?
While BTECs are quite flexible in that they come in different sizes and levels, they can be quite specific in their focus. As a result, they can pigeonhole you later on.
If you’re not sure about what you want to do, the A-level route might be a safer choice; this way you can study a few different subjects which interest you now, including some facilitating subjects to keep your options open.
Searching for a university course? See what A-level and BTEC requirements you need to satisfy.
What do universities think?The old way of thinking was that universities preferred A-levels over BTECs because A-levels were more “academic” whereas BTECs involved more practical elements. While this perception has changed somewhat and BTECs are publicised when a university states their entry requirements, there is still a slight bias towards A-levels:
That said, in 2015 over one quarter of students accepted into higher education had at least one BTEC. Although this is still a small proportion of all uni applicants, the figure continues to grow each year (the previous year it was 14%). Even elite universities like Oxford and Cambridge state that they accept BTECs.
However we would always recommend checking with a university first regarding their entry requirements to a course:
How do you learn best?
A-levels are taught in roughly the same manner, with theory being the main focus. There are some differences e.g. classes are smaller, with an emphasis on open discussions and independent study.
On the other hand, with BTECs you apply the theory to actual practical projects. This can be utterly refreshing, especially if you learn best by actually “doing” rather than simply reading about a subject.
- works at 40-50% of full effort from September to mid/late-November
- works at 80-100% of full effort from November - winter tests
- works at 40-50% of full effort from January to mid/late-March or Easter
- works at 80-100% of full effort from late March - summer tests
- works at 60-70% of full effort from September - June
BTECs need a consistent work rate throughout the year; A-levels students tend to do the required school work then hit a sudden spike in extra study when approaching the exam period.
How do you handle exams?Everyone approaches exams differently. Some students ace them, making up where they may have lacked the rest of the year; others struggle, whether it’s retaining all that knowledge or the intimidating exam environment itself (and this includes even the A-students).
A-levels are assessed through end-of-year exams. As of this year, AS grades will no longer shape your final A-level grades which means your Year 13 exams will decide everything (mostly). If you feel confident placing all your eggs in one basket, then go for A-levels.
Meanwhile, BTECs are assessed regularly throughout the year through coursework and projects. This way, you spread out the work which shapes your final grade, relieving yourself of this exam-pressure. Plus you can better track your progress and have an idea of your final grade as you progress.
- Worried about exams? Check out our revision help and advice.
Don’t be distracted by the fanfareYou hear a lot about A-level results day each August: morning television, newspapers, messages on social media….if you’re a BTEC student, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little underappreciated when you’ve worked just as hard!
However try to focus on what is right for you; it is your life after all! Don't be pressured into following the rest of the flock.
Read more about A-level choices, or learn more about the Ucas application process if university is your ultimate goal.