The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic qualification, generally taken in a number of subjects by pupils in secondary education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each GCSE qualification is in a particular subject, and stands alone, but a suite of such qualifications (or their equivalents) are generally accepted as the record of achievement at the age of 16, in place of a leaving certificate or baccalaureate qualification in other territories
Studies for GCSE examinations generally take place over a period of two or three academic years (depending upon the subject, school, and exam board), starting in Year 9 or Year 10 for the majority of students, with examinations being sat at the end of Year 11.
GCSEs are awarded on a graded scale, and cross two levels of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF): Level 1 and Level 2. These two levels roughly correspond, respectively, to foundation and higher tier in tiered GCSE qualifications. Level 1 qualifications constitute GCSEs at grades G, F, E, and D or 1, 2, and 3. Level 2 qualifications are those at grades C, B, A, and A* or 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.
The General Certificate of Secondary Education Advanced Level (GCE A Level) is one of the world’s most recognised qualifications, leading students to direct university entry. To obtain this qualification, students undertake a 2 year course normally starting at the age of 16. Apart from acquiring knowledge in particular subjects, the course also helps the students to develop important skills such as problem solving and project management.
Normally, students take between 3 and 5 A Levels in their first year of sixth form, and most cut back to 3 in their second year. This is because university offers are normally based on 3 A Levels. Unlike other level 3 qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate, A Levels have no specific subject requirements, so students have the opportunity to combine any subjects they wish to take. However, students normally pick their courses based on the degree they wish to pursue at university: most degrees require specific A Levels for entry, such as A Level Mathematics for a Mathematics degree.