What are BTECs?

Person writing the word BTEC
Find out what a BTEC level 3 qualification is, including the options available, how you’ll be taught and assessed, and how to choose a good school or college for your BTEC.

BTECs are vocational qualifications that relate to specific career areas. You can take them in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not in Scotland, and they are available at different levels.

In this article we’re concentrating on BTEC Nationals, which you may be considering as an alternative to A levels. BTEC Nationals are taught in some schools’ sixth forms, and in further education colleges.

  • If you want help deciding between BTEC Nationals and A levels, or to find out whether BTECs are accepted by universities, read A levels or BTEC – which should I take?
  • To hear first-hand experiences of taking a BTEC, take a look at our profile of Nia Johns, who studied for a BTEC level 3 Extended Diploma in sport and exercise science.

Types of BTEC level 3 qualifications

Depending on how much studying you want to do and if you plan to take other qualifications alongside a BTEC National, you could choose one of the following common options:

  • A BTEC level 3 National Extended Diploma, which is equivalent to three A levels
  • A BTEC level 3 National Diploma, which is equivalent to two A levels
  • A BTEC level 3 National Extended Certificate, which is equivalent to one A level.

Each of the above is divided into units, which cover different topics. The number of these you study will depend on whether you take the Extended Diploma, Diploma or Extended Certificate. However, not all schools and colleges offer all three options, so in practice you may have less choice. The Extended Diploma and the Diploma are more commonly offered than the Extended Certificate.

There are also a couple of other BTEC level 3 qualifications that you may occasionally come across. The BTEC level 3 National Certificate includes a relatively small number of units and is roughly equivalent to an AS level. The BTEC Foundation Diploma is available at both level 3 and level 4 and is sometimes used for art and design courses, or (at level 3) as the first year of an Extended Diploma course. However, in this article we’re concentrating on the Extended Diploma, Diploma and Extended Certificate.

What does BTEC stand for?

In case you’re wondering, BTEC stands for Business and Technology Education Council – this was the body that first awarded these qualifications. They’re now provided by Pearson.

BTEC subjects

Subjects that you can take a BTEC National in include:

  • agriculture
  • animal management
  • applied human biology
  • applied science
  • applied psychology
  • applied law
  • art and design
  • business
  • children’s play, learning and development
  • computing
  • construction
  • countryside management
  • creative digital media production
  • engineering
  • enterprise and entrepreneurship
  • equine management
  • forestry and arboriculture
  • forensic and criminal investigation
  • health and social care
  • horticulture
  • information technology
  • music
  • music technology
  • performing arts
  • sport
  • sport and exercise science
  • travel and tourism
  • uniformed protective service.

How BTEC level 3 Nationals are taught and assessed

Unlike GCSEs or A levels, there’s no big exam at the end of your course. Instead, you’ll be assessed regularly and awarded marks towards your final grade.

  • As well as classroom learning, you’ll complete several work placements.
  • You’ll have a number of coursework assignments that combine theory with what you’ve learned on your placements.
  • For some BTEC courses you’ll have practical or written tests as you go along.

How to choose the right school or college for your BTEC

There are some important questions to ask when choosing the right school or college for a BTEC. Here’s what you and your parents should be looking at.

  • Is the teacher BTEC-trained? Pearson, the awarding body for BTECs, runs training courses for those who teach or want to teach BTEC courses, so check if the teacher(s) has been on one.
  • Does the teacher have a degree (or other high-level qualification) in a relevant subject? Sometimes teachers are asked to teach subjects that aren’t their main specialism. This isn’t necessarily a problem in terms of teaching the curriculum, but it’s worth looking into if you want to be taught by a specialist with wide-ranging subject knowledge.
  • Is the BTEC timetabled separately from A levels? Ask whether your classes will be just for BTEC students, rather than the school or college trying to teach BTEC and A level students together.
  • What links are there with local businesses for placements? Make sure that the school or college has strong links with employers who are willing to provide work placements, as these are a key part of the BTEC. Ask for actual examples of who the employers are and what previous students have done there.
  • What do current students think? Speak to those already on the course to find out whether they like the way they are being taught and assessed, and what placements they have done. The school or college’s open days should provide plenty of opportunities to speak to current students – be suspicious if they don’t!

Can you do a BTEC and A levels at the same time?

Some students choose to combine BTEC Nationals with A levels. Whether you’re able to do this will typically depend on whether you take an Extended Diploma, Diploma or Extended Certificate – the more units you’re studying for your BTEC, the less time you’ll have free to study for other qualifications.

BTEC grades explained

You’ll be awarded one of the following grades when you complete a BTEC level 3 qualification:

  • D* - starred distinction
  • D – distinction
  • M – merit
  • P – pass.

How many UCAS points would a BTEC level 3 give me?

On a BTEC level 3, the UCAS points you gain will depend upon whether you take the Extended Diploma, Diploma or Extended Certificate as well as the grades you end up with. We’ve compiled a quick round-up of the maximum and minimum UCAS points you could gain for each of the three qualifications, and how these BTEC grades are equivalent to A level grades.

Extended Diploma

  • Max UCAS points 168 (grades D*D*D*) – equivalent to three A*s at A level
  • Min UCAS points 48 (grades PPP) – equivalent to three Es at A level.


  • Max UCAS points 112 (grades D*D*) – equivalent to two A*s at A level
  • Min UCAS points 32 (grades PP) – equivalent to two Es at A level.

Extended Certificate

  • Max UCAS points 56 (grade D*) – equivalent to an A* at A level
  • Min UCAS points 16 (grade P) – equivalent to an E at A level.

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