Taking level 3 BTEC sport and exercise science

Sports science - athlete warming up before training
Nia Johns studied for a BTEC level 3 Extended Diploma in sport and exercise science and is now taking a sports degree. She shares her experiences of the BTEC and her advice for others.

Nia followed her passion for sport and opted for a BTEC rather than A levels, then progressed on to university. Here's her story so far.

  • 2014 – sat ten GCSEs, achieving five A*s and five As
  • 2014–2016 – took a BTEC level 3 Extended Diploma in sport and exercise science at Hereford Sixth Form College, achieving D*D*D* (equivalent to three A*s at A level)
  • 2016 – began a sports degree

What made you choose a BTEC rather than A levels?

I did well at GCSE but I only actually liked two subjects at school – PE and geography. I’m not good at doing stuff I don’t find interesting, so I chose to do something I loved.

How did you choose where to study your BTEC?

I chose Hereford Sixth Form College as it taught the more science-based modules for the sports and exercise science Extended Diploma. I could have taken exactly the same qualification elsewhere but been taught different modules. I knew that if I wanted to do a sports degree at university, not all universities would accept my BTEC if I hadn’t done enough science-based modules. It’s a good thing I did – when I later made my UCAS application, one of the universities I applied to was Bath and I had to list all the modules I’d taken to prove that I’d done enough science.

Was your BTEC more academic or practical?

My BTEC was about 70% academic and 30% cent practical. In terms of the practical modules, we did a lot of fitness training and testing, and did quite a few projects around this. For example, one involved picking an athlete from among your classmates and putting together a training plan for them. They then put this into practice and you assessed whether it worked or not. I liked this approach, as it felt like there was a purpose to what you were learning.

We also spent a lot of time outside playing sport, so I think some students on other courses thought we were having an easy time. However, we weren’t assessed on this – it was just something that our tutors organised for us when we had free time.

What was the workload like?

My BTEC was different to A levels in that the workload was spread throughout the year, though it was still quite high. With A levels some people can leave all their work till the last minute but on the BTEC you need to work steadily. My sister did A levels and, for example, she was really busy at Christmas with lots of revision and then quieter again a month later, whereas mine was more of a constant flow.

My college was well organised – even though I had six different tutors, they coordinated when they gave us assignments so that they didn’t all set them at the same time. This meant there wasn’t as much pressure at once and you could chip away at the work, which motivated me more.

Did universities accept your BTEC?

I originally applied to study for a sports and social science degree. My university choices included the University of Bath and Durham University, and all five accepted me.

I’m currently studying sports via an ‘open degree’ with the Open University, which basically means that I can choose any modules I want. At the moment I’m taking modules in sport and conditioning science, and in equality, participation and inclusion.

Do you know what career you want after university?

I’m not sure what I want to do after I finish my degree. I’m considering either being a teacher or working in sports development, which involves planning and coordinating initiatives to increase participation in sports.

Looking back, how do you feel about your BTEC?

I loved it! It was the right decision for me and I felt it was more useful in preparing me for university than A levels. All my assignments were essay-based, which helped me with things like referencing and working to a word count – my university coursemates who had science A levels weren’t so familiar with these. And I’ve always been OK at exams, so doing these at university wasn’t a problem, even though I hadn’t done any for a while.

Also, I just had so much fun. You build up closer friendships with other students if you’re studying one subject rather than three and have all your lessons together. And at Hereford I felt fully supported and built up a good relationship with the teachers.

What advice do you have for others who are considering a BTEC?

The BTEC has a bad stigma – that it’s for kids who can’t do exams. That’s not the case – people on my course had done more than enough at GCSE to go on to A levels and to uni.

If you want to do a degree after your BTEC you definitely need to research the universities and courses that might interest you to see what qualifications they will accept. For example, one university was asking for the Extended Diploma plus two As at A level, which is the equivalent of five A levels! But that was the only university I came across with those requirements.

Also, think about whether you’re a person who wants to work hard throughout the whole year, as every assignment affects your final grade. It’s not as easy as the stereotype says!

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