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The education system in England and Wales isn't the easiest thing to get your head around (Scotland has a separate system, see below) — but don't worry, we'll explain the bits you'll need to know. The education system is split into in Key Stages — sets of school years with an assessment at the end. For example, Key Stage 4 is the two years in which students aged 14-16 study for their GCSEs.

This chart shows the Key Stages as well as students' ages and the exams they take, with explanations of the exam types below.

Key Stage Children's Age (years) School Year Which exams do they take? Who sets the exams?
KS1 5-7 1-2 SATS Ofqual
KS2 7-11 3-6 SATS Ofqual
KS3 11-14 7-9 End of year tests - no official exam Teachers
KS4 14-16 10-11 GCSEs AQA, OCR,
Edexcel, WJEC Eduqas, 
KS5 16-18 12-13 AS-Levels and A-Levels
Edexcel, WJEC Eduqas, 

England and Wales


These are the national tests taken by every state school pupil and some independent school pupils at age 7 and 11. They consist of graded English and Maths assessments, with some schools completing Science tests too.

Preparing for SATS >                        

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These are the exams students take when they're 16. Students usually take around 8 or 9 different subjects. The exams for most GCSEs are at the end of the course in May and June of Year 11. Different exam boards such as AQA, CCEA, Edexcel, WJEC Eduqas and OCR write and grade the exams — each exam board will set slightly different exam specifications, so schools choose which courses to follow. 

The 9-1 GCSEs Explained >                        

See our GCSE range >

AS-Level & A-Level

These are the courses most students do between the ages of 16 and 18. AS-levels and A-levels are standalone qualifications. AS-levels are one year long courses with exams at the end of the year. A-levels are two year long courses with a set of exams at the end of the two years. AS levels do not count towards the two year A-level courses.

See our AS & A-Level range >


National 5

This is a National Qualification taken by students in the Senior Phase (S4-S6, ages 15-17). Students often take between five and seven National 5 courses, each one year long with written exams in April and May. Some subjects are also graded on their coursework. The exams are set by the SQA (The Scottish Qualifications Authority). 

National 5 qualifications are the Curriculum for Excellence equivalent of the old Standard Grade Credit Level and Intermediate 2 qualifications.

See our National 5 range


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