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Are Access Courses Harder than A Levels?

1st April 22

Academic learning does not come naturally to everyone, with all of us adopting different techniques and methods to help us learn in an effective manner. For many careers, a certain number and level of qualifications are required, and more often than not, you will need A Levels or an Access to Higher Education Diploma to go to university and achieve your career goals. 

In the past, learners only had one option when it came to meeting university entry requirements, and that was A level study. Now, individuals can get to their chosen establishment by studying online Access to Higher Education Courses, but which is the better route? Is A Level study harder than an Access course, UK learners? Well, continue reading to find out the answer! 

What is an Access Course? 

An Access course, UK learners, is an Access to Higher Education Diploma, which is designed to prepare adults for university. As such, Access courses are a nationally recognised Level 3 qualification that can be studied as an alternative to A Levels for adult learners who are looking for a renewed opportunity to go to university. 

Residents in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland can take Access to Higher Education Diploma courses either through a training provider or through distance learning. Learners can take comfort knowing that their Access diploma will be recognised as it is regulated by The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). 

What is A Level Course? 

Most learners will be familiar with courses for A Levels as they are traditional qualifications that many students go on to embark on after finishing their mandatory school years at the age of 16. Advanced Level (A Level) qualifications are based on various subjects and are designed to propel students on to higher education. 

Differences Between Access Courses and A Level Courses 

Before we delve into the differences between A Level study and Access to Higher Education Diplomas, we should recognise the similarities. Essentially, both A Levels and Access to HE Diplomas are qualifications that can be used to get into university as they are Level 3 and nationally recognised. 

If you are thinking about reigniting your life by choosing a new career path but you don’t have the qualifications you need to progress on to degree-level study, then both A Levels and Access to Higher Education Diplomas can help. Both qualifications can be studied later in life, but before you make a decision on which is the best route for you, then consider the below differences. 


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Subject Matter 

When it comes to the subject of A Level study and an Access course, UK learners should know the difference between each approach: 

A Levels 

Adult A Level courses can be studied in a range of different subjects, with most being academic-focused and mirroring the types of subjects that you learn at GCSE level, such as English, Maths, Biology and more.  

Access to Higher Education Diplomas 

On the other hand, an approved Access course is more vocational, with subjects ranging from Nursing and Midwifery to Engineering and Sports Science. These Access to Higher Education online courses, UK learners, will provide you with knowledge directly related to the career you are pursuing.



Each syllabus differs depending on the subject of the qualification, but there is a different approach between A Levels and Access to Higher Education Diplomas: 

A Levels 

The subject content will be structured, delving deep into detailed units related to the various facets of the subject of your A Level study. You will learn various concepts before applying such concepts to scenarios, demonstrating an understanding of the topics covered. 

Access to Higher Education Diplomas 

Much like courses for A Levels, an Access course, UK learners, will require you to demonstrate your understanding of the topics covered. However, online Access to Higher Education courses are taught through modules of varying topics, offering a blend of academic and study skills.  

The syllabus is geared towards learners hoping to get into university, whereas A Level qualifications can be used as entryways into certain professions. 


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Learning Method 

The way in which courses are delivered can become a big contributing factor to learners when they make a decision about what course to choose: 

A Levels 

Traditionally, you could only embark on A level study at a college or sixth form in England. However, thanks to online learning providers like learndirect, you can now enrol on adult A Level courses online. We provide a portfolio of courses for A levels, and you can make your way through the syllabus from the comfort of your own home. 

You are still able to do A level study in a classroom setting in colleges, but if you want the freedom of studying without restrictions, then consider our distance learning A Levels. While you have the flexibility in terms of your study schedule, there will be specific exam dates that you will need to be aware of. 

Access to Higher Education Diplomas 

Online Access to Higher Education courses provide a wealth of flexibility as you can study this Level 3 qualification remotely. All you need is a computer, laptop or tablet, and a stable internet connection! You are not restricted by term times, nor do you have to fit your learning around a scheduled exam. 

We offer a wide range of Access to Higher Education online courses, UK learners, so you can study a subject that matches your career ambitions. The Access course is made up of a series of units, which you can complete at your own pace.  



To achieve your Level 3 qualification, you will have to pass an assessment, but the structures for A Levels and Access courses differ greatly: 

A Levels 

To pass adult A Level courses, you will need to successfully complete an exam, which is usually held between May and June each year. Your A Level study gears you up for the final exam, which will focus on the topics covered during your syllabus. 

Access to Higher Education Diplomas 

Unlike their A Level counterpart, Access to HE Diplomas are not assessed via an exam. Instead, you will be tasked with a series of online assignments, with one being issued at the end of each module. The Access course assignment will be based on the topics you have studied during the module in question. Every Access course assignment is marked by an experienced tutor, who will provide feedback to help you navigate your way through the remainder of your online Access to Higher Education courses. 


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Length of Time it Takes to Complete 

Another significant factor in the decision-making process for learners is the time it takes to complete a course, with A Levels and Access to HE Diplomas differing: 

A Levels 

If opting for the traditional route of A Level study, you will have to adhere to term times, which means that achieving at least two A Levels could take around two years. By choosing our distance learning A levels, you can make your way through the A Level course syllabus at your own pace, but you will have to wait for scheduled exam dates. 

Access to Higher Education Diplomas 

As soon as you enrol on our online Access to Higher Education courses, you will be given two years to complete your Access course and achieve your diploma. On average, though, our learners complete their approved Access course within 9 to 12 months. With this level of freedom, you can achieve your Access diploma in quick time, should you choose to. 


University Recognition 

Both formats are accepted by most universities, but it can differ because higher education establishments set their own entry criteria: 

A Levels 

A Levels are usually accepted by all universities as they have become the standard Level 3 qualification. This is because learners who want to go to university tend to progress on to courses for A Levels after they have finished school. 

Access to Higher Education Diplomas 

While most universities will accept an Access course, UK learners should be aware that not all higher education establishments include Access to HE Diplomas as part of their entry requirements. This makes it incredibly important that you check the entry criteria of your chosen university before applying. 

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Is Access Course Easier than A Levels? 

Taking into account all the points mentioned, you are probably asking yourself ‘are Access courses harder than A Levels?’ Well, that is dependent on your style of learning and what you want to get out of your qualification.  

Many would argue that an Access course, UK learners, would be easier than A Level study due to the high level of flexibility and freedom you get. Plus, you are not required to do an exam as part of the assessment, which is hugely beneficial for individuals who struggle in exam environments. 

Online Access to Higher Education courses allow you to focus on subjects that are specific to the career you want to pursue. For example, if you want to become a Nurse, then studying the Access to Nursing course will give you a base of knowledge that will help when you break into the industry. The same can be said for midwifery and other professions. 

A Levels provide more of an academic route, which is an approach you may prefer, particularly if you want to apply for a job that requires English and Maths qualifications. There are many benefits to both qualifications, and you should choose the route that gives you the best opportunity of progressing your career path. 

Start Learning Today! 

If you have made up your mind and would like to study A Levels or an Access to Higher Education Diploma, then you can enrol on your chosen course today by speaking to one of our Course Advisors on 01202 006 464. Alternatively, contact us online or click below to discover the courses we offer!

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