Guide to Qualification Levels, Guided Learning Hours, Total Qualification Time and Comparing Qualifications

Guide to Qualification Levels, Guided Learning Hours, Total Qualification Time and Comparing Qualifications In the world of education and qualifications, it's important to understand the terminology and metrics used to assess the complexity and depth of a qualification. This will aid learners in making informed decisions as to whether a qualification is right for them but also comparing qualifications from different providers.

Qualification levels, guided learning hours, and total qualification time are key concepts that help learners and educators grasp the nature and scope of different qualifications. This guide aims to explain the differences between these terms, how guided learning hours are calculated, how total qualification time is determined and other key factors when comparing qualifications.

Qualification Levels

Qualification levels are a way to classify educational and vocational qualifications based on their complexity and academic rigour. These levels are a fundamental part of education systems in many countries and serve as a common framework for comparing qualifications. Different countries may use slightly different terminology and classification systems, but the general idea remains consistent.

Here are some common qualification levels:

Entry Level: These qualifications are for beginners and typically require no prior knowledge or skills.

Level 1: Basic qualifications that introduce learners to a subject or field.

Level 2: Intermediate qualifications that build upon the knowledge gained at Level 1. In the UK, GCSEs are typically level 2.

Level 3: Advanced qualifications that require a deeper understanding of a subject or field. In the UK, A-Levels or T-Levels are typically level 2/3.

Level 4: Qualifications at this level are equivalent to the first year of a bachelor's degree.

Level 5: These qualifications are equivalent to the second year of a bachelor's degree.

Level 6: Equivalent to the third year of a bachelor's degree.

Level 7: Master's level qualifications.

Level 8: Doctoral or postdoctoral qualifications.

Guided Learning Hours

Guided learning hours (GLH) represent the number of hours that an average learner might need to complete a qualification or course. These hours encompass not only formal teaching but also assignments, and assessment preparation where an assessor is available. Guided learning hours are a valuable tool for institutions, learners, and employers to gauge the intensity and duration of a course or qualification.

How Guided Learning Hours Are Calculated

To calculate guided learning hours for a course or qualification, Awarding Organisations such as iPET Network consider several factors:

Contact Hours: This includes time spent in formal teaching settings, such as lectures, seminars, and practical sessions.

Assessment Time: The time required to complete assessments and examinations.

Guidance and Support: The time learners spend in tutorials, mentoring, or receiving support from instructors.

The total of these hours provides the overall guided learning hours for a specific course or qualification.

Total Qualification Time

Total qualification time (TQT) represents the total number of hours required for a learner to achieve a qualification, including guided learning hours and self-study time. TQT is a broader measure of the overall time commitment for a qualification, whereas GLH focuses specifically on structured learning activities. TQT accounts for all aspects of the learning experience and is a useful metric for planning, accrediting, and recognising qualifications.

How Total Qualification Time Is Calculated

To calculate the total qualification time, you need to add up all the time spent on:

Guided Learning Hours (as discussed above).

Independent Study: The learner's expected self-study hours, which vary based on the qualification level and course content.

Assessment Time: Time spent on exams, coursework, and other forms of assessment.

Any Additional Time: Time spent on practical training, work placements, or other requirements specific to the qualification.

In summary, qualification levels, guided learning hours, and total qualification time are essential concepts in the field of education. These metrics help learners, educators, and employers understand the complexity and time commitment of different qualifications, making it easier to make informed decisions regarding education and training.

What other key factors should I consider when comparing qualifications?

Comparing qualifications can be a complex task, as it involves assessing different credentials based on their content, level, and relevance to your goals. To effectively compare qualifications, follow these steps:

Understand the Qualification Framework:

Familiarise yourself with the qualification framework in your country or region. Different countries have their own systems for classifying and comparing qualifications and these vary significantly even within the UK.

Identify Your Goals:

Determine your specific educational or career goals. What do you want to achieve with the qualification? This will help you prioritise the factors that matter most to you.

Consider the Qualification Level:

Check the level of the qualification, as defined by your country's framework. Higher levels typically indicate more advanced and complex qualifications.

Evaluate Content and Curriculum:

Assess the subjects, modules, units or courses included in the qualification. Compare the content to your goals and interests. Does it cover the topics you need for your future career? Or does it cover things that you definitely don’t need and would be wasted learning time?

Review Accreditation and Recognition:

Verify that the qualification is accredited and recognised by relevant institutions or professional bodies. Accreditation ensures that the qualification meets certain quality standards. For example, iPET Network is regulated by Ofqual, CCEA Regulation & Qualifications Wales ensuring learners gain access to nationally recognised qualifications.

Examine Training Provider and Awarding Organisation Reputation:

Research the reputation of all those involved in offering the qualification. The reputation of the issuing institution can impact how the qualification is perceived so choosing an Awarding Organisation such as iPET Network who thoroughly audits Training Providers adds kudos to your learning..

Assess Assessment Methods:

Understand the assessment methods used in the qualification. Are they practical and relevant to your goals? Consider the balance between exams, coursework, and practical assessment but also where the assessments take place.  Are they done in person and would that involve travel? Or can they be completed remotely using technology?

Consider Transferability:

Determine whether the qualification is recognised and transferable to other institutions or countries. Will it allow you to continue your education or work in different places? By opting for a regulated qualification, there is often more value.

Evaluate Duration and Time Commitment:

Compare the duration of the qualification and the time commitment required. Consider your personal schedule and the time you can allocate to your studies. Some may offer a shorter course in the same subject but is less practice acceptable for your career?

Analyse Costs and Financial Aid:

Compare the costs associated with obtaining the qualification, including tuition fees, materials, and any financial aid or scholarships available. For example, a number of iPET Network Training Providers offer the same qualification but via varying methods such as smaller classes, or online teaching etc.  Prices also depend on the area, experience and credentials of the Tutor and even the time of year that the course is purchased.  This varying delivery determines the cost to the learner so there are ways to achieve the same qualification at different fees.

Talk to Advisers and Experts:

Seek guidance from academic advisers, mentors, or experts in your field of interest. They can provide valuable insights and recommendations.

Check Job Market and Industry Requirements:

Research the job market in your desired field and the qualifications typically required. Some professions have specific qualification requirements or those most recognised within the industry. 

Consider Personal Circumstances:

Take into account your personal circumstances, such as location, family commitments, and other responsibilities, when comparing qualifications.

Seek Feedback from Alumni and Students:

Reach out to current students or alumni who have completed the qualification you're considering. Their experiences can provide valuable insights and often iPET Network students can be accessed via social media posts in related topic groups.

Create a Pro and Con List:

Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of each qualification you are comparing. This can help you visualise the differences and make an informed decision.

Seek Second Opinions:

Don't hesitate to seek a second opinion from multiple sources, including career counsellors, industry professionals, and educational consultants. Those in the Animal Care and Veterinary Science sector are keen to support the development of others entering the industry.  Ultimately, a good education will improve the lives of people and animals.  This is iPET Network’s mission and we therefore encourage any potential students to get in touch and speak to our amazing team of animal professionals.

Ultimately, the best qualification for you will depend on your individual goals, circumstances, and preferences. By systematically comparing qualifications using these steps, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your aspirations and career path. However, don’t despair if you make the wrong choice.  The great thing about learning is that even mistakes are learning opportunities. 

Choosing the wrong qualification can happen to anyone, and it's not uncommon. The good news is that there are steps you can take to address this situation and make a positive change. Here's what to do if you find yourself in a situation where you believe you've chosen the wrong qualification:


Take some time to reflect on why you believe you've chosen the wrong qualification. Is it a lack of interest, difficulty with the subject matter, or a realisation that it's not aligned with your goals? Understanding the underlying reasons will help you make an informed decision.

Research Alternatives:

Investigate alternative qualifications or courses that align better with your interests and career goals. Consider whether you can switch to a related field or choose a different specialisation within your current program.

Talk to Instructors and Mentors:

Discuss your concerns with your instructors and mentors. They may be able to provide advice, support, and resources to help you succeed in your current qualification or transition to a more suitable one.

Assess Transferable Credits or Record Of Prior Learning (RPL):

If you're considering switching qualifications, check if any of the credits you've earned in your current program can be transferred to the new qualification. This can save time and money.

Explore Withdrawal and Refund Policies:

Review the policies regarding withdrawals and refunds. If you're early in your program, you might be eligible for a partial or full refund.

Skills and Knowledge Building:

While making a decision, focus on building skills and knowledge that are relevant to your new direction. This could include taking online courses, attending workshops, or gaining practical experience.

Network and Seek Advice:

Connect with professionals in the field you're interested in pursuing. They can provide insights into the industry and advice on how to transition successfully.

Financial Planning:

Consider the financial implications of changing your qualification. Review your budget, explore scholarship and financial aid opportunities, and create a financial plan for your new path.

Stay Positive and Persistent:

Making a change can be challenging, but it's important to stay positive and persistent. Remember that many successful individuals have switched paths at some point in their lives.

Set Clear Goals:

Define clear, achievable goals for your new qualification or career path. Having a roadmap will help you stay motivated and on track.

Seek Support from Family and Friends:

Discuss your decision with your family and friends. Their support and understanding can be invaluable during this transition.

Enrolling in the Right Programme:

Once you've explored your options and made a decision, enrolling in the new qualification that best aligns with your goals and interests and enjoy!

Remember that it's never too late to make a change and pursue a qualification or career that truly resonates with you. Many successful individuals have navigated through changes in their educational and career paths. The key is to be proactive, seek guidance, and remain committed to your new journey.