Which Exam Board Is The Hardest, AQA, Edexcel, CIE or OCR?

Which Exam Board Is The Hardest, AQA, Edexcel, CIE or OCR

With a lot of new examination boards that are up and coming, making a choice amongst them all can be difficult. But fear not, we have it all in one place for you to compare and contrast and get a better idea of what you align with more. Before comparing them, let’s understand what these gcse boards are individually.

AQA: the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance

AQA is a GCSE board and an awarding body in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that is also a registered charity and independent of the government. It compiles specifications and holds examinations in various subjects and offers vocational qualifications.

The AQA qualification is an opportunity for anyone who has an aim and has the potential to achieve in their life as well. This chance will give them the stage to exhibit what they are capable of and how they would progress to the next stage of their lives. Their UK qualifications are highly valued and considered by employers and universities all across the world. AQA is taught in many schools and colleges and includes GCSEs, AS, A-Levels, the Extended Project Qualification and Technical Awards.

Being an education charity, their income that they incur through setting and marking over half of all GCSEs and A-levels taken in the UK, is reinvested back in our activities. This includes cutting edge research that eventually compliments the initiatives taken to help young individuals realize their unfound potential. 


Pearson Edexcel is the brand name for academic and general qualifications from Pearson as well as some vocational qualifications. It is both a GCSE examination board and IGCSE examination board. While they are grounded to the tradition and quality of the British education system, it is made relevant to today’s UK and international learners. Edexcel is designed in a way to develop and advance learners’ skills so they progress into their higher studies or directly employment. Edexcel is suitable for students between the ages 14 to 19 in the UK. While international schools can provide Primary and Lower Secondary curriculum as well, the age of the students range between 8 to 19 years old.

Recalling as mentioned before, Edexcel is a qualification brand for academic and generation qualifications from Pearson. Although, Edexcel itself was an awarding organization in the beginning. Later on, Pearson became their awarding organization and Edexcel turned into a qualification brand. Having a qualification from Edexcel would give the learners an opportunity to succeed in life, learning and employment. 

More on Edexcel : What are the mandatory subjects in Edexcel IGCSE?

CIE: Cambridge International Examination

The CIE prepares school students in a way where they develop curiosity and passion for learning. CIE falls under the University of Cambridge. It is an international qualification that is broadly recognized by top tier universities and employers in countries like the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany and beyond. The programmes and qualifications are curated in a way where it sets a global standard in international education. Universities value critical thinking alongside independent research as much as they look at the depth of knowledge students have; CIE incorporates just that. When the qualifications are revised, they intake expert advice from universities to prepare students for college and beyond. 

The Cambridge Pathway provides a seamless transition from primary to pre-university years through secondary years for students aged 5 to 19. However, it can be amended by the schools according to how they want their students to learn. Cambridge develops students and learners who come out to be confident, responsible, reflective, innovative and engaged. All in all, they are ready to succeed in the fast-moving and modern world.

OCR: Oxford Cambridge and RSA

OCR is a UK awarding body that equips students with knowledge and skills required for their future, therefore leading them in the right path of achieving their full potential. OCR provides GCSEs and A Levels in over 40 subjects and offers over 450 vocational qualifications. These qualifications engage people of all ages and abilities in school, college and work. They are also a non-profit organization that thrives on their students’ successes. It is measured through the impact and reach of their activities. The scale of their contribution helps students realize their aspirations and celebrate their achievements.

CIE vs Pearson Edexcel:

Firstly, Cambridge offers GCSEs and A Levels while Edexcel, a qualification brand under Pearson, offers IGCSEs alongside a range of UK qualifications. While the students decide that they want to take up the IGCSEs, they will also be given the choice of choosing their exam board which is CIE or Edexcel in this case.

The difficulty level of both exam boards are said to be similar on an average note. However, sometimes, CIE can either be more challenging than Edexcel. For instance, CIE’s English has a reputation of being easier than Edexcel’s English. However, students find CIE harder than Edexcel since they have to maintain an international standard while Edexcel focuses only on the UK. The examination papers for Edexcel would be more aligned with the UK system, while CIE has the freedom to set their own exam structure given that they’re an independent entity.

Another opinion states that CIE is said to be the hardest for the students in the UK but the easiest for students studying abroad. Nevertheless, the difficulty of the board solely depends on the student and how they prepare for it

To make the comparison easier for you, we have listed out the easiest and hardest exam boards for specific subject disciplines:

Subject Easiest Exam Board Hardest Exam Board
Math  AQA – They seem to have easier questions as the questions require lesser problem solving.  Edexcel – This is one of the most popular boards for Math hence might lean towards the difficult side since the competition and cutoff mark would be higher.
Science OCR – These exams are said to be the easiest however the grade boundaries are high. Edexcel – This board has the toughest science questions alongside AQA but edexcel takes a slight upper hand here.
English Edexcel – The time limit of this exam is said to be difficult to cope with. Although, the grade boundaries are quite reasonable therefore it’s easier to pass. AQA – The difficulty of the paper may be the same, however, the grade boundaries would be higher compared to edexcel thus making it more difficult.
Humanities OCR and Edexcel: These boards are not the best ones to follow for humanities since the grade boundaries are quite low.   AQA – This exam board has been the popular one for the humanities subjects (history and geography). It is because the style of AQA’s questions are interesting and keeps the students engaged. They are also considered to be difficult since there is barely any time allocated to write solid answers to the exam questions.


In conclusion, it is important to understand that some students might find one board easier compared to the other. Therefore, there, we cannot provide a definitive answer as to which board is the hardest. Each student has their strengths and weaknesses, and some of these boards may align with said strengths. All the best on your exams for whichever exam board you decide to pursue!

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. James

    Excellent comparison and information is clearly presented.

    Will be interested to see WJEC/Eduqas included in this article.

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