If you live in Scotland, you're in for a treat, because you will only be dealing with SQA for all your maths exams - from Nat 4 and Nat 5, through Scottish Highers to Advanced Highers.
You can also go for exams from the English system if you fancy the joys of choosing from a nearly endless list of exam boards...

If you live in England, which is statistically 10x more likely, you'll have plenty to choose from. Which is great but it might be overwhelming.

Let me give you some insight into what exams and exam boards there are for home educators to choose from. Otherwise, if you study at school, the school chooses what exam board they want their students to sit and that's the end of the story.

Let's dive straight away into the options. As usual, I'm only talking about what's happening in England and Scotland because that's what I'm familiar with. I might add briefly a few notes about Wales and Northern Ireland later (come back later or ask me and I'll check with my colleagues who have experience with Welsh and Irish exam system).
A note for those who are in Wales and Northern Ireland (or even outside of the UK) - many home educators choose options from the English exam system even if they don't live in England themselves.

As a home-educated student, you can sit exams earlier, later or not at all. You can choose what exam and exam board you want to do. You're in charge of all the choices.

Scotland: National 5, Scottish Higher and Advanced Higher Maths (super simple)

Now, as I already briefly mentioned, in Scotland, as default, you have SQA, Scottish Qualification Authority, which offers a variety of exams and they all follow the Curriculum for Excellence - >> here << is a summary of resources for numeracy and mathematics.

Most students who want to get a basic maths qualification will opt for National 5 Maths. This is the exam students usually sit in school at the age of 15 (S4).
There's also National 4 maths, a lower level of maths examination. For most further educational pathways and later for work, it's not quite what you'd want to have. But, of course, having Nat 4 is better than not having any maths qualification.

Another option would be to do Application of Mathematics - at a National 5 level it's widely considered a good alternative to "just" maths. AoM is a course that focuses more on, yes, applications, rather than too much theoretical maths. You'll be using a fair bit of statistics, measurement and other functional applications of maths that we otherwise have all around us in real life.

If you pass your Nat 5 and would like to continue studying maths further, there are Scottish Highers and also Advanced Highers. For those who want to study maths later at a university, you'll get a good understanding of basic calculus, advanced numerical methods, constructing mathematical proofs, proper use of statistics and much more.
Applications of Mathematics have also higher levels beyond National 5.

Nat 5 maths exams are sat in one day in two parts, with calculator and non-calculator part. Similarly for Highers and Advanced Highers (you can also check the links above for specific information for each exam).
You can also sit these exams in Gaelic.

England: Functional Skills, GCSE, iGCSE, Core 3, AS level and A level Maths (yes, that's a lot)

Well, now let's try to make some sense of the plethora of exams and what you might likely take as a home educator in England.

Skip >> here << to an overview with links to each exam and exam board for further information and syllabus specifications.

In schools, you'd usually sit GCSE at the age of 16 (Year 11). GCSE follows the National curriculum and as such, there are only very minor differences across all exam boards.
For GCSE maths exam, there are these exam boards: (Pearson) Edexcel, AQA, OCR (and Eduqas - part of WJEC, a Welsh exam board)
Currently, you'll have three papers, one non-calculator and two calculator papers. As a standard (unless Covid will mess up things again), you don't get any formula booklet but there are certain formulas that will be provided within the questions - such as volume and surface area of spheres and cones and a few more. But most of the formulas you'd need to remember. (Or better - learn them in a way to understand them so there's little to no need for memorising loads of formulas.)

GCSE used to be graded A* to C (from the top grade to the pass grade). In 2017, the system changed to what we call 9-1. With 9 being the top grade, comparable to A**. The pass grade is now 4 (formerly lower C), if you'd do a bit better, you could get 5 (formerly higher C).

If you opt for a Foundation tier - the maximum grade is 5. You can get up to a grade 9 on a Higher tier. To get a pass on a Foundation tier, you'd need usually over 55% marks overall. To get a pass on a Higher tier, you'd need usually around 25% marks overall.
So if you're aiming for a pass and not necessarily top grades, you can choose to do easier maths but you'll need to do a lot of it within the time limit or you can learn a bit more advanced maths but you'd "only" need to do fewer questions within the same time limit correctly to secure the pass grade.

More about strategies if the pass is seemingly out of your reach (or if you're already thinking about having to do a resit) is in >> this article. <<

GCSE maths is very similar across all exam boards (after AQA ditched multiple choice in 2023), so the most popular choice is still Edexcel due to a great range of supportive materials, past and sample papers available and Edexcel-specific courses and independent resources.

So that was GCSE. What role does iGCSE (international GCSE) play in all this? This is a common alternative, now widely recognised as equal amongst colleges and further education providers. Although some still might scratch their head when you tell them you have iGCSE maths - best to check beforehand if you know where you want to study further, that iGCSE is just as fine as the "standard" GCSE.
The main differences between GCSE and iGCSE are that iGCSE can vary a lot because it's not aligned with the National Curriculum.
International GCSE may vary in the format of exams and the syllabus. Even within the same exam board, there can be several quite varied specifications!
International GCSE maths tends to be less wordy and a bit simpler in choice of words compared to GCSE due to the expected great number of candidates sitting these exams as non-English native speakers. This exam is often sat in international schools that offer the so-called British curriculum (which in fact is actually an English curriculum). For this reason, iGCSE as an "easier-worded exam" is also often a preferred choice for students with a variety of SEN - namely dyslexia.

More about the differences: the most popular, Edexcel iGCSE Specification A has 2 papers, both calculator, and apart from a bit of calculus (basic differentiation) which you won't need unless you aim for top grades, the syllabus is very similar to GCSE.
But if you look at past papers for Edexcel iGCSE Specification B, you'd agree with me that this exam is rather for proper maths enthusiasts. It's more similar to GCSE Further maths (more calculus, advanced statistics, advanced trigonometry - such as trigonometric identities, etc.)
You can also often be offered Cambridge International GCSE maths (CIE). It has three papers, one with a calculator, and two without (so just like GCSE maths), but Cambridge iGCSE features more advanced topics, mathematical modelling and overall it's a bit tougher than Edexcel iGCSE (Spec A).

TO GET A PASS - you can follow a similar strategy as for GCSE maths >> see here <<.

Hence the most popular choice for home educators for "GCSE" maths is Edexcel iGCSE Specification A.

If maths really troubles you but you still want to get your GCSE "pass", you can opt for Functional Skills Level 2. Passing this two-paper exam (one calculator, one non-calculator), which can be also sat online, equals getting a Grade 4 on GCSE. Functional Skills are, as expected, focused on functional maths applications, common numeracy skills and wordy problems rather than too much theoretical maths.
Exam papers and the style of questions vary across exam boards.
The option to sit these exams online is often a welcome choice for students with a variety of anxieties and also students on the ASD spectrum.

There are other levels of Functional Skills and also Entry Functional Skills to lower the bar and gain below-GSCE maths qualification.

Most students, unless they have severe learning difficulties (including severe anxieties) can pass Level 2 and get their GCSE grade 4 equivalent.
Maths is important but it's not the end of the world if you have one qualification or another (or none).

Now, briefly about qualifications higher than GCSE maths (which is often the end goal for many students when it comes to maths studies).

For maths enthusiasts and those who want/need to study maths further, you can opt for Level 2 Maths (comparable to GCSE level, known as Further Maths or Additional Maths). This is a welcome addition for those who want to bridge the gap between GCSE and A level maths and be ready for their further studies. It features some advanced topics such as matrices, calculus, trigonometric identities, advanced statistics and more.

And if you're borderline "Yes, I want to learn more maths but I want it to be more applicable to real life", you can opt for Level 3 Core Maths - an equivalent of AS level qualification (usually studied as one year course) with a lot of applications of statistics, measurements and calculations for real-life situations.

For proper maths enthusiasts, there's AS Level Maths (one year) and A Level Maths (two-year course).
In 2018 A Level maths stopped being modular, so AS is now a separate qualification and doesn't count towards your A Level maths. You'd need to study the full A Level course and sit all exam parts in one exam period (usually set within three weeks in June).
Exams are sat in three parts, all with a calculator and with a standard formula booklet. Depending on the exam board, exam paper questions are a variety of combinations of Pure Maths*, Statistics and Mechanics.
*Pre-2018 it was known as Core Maths - not to be confused with separate qualifications Level 3 Core Maths.

International A levels are also an option. From my experience, home ed students tend to sit the "standard" A levels.

You can also study Further A level maths with several mandatory modules - Core Pure maths - and a combination of additional modules (with up to 2 levels) to choose from such as Further Pure, Further Statistics, Further Mechanics and Decision Mathematics. This course goes even beyond some basic university maths courses.

Happy maths studying!

So, what exam and exam board to choose?

The above information should help you to decide what maths exam you want to take. If still unsure, work it out backwards: what do you want to do afterwards, what further studies? What are the entry requirements? What pathway would you like to choose for your future work? This should aid you in what exam you need to take.
Once you know that, choosing the exam board is usually a matter of what suits you best (check the relevant past papers) and what your chosen exam provider would offer (you can also find another exam provider if you have options to travel further or take some exams online).

In short, while not an exhaustive list, here are all the common maths exams I was talking about above and links to the exam boards:

You can find relevant past papers in each link as well.

Functional Skills (for GCSE Grade 4/pass equivalent, choose Level 2) - EdexcelAQA, City and Guilds
Can be sat online, various exam dates

GCSE - Edexcel, AQA, OCR, Eduqas (WJEC), Cambridge (CIE)
Main exam dates are in May/June, resits are possible also in November

iGCSE (International GCSE) - Edexcel Spec A (the popular one), Edexcel Spec B (the tough one), Cambridge (CIE)
May/June and November are standard exam dates
King's Interhigh is trialling online exams for iGCSE maths (read more >> here <<).

Level 2 Maths (GCSE) Further Maths / Additional Maths - AQA, Eduqas (WJEC)

Level 3 Core Maths - AQA, OCR-MEI

AS level - Edexcel, AQA, OCR, OCR-MEI

A level - Edexcel, AQA, OCR, OCR-MEI

International A level - Edexcel, Oxford AQA, Cambridge (CIE)

Further A level - Edexcel, AQA, OCR-MEI


Hi, it's Veronika, your little maths helper and content creator of Your Maths Tutor.
I've always had a great relationship with maths so no surprise I got a maths degree and ended up teaching it full time - as an online maths tutor.
If you need help with maths just get in touch =)

See you around and on my social media!