HE Exams Wiki

ECDL is the European Computer Driving Licence, and home-educated students can take it as a way of demonstrating competence in everyday computer skills and software use.  It is assessed by practical exams which can be taken at a test centre at any time of year, with only a few days' notice, and there are test centres in many UK towns.

What is ECDL?

ECDL is the European Computer Driving Licence, and is a practical test in use of computers in the workplace. It is popular with home-ed families as an alternative to an IT GCSE, as it is very difficult for home-ed students to do the Controlled Classroom Assessment element of the GCSE.  Another alternative to IT GCSE is an IGCSE in Computer Science, which is assessed by written exams only - see the IT Qualifications for Home-Ed Students page for more information. 

The National Careers Service says the following about ECDL:

"The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) is a Europe-wide qualification in basic computer skills. If you have passed ECDL, employers know you have the skills to carry out the main tasks on a computer. The ECDL is the first qualification in personal computing skills to be recognised throughout the European Union. And it looks great on your CV!"

In the UK, the ECDL is most commonly taken by adults who are in work, or trying to return to work, but some schools and colleges also enter candidates for it. Some schools enter students in Year 7 (aged 11-12), others later.  The BCS has confirmed that it is suitable for students of any age.

ECDL is a Level 2 qualification and is accredited by OFQUAL.  This means that it is equivalent to a GCSE in terms of UCAS points (ie for university applications).  It satisfies the government’s Key Skills requirement for IT.  Students are not considered to have 'graduated' from secondary education until they have Key Skills Level 2 in IT, English, and Maths.  If you do not have these Key Skills then sixth form colleges may insist you take qualifications in them before allowing you to enter other courses.  

You do not need to take all 7 ECDL units to get the Level 2 qualification.  ECDL consists of ECDL Essentials (3 units) and ECDL Extra (4 units).   You can just take ECDL Extra to get the Level 2 qualification and you do not need to have taken the other units beforehand.  They cover different areas, so you do not need to build on the Level 1 units to take the Level 2 units.

ECDL Extra is four exams, 3 taking 45 mins, in Spreadsheets, Word Processing, Presentations (eg Powerpoint) and one taking an hour, called Improving Productivity in the workplace, which is thinking through how you'd use software in real-life work situations.  

When people refer to "ECDL" they mean ECDL Level 2, or the 7-unit ECDL which includes the Level 2 units, ie the GCSE equivalent units. There is also ECDL Advanced, which is a Level 3 qualification.  

For more discussion about how ECDL Essentials and Extra add up, see ECDL Syllabus below.

The British Computer Society (BCS) is the accrediting body for ECDL.  Here are some pages from its site which we've found helpful:

- syllabus and downloadable tests.  

- general ECDL overview for everyone, not just school-age.

Pros and cons of ECDL


  • Ofqual accredited as equivalent to one GCSE at Grade A* - C in school performance tables.
  • fairly easy to arrange to take as a private candidate.
  • Manageable modules, 45 minutes or 1 hour, so you can take them one at a time, whenever you are ready.   Test centres may let you take a practice test immediately before the real thing.
  • Only the four ECDL Extra modules are required to obtain the Level 2 ITQ (IT Qualification, GCSE equivalent).  These are in Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Improving Productivity.  However, you can choose to take up to 8 modules to gain the full ECDL plus Databases certification.
  • It meets the ITQ (IT Qualification) criteria, formerly Key Skills requirement at Level 2, which is what students are 'supposed' to have before they complete GCSE-level study
  • Most students are positive about it and can see the use and the point of it.
  • Can be taken at any time of year, so you don't have to wait for exam sittings to come around.
  • It's hands-on, practical computer skills which are useful in everyday life for your own projects.
  • It is a genuinely valuable workplace qualification which may help you to get work, whether a summer job or more; adults take it.
  • It is a good introduction to taking exams as many of the skills involved are applicable to any exam, ie being in an exam situation, reading the question carefully, following instructions exactly.


  • If you want to study IT at A-level, some students have found that colleges do not accept it instead of an ICT GCSE because the focus is different. ICT is partly about software but also about how IT is used within an organisation, whereas ECDL is all about competence in using specific programs. However, some colleges might be more flexible if they will take the time to look at the syllabus and you can demonstrate that you understand the other areas.  Furthermore, many sixth forms offer Computer Studies or Computing A-level, which is more focused on programming, and this does not presuppose any prior knowledge.
  • Sixth forms may have a minimum entry qualification of, say, 5 GCSEs.  They may not count any vocational qualification towards this total. Always check with the sixth form you are considering.  On the other hand, many are prepared to be flexible about entry requirements for home-ed students.
  • You usually have to pay to take the tests for students under 16; at the moment it costs around £100 for the four ECDL Extra units, which is the GCSE equivalent.
  • Some test centres may refuse to believe that under-19s can take the tests, or may be confused because government funding for tuition + testing is available for over 19s in certain circumstances. However, the British Computer Society will clarify if you contact them.

The awarding body for ECDL in the UK is the British Computer Society.

ECDL and GCSE Equivalence

Here is the Ofqual Register for ECDL Extra; this confirms that ECDL is a Level 2 qualification, which means equivalent to a GCSE at grade C or above.

The e-skills site (the state-sponsored IT skills development agency) explains what the ITQ is; this is an IT Qualification, and ECDL is one of the recognised ITQs at level 2. 

Overview of BCS IT qualifications which are recognised in the UK

This BCS page explains which qualifications are Level 2 ITQ qualifications

What does a ‘Level 2 qualification’ mean?  It’s a GCSE equivalent at grades C-A*; more details from Ofqual: Qualifications Explained

The Educators ECDL website is run by a company which provides IT material for schools, and it has a lot of info about how ECDL works within the National Qualifications Framework etc.. - possibly put a bit more clearly than the BCS site in places.  See:

Aston Swann FAQs

Will colleges accept ECDL as a GCSE towards admissions requirements?

It depends on the individual institution, as there is no national standard for admissions requirements - each school or college decides its own. If they have a standard requirement for 5 good GCSE passes, they may not count vocational qualifications towards this total.  There is no substitute for contacting the institution and asking what their policy is, and whether they will accept a different set of qualifications for home-ed students.  If the student plans to take ICT at A-level, the college may prefer them to have taken GCSE ICT or the nearest equivalent you can obtain.  At present, the new Controlled Classroom  Assessments mean that home educated students cannot normally take a GCSE in this subject.  An alternative is to take CIE IGCSE Computer Science, which has an optional paper to replace coursework.  At A-level, Computer Studies or Computer Science is increasing in popularity and does not usually require any previous qualifications. Please see the page on IT Qualifications for Home-Ed Students for more information.

Software, Textbooks and other resources

Software Packages

Your local library, or an ECDL provider such as Pitman, may offer a package of online ECDL training plus exams. This is often the most cost-effective way to access ECDL. 

Online Training Programs

There are a number of companies offering online ECDL training to the general public without testing.  They usually cost £100 to £150 for one year's licence, although occasionally you can get them on Groupon or similar discount deals for less.  Note that there is no way of taking the ECDL tests online; it is an OFQUAL-accredited qualification and has to be taken in a test centre under exam conditions.  Any company which suggests that you can get an "ECDL Certificate" by taking their online tests is attempting to mislead you.  They might offer a certificate saying that you have completed their online course, but this is not an ECDL qualification and should not be described as such.

Microsoft Online Tutorials

Microsoft provide comprehensive, free online training courses in all Microsoft Office software, with ‘test yourself’ sections at the end.  Click the expandable menu in the left-hand margin of each training course to find this. My kids have just gone straight to the tests and then gone back to look at the text if there was anything difficult. It is not focussed on the ECDL syllabus, but on the other hand it is a great training package and probably covers everything you need to know.  You could try working through the course for one unit, eg Spreadsheets, and then do some ECDL practice tests to see whether it prepared you fully, and compare it to the ECDL syllabus (download link above).  It is not as interactive as the Mosaic program and you would still need to have MSOffice to practice and to do some of the exercises.


CD-Roms and DVDs

Teaching You: European Computer Driving Licence (PC)

by Focus Multimedia Ltd .

This is a cheapie £5 CD-ROM - my kids didn’t like it because they can't fast-forward through bits they already know, and resent spending half an hour being told how to save a file!!  But it is another resource to draw on.  Note that it is the Version 4.0 Syllabus - this isn't clear on Amazon.


Pass ECDL 5 Units 1-7

by Flora R. Heathcote (Author), O.H.U Heathcote (Author), Pat M. Heathcote (Author), Mr R.P. Richards (Author), Alex Sharpe (Editor) 

My children used this standard textbook, and found it easy to follow.  The edition we had did not include the Improving Productivity module.  This wasn’t a problem for us as the module is just applying the other software packages to different scenarios.  Remember that you only need to cover the material in the chapters on Word Processing, Spreadsheets and Presentations to do ECDL Extra.

CiA Training ECDL Course Materials

Separate booklets for each module, so you can buy just the ones you need.  Make sure that you’re taking the test in the same edition of Office that you have practised in.

Free website resources

Here are the free resources that we like:

Microsoft Office free online training, as above.

BCS sample tests and syllabus, under the ‘information for centres’ tab. Sample tests.  For Office 2007, use the Office 2010 tests.

Certification Crazy ECDL - has an overview plus some sample tests/tutorials for each module.

Sample tests

- Teach ICT ECDL tutorials, worksheets and online sample tests.

- Excel Tutorial (Basic, Advanced and VBA) for Free

- Free Excel Tutorial

Again, not necessarily the latest spec, but useful supplementary material.

Do you have to pay to take/study ECDL?

14-16 year-olds

If your child is aged 14-16 then they may be able to take ECDL or an alternative IT qualification free through part-time attendance at an FE college.  See College for 14-16 year-olds on edyourself.org .  Note that the scheme for home-educated students is different from the national scheme for school pupils to attend college; home-ed students don't have to attend a dedicated 14-16 scheme but can attend any course, at any FE college, if the college agrees.

If the student is under school leaving age and you don't want to do it through a FE college scheme, usually you will have to pay to take the exams as a private candidate.  Most commonly people sit the exams at IT training centres such as LearnDirect centres, which are aimed at adult education. To take ECDL Extra at the Exchange Group centres costs £105 (2014). However, you may find that a local school or college which offers ECDL to its students will accept you as a private candidate.  See ‘Where and how can you take ECDL?’ for more.


If your child is aged 16+, then they may be able to attend an ECDL course, and take the exams, at a local college, for free. Government funding is also currently available for those who are aged 19+ and unemployed to take ECDL via LearnDirect centres

Is there a minimum age requirement for ECDL?

No. UK schools often put students in for ECDL in Year 8 or Year 9.  Home-ed students can and do take the exam from as young as 10 years old; maybe some have done it younger! The awarding body (The British Computer Society) is clear that ECDL testing is appropriate for younger students.  The BCS website states:


Who is this qualification appropriate for?

  • Pre 16
  • 16-18
  • 18+

You may find that some test centres are confused about this as they are most used to providing training to learners aged over 19 with government funding, and they may not understand the difference between that and taking a private candidate for testing-only.  It's always best to approach test centres in writing (via email) and spell out very clearly that you are looking for testing only, NOT training, that you understand the BCS states ECDL is appropriate for students of any age, and that if there any concerns about child protection, the parent can remain on the premises during all tests so that supervision is not an issue.

Where and how can you take the ECDL tests?

Use the British Computer Society's "Find a centre" function. Enter your postcode and select "Testing only".  

Most people take ECDL tests in public libraries or in Learn Direct centres (which may be attached to libraries).  LearnDirect centres are administered by a variety of different companies or groups, which is why you may get different responses from different branches.  There are also some private companies which offer ECDL training and testing to businesses, not using government funding, and these may offer ECDL testing only if you prefer to self-teach.  Search ‘ECDL’ and your postcode to find these. When you approach a test centre, you will need to make it very clear that you are self-funded and are looking for testing only, not for training.  

Because most LearnDirect Centres deal mainly with people who have been referred from government back-to-work schemes, they may assume that ECDL is only available to adults who are on a government-funded course. You may have to explain to them that actually younger students often take ECDL tests, and that the BCS can reassure them about this. They may also be worried about supervising under 18s, so you can also offer to remain in the centre while the student is on the premises.

Pitman Training Centre, Harrow

If anyone is looking for an ECDL test centre in West London, I've been in contact with the Pitman Training Centre in Harrow HA1 and they have agreed to take home-ed students at a special rate of £25 per ECDL unit, including one mock test. This is probably the best price I've found anywhere - the GCSE equivalent ECDL Extra is four units, so £100 all in.

This price is only available if your BCS registration is done through the home-ed BCS test centre admin, which means you'd need to email me with the student's details so I can register them with the British Computer Society and get them a registration number. If you'd like to do this, please email me on mastweiler@gmail.com (mastweiler AT gmail.com). You will then need to speak to Krishma at the Pitman Training Centre, Harrow, explaining that you are enquiring about the deal for home-ed students.

ECDL Syllabus

The ECDL syllabus is now ECDL 5.0 and testing is no longer available on earlier versions.  You can ask the test centre to use the software that you are most familiar with, eg MS Office 2003, MS Office 2007, MS Office 2010 or (apparently) Lotus.  In theory you could take ECDL using Open Office (a free, open-source alternative to Microsoft Office), but in practice the only test centre where this is in progress is our home-ed test centre, using manual testing.

Materials from an older syllabus are still very useful - it's quite easy to look at the current syllabus and compare what has changed.

The structure of the qualification can be confusing. Most home-ed families are interested in obtaining the qualifications which are used in schools. The usual ones are ECDL Essentials (Level 1) and ECDL Extra (Level 2). Note these are stand-alone qualifications; you do not need to have ECDL Essentials in order to take the ECDL Extra qualification.

ECDL Essentials

ECDL Essentials is a Level 1 qualification, which means equivalent to a GCSE at grades D-F. It consists of three modules. You can find the Syllabus and practice papers on the BCS site - click the tab "information for centres". The three modules are:

  • IT User Fundamentals
  • Using Email and the Internet
  • Security for IT Users

Here is some information from the BCS page on ECDL Essentials:

Qualification Name: BCS Level 1 Award in IT User Skills (ECDL Essentials)

QAN (Accreditation Number): 500/6226/8
Qualification Aim: "The aim of this qualification is to recognise the application of a range of IT user skills and knowledge in the workplace, meeting employer workforce demands.

ECDL Essentials is a fixed combination, focusing on improving a learner’s understanding of computers by covering the fundamentals of IT, security and using email and the internet. This achievement can be used towards a flexible level 1 certificate or towards higher level qualifications such as a level 2 certificate or diploma.ward in IT User Skills (ECDL Essentials)"

ECDL Extra

A Level 2 qualification, ie accredited as GCSE standard. This consists of four units:

  • Word Processing, eg Microsoft Word
  • Spreadsheets, eg Excel
  • Presentations, ie Powerpoint,
  • Improving Productivity. - see below!

Improving Productivity

Improving Productivity is not a part of the standard '7-unit ECDL' which is commonly taken by adults. It was developed to tie the other ECDL units into the QCF so that the qualification could be accredited for schools, and replaces the Databases module in standard ECDL. Improving Productivity is a module which is only used in ECDL Extra, which is aimed at schools, and its purpose is to show that you can use the skills learned in the rest of the course in a workplace scenario. For instance, you might be asked to create a newsletter for a company, using columns and inserting photos, or create a presentation for clients. Rather than being given small tasks one after the other, which is what happens in the software testing units, in Improving Productivity you are given a small project. You might have to use any of Word processing, Spreadsheets or Presentation software, so it's best to take this module last, when you are confident in all three software applications. You don't know which software application you will need until you start the test

ECDL Extra details

From the BCS website:

Qualification Name: BCS Level 2 Certificate in IT User Skills (ECDL Extra)

QAN (Accreditation Number): 500/6242/6

Qualification Aim:
"The aim of this qualification is to recognise the application of a range of IT user skills and knowledge in the workplace, meeting employer workforce demands.

ECDL Extra is a fixed combination, and promotes the efficient use of popular office application software including word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. The achievement can be used towards a flexible level 2 diploma or towards higher level qualification, such as a level 3 certificate or diploma."

ECDL Advanced

ECDL Advanced is a Level 3 qualification, ie accredited at the same difficulty level as A-levels or a BTec Level 3. On the UCAS Tariff Tables it attracts 40 points, which is equivalent to an AS-level at grade C.

It is accredited by OFQUAL and is on the QCF register under the title BCS Level 3 Certificate in IT User Skills (ECDL Advanced)

More information on the BCS ECDL Advanced page - click the 'Centres' tab for syllabus and sample paper.

Miscellaneous Q&A

Databases module

Is the Databases module compulsory, or has Improving Productivity replaced it?  If I take the ECDL Essentials and ECDL Extra, does that add up to a full ECDL qualification?

Reply from the BCS:

The ECDL certificate (7 module) does still contain the databases module, however the ECDL Extra does not, but contains the Improving Productivity using IT unit which is a unit that reinforces skills learnt in the previously taken modules of the ECDL Extra.

However even though the databases module will not be taken, if you complete the ECDL Essentials and the ECDL Extra you will be also issued with an ECDL  certificate.

If you were to take the Databases module separately, you will be issued a certificate for that module upon completion.

Multiple-Choice Testing?

Some modules and some parts of modules involve small sections of multi-choice tests but they are not exclusively multi-choice tests. The testing of modules also involves screen-based practical assessments of your knowledge of the software - you need to click the right part of the screen or right click and select an appropriate

option, etc.  There are several different types of automated testing and some use a simulation of the MS Office software, rather than the actual software. Depending on the testing software used, it may look very like a MS Office software interface but is not exactly the same, which can be off-putting. Ask to do a practice test before you take the real test; this option should be given to you.  

Another option in some centres is manual testing. You are given a document with a list of instructions, and you use MS Office software to carry out various tasks on it. When you finish, the files are write-protected and the marker then goes through the files checking that all instructions have been carried out correctly.


"The lads are enjoying studying ECDL - they particularly like subjects where they already know more than me :-)

They have particularly enjoyed adapting the documents they make in exercises to do things like keep account of their savings, computer game rankings and other things which are more relevant to them than the ones the books specify...."