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Differences Between the United States' and United Kingdom's Education Systems


Having grown up in the USA, I started my internship with very little knowledge about the UK school system. I figured it couldn’t possibly be that complicated - I was wrong! After asking some British people about about their school system, I found they were equally as confused about the US school system, so I thought I’d summarise and compare the two.

The Basics

The education system in the United States is slightly different in every state, but they all have the same structure; elementary school (ages 5 to 11), middle school (ages 12 to 14) and high school (ages 15 to 18).

In the UK children are at primary school from 5 to 11 years of age and at secondary school from age 11 to 16.

Considering students’ ages, elementary school and primary school are very similar, however beyond this, the UK and USA differ.

Standardised Tests

In the United States standardised tests given in schools vary by state. In Florida (my home state), children in public, state funded schools, aged 11-14, are given an exam called the FSA (Florida Standards Assessments) which tests reading, writing and maths.

Throughout the US, when you are in high school, you take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Test (ACT). These are standardised tests and the scores that students get in these exams play a large part in whether or not they will get accepted into the university they are applying to.

In England, primary school students take 2 standardised tests known as SATS, in year 2 and 6 in the core areas, Maths, English and Science.

In the final year of secondary school, students take their GCSEs in several subjects including Maths, Science and English. One must receive a qualifying score on their GCSE’s to move on to higher education and study for their next exams, A-levels. Students usually take their A-levels aged 17-18 in three subjects, and these are required to be admitted into University.

Higher Education

In the United States, the university process takes 4 years. The first 2 years of University are dedicated to ‘general education’ where students take a variety of subjects in all areas. The final 2 years of university are reserved for a specific area of study or ‘major’. If students decide to further their education after graduating from university, it is an additional 2 years for a master’s degree or an additional 5-7 years for a PhD.

Higher education in UK beings after completing A-levels and being admitted into University. University in the UK is more specialised, and students only study their core subject area for 3 years. After university, students can choose to complete their masters by studying for 1 year, followed by their PhD by studying for a further 3 years.


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