Distance Learning Information | FAQs & Advice | Oxford Open Learning

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)


Previous qualifications are not necessary for many of our courses. Our friendly Student Advisers have many years of experience in helping to guide students towards the most suitable courses and our personalised enrolment process is designed to give you the best possible advice with honesty and absolutely no high pressure selling.

For most GCSE/IGCSEs you do not need to have any prior knowledge of the subject. However, if you would like to enrol to study English Language GCSE/IGCSE you will need some experience of writing and reading English.  Our GCSE and IGCSE English Language courses are not designed as courses in English as a second language, but to meet the requirements of exam board specifications that aim to assess native speakers of English.

Our A-Level courses require a minimum of 4 GCSEs (or equivalent) to enrol. For A Level English  a pass at C grade or above at GCSE level is required.  For A Level Maths you need to have passed the higher tier paper at GCSE level. (If you have passed at foundation level, then we suggest that you obtain our GCSE higher level course to study alongside the A Level at a cost of £100, but you will not be required to resit your GCSE exam.) If you are unsure about whether your qualifications meet our requirements for A Level study, then please call us and we will be happy to explain our requirements in more detail!

Yes, our courses are provided to you both online and in paper format. You choose how to study in a way that works for you.

It is still crucial to be able to handwrite exams in a way that is legible to examiners; therefore our students are encouraged to send in work both by email and on paper. We also believe that our study materials encourage serious study in a way that entirely media-based courses are less well adapted to.

We have a team of Student Advisers available from 9 a.m. to 7.30 p.m on most weekdays and they are always very pleased to speak to potential students, so please do contact us by telephone to ask for information, help and guidance.

However, we cannot take applications over the telephone so please go to our home page and click “Apply Now” on the green bar or if necessary, ring and ask for a paper form to be sent in the post.

You can start our courses at any time, although if you plan to sit exams (GCSEs, IGCSEs and A Levels) on specific dates there are deadlines for receipt of applications. These deadlines fluctuate slightly each year but remain roughly the same:

* For summer exams, applications for IGCSE or GCSE courses must be received by the previous mid-November.

* For summer exams, applications for full A level courses must be received by the end of the previous September, while applications for one full A Level, an AS only – or an A2 if the AS has already been taken – must be received by the end of the previous September.

If you have any questions regarding the above deadlines please feel free to call our student advice team.

If you are already a graduate but you have missed our normal deadline then our our fast track courses are available to allow you to complete a GCSE course more quickly than usual.

We generally dispatch course materials within 7 working days of receiving payment or your standing order form (if you’re paying by instalments). Sometimes this can take slightly longer, for example, between September and November when we receive a lot of applications.

To avoid this exceptionally busy period, we recommend that you apply during July or August when other students are on holiday. This will also give you a head start in your studies.

Unlike many of our competitors who operate a general pool of tutors, each student is given and individual tutor for every one of their subjects. This has the huge advantage that over your period of study you will build up a relationship and work together to ensure that your support suits your individual requirements and gives you the best possible preparation for your exam.

All our courses include dedicated tutor support via telephone and email. All OOL tutors are fully qualified experienced teachers who work from home and are able to offer flexible contact times, including evenings and weekends. Indeed some still teach part-time in schools, while others are AQA examiners and markers, so they are fully aware of the needs of our students.

It is important to establish when would be good contact times for both you and the tutor and if you are studying outside the UK, for example, you might be in a different time zone, and so will need to be very clear about mutually convenient contact times.

All distance learning students sit as Private Candidates at local schools, colleges or private tutorial colleges, no matter who they choose to study with. When you are entered with them for the exam, they become your “exam centre”. Over our 25 years in education, we have built up excellent relations with many exam centres and so our students are welcomed in a huge number of locations around the country, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We believe that we are the only company of our type to have a dedicated Examinations Officer who is there to help students find a centre, book the correct exam, deal with the complications of board examined coursework and provide help and advise with your results.

On our website we have an exam centre finder which is based on post codes and on the information that we have built up over the years. We do not just rely on information from the exam board websites, which can often be misleading.

How to find exam centres.

Dates for all exams are published on the relevant exam board’s website. Check your exam specification in the Introduction to your course, go to either http://www.aqa.org.uk or http://www.edexcel.com and then find the relevant series (summer or winter) in the exam timetable. Exam dates are not negotiable even for the holiday of a lifetime or hospitalisation.

Please be aware that summer exams are often referred to as “June” exams. This can be misleading as many summer exams now take place in May as well, our Student Advisers can always help you to find the correct date.

Students often get confused by the difference between the work they do during their course, which is tested by their Tutor-marked Assignments and Non-exam Assessment, which is entirely different.

Tutor-marked Assignments (or TMAs) are not coursework, they are progress checks for the student and the tutor. Every course will have several TMAs but they do not in any way contribute towards your final exam grade.

NEA also occasionally referred to as coursework is only required for certain subjects at A Level and English GCSE. None of the IGCSEs that we offer have NEA. How a look at our exam pages for more information.

It is very important that students recognise the difference between TMAs and board-examined coursework.

Exams are becoming increasingly expensive and unfortunately we have no control over what an exam centre charges you. The exam fee is not included in the price that you pay to OOL and we strongly advise that you do some shopping around.

The cost of any exam consists of two parts; the exam board fee, which is fixed and is published on the relevant AQA or Edexcel website and the administration charge, which can be whatever the exam centre thinks is appropriate. Therefore the cost of a GCSE can vary from about £50 in a centre which feels it is offering a community service to around £200 in a Private Tutorial College in central London.

The Introduction to your course will tell you the name of the exam board you are studying and the specification or entry code. Other names for this are syllabus number, entry details or component code. You will also find unit numbers/codes for A levels detailed here as well. We also publish a list of entry codes on our website.

It is essential that you establish this information before contacting an exam centre as they will not be pleased if they have to trawl through all the different options for you. Always check with your Student Adviser if you are unsure.

There are many different reasons for this, but the most common are that the exam officer/school has had a bad experience with a private candidate in the past or that they do not offer your particular specification to their own students and would therefore need to put on an exam especially for you.

Oxford Open Learning has a very extensive database of centres who have helped our students in the past and who know that we try to minimise the amount of work they will be involved in. However, many exam officers, especially those who are new to the job or if they have a large year group going through school and are short of space can be reluctant to help. Nonetheless, circumstances change every year, helpful exam officers come and go and all you or we can do is make an enquiry as it is entirely the exam centre’s choice whether to accept you or not.

If you follow our guidelines you will give yourself the best chance of getting a positive response, but please do not put their help in jeopardy by being ill-informed, rude or demanding. If a centre says that they cannot help for any reason at all then please accept it gracefully. It will do no good to tell them that they must because they are on the Oxford Open Learning or exam board lists.

Yes you can! Bear in mind that you will need to pay additional postage and packing fees for sending course materials outside of the UK.  Unless you have a UK bank account (to set up a standing order) your fee must be paid in full before the start of your course. You may need to come to the UK to sit exams if you are studying for GCSEs or A-Levels so be aware of this.  You may need to sit more than one exam paper, and these may be on different days.  IGCSEs can be taken at test centres world-wide.

  • IGCSE exams do not include coursework which contributes marks to the final GCSE grade.
  • IGCSE exams can be taken abroad, whereas the GCSE exams may only be taken in the UK.
  • As national qualifications, the GCSE and the IGCSE are on a par and fully recognised for acceptance on to A Level or other courses.    However, you are advised to check with any professional body or further education institution to which you are thinking of applying (e.g. for PGCE or nursing) to make sure that they know what an IGCSE qualification is and are happy to accept it. A few places are a bit behind the times! If you encounter any problems, please contact us we can always put them right.

YES. We can guarantee that any Oxford Open Learning student who studies with us and follows our advice on finding a centre will be able to get an exam place. We have a list of about 30 exam centres around the country who we know will always offer our students a place. We send this list out in the December before your summer exams.

In addition to the 30 guaranteed centres, we also have a network of hundreds of others who, if you are prepared to shop around, may well be cheaper and more convenient, as long as they can offer your subject.

For this and any other problem that you encounter, communication is the key.

Because you are a distance learner and we do not ever actually see you in a class room we cannot know that you have a problem unless you tell us! That is why we have a team of Student Advisers who are constantly on hand to help you. Please send us an email or give us a call, that is what we are there for.

If you have decided that this is not the right type of course for you, you may cancel your course, in writing, within the first fourteen days of having received it. You then need to return your materials to us within the following 21 days. This is at your own expense and we would advise that you return the materials by a traceable service, as this is your responsibility until we receive the materials here in Oxford. Once we have received the materials, in good condition, we will organise a refund cheque to be sent to you. If you required your materials to be delivered abroad, the additional postage charge will not be refunded.

Not really, we just need your on-line application and if you decide to pay in installments we will need you to sign and return a standing order form.

Because we have been established a long time – this year is our 25th anniversary- and we believe we are the best.

We offer an extremely experienced group of Student Advisers to guide you through applying and then to be constantly at the end of a telephone to help with any problems that you encounter, at any time.

We offer a huge team of highly qualified and experienced tutors who will support you on a one to one basis throughout your study period.

We do our utmost to be upfront and honest about our fees, what we can and also what we cannot offer you and exactly how we work.

We are friendly and approachable and most importantly we are an experienced and ethical company who will try our very best to ensure that you have signed on for the most suitable course and that you will go into your examination fully prepared and with as little additional stress as possible.

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