Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need anything special on my computer to access an online course? Can I use a PC or a Mac?

The courses are delivered in a virtual learning environment called Moodle, which runs with Microsoft and Apple systems.

Most of the material is loaded as pdfs, with powerpoints and some Word documents, so if you can open these you should be able to view your course.

To log in to a course you will need to allow the VLE to set a cookie so that it will recognise your log-in ; you may need to check how to ‘enable third part cookies’ or ‘enable cross-site-posting’ depending on your computer.

If you use an iPad or tablet you may find it easier to download material to a computer first then view the files: the course material was not originally designed to be accessed in this way.  Some of the presentations in the RHS courses use ‘Flash’ which does not operate on iPhones or iPads but will work on Apple computers and tablets. 

If you have problems you can email

Do I need to be online all the time I’m studying the course materials? My internet connection isn’t very good.

No, almost all of the course materials can be downloaded and run offline whenever it suits you, or printed out at home if you want to get away from your screen. Sometimes the notes contain links to useful websites for further information and you may like to go online to follow these up.

Also, some quiz interactions ( such as the multiple choice tests for the Organic Gardening Certificate units) have to be taken when you are online.

In the RHS courses, there are some narrated presentations which will only run when you are online - but there are also downloadable powerpoint versions as well.

Do I need any qualifications to study for the RHS Certificates?

No,  an interest in gardening and an enthusiasm for knowledge are enough to study at level 2, and this is the right starting point for most adult learners.
RHS Level 1 is a purely practical qualification used mainly for school and therapy gardening.
It is a good idea to complete some sort of level 2 practical horticultural qualification before you attempt level 3, and the same for the theory courses  - unless you have a good background in botany or biology it may be better to feel comfortable with level 2 and consolidate your (possibly distant) school studies than always feel stretched starting at level 3. Comparisons with GCSE O and A levels don't really take account of the breadth of study you need to undertake for RHS qualifications.  

How long does it take to study for an RHS Certificate?

It is up to you to decide how fast you work through the units: it all depends on how much time you have free to study!

As a guide, the units are rated with the number of hours of study you would generally need to cover the material and prepare for examinations.  For example, level 2 Certificates are each about 160 hours of work, level 3 Plant Growth about 180 hours, and level 3 Garden Planning around 200 hours. Not all of the units within a certificate are the same size - so the individual exams for a Certificate have different numbers of questions and are different lengths.

Where can I take the RHS exams?

Many centres around the UK offer RHS courses, and these are listed on the RHS website. Depending on the particular course their students are following they will be running some or all of the exams at a session - however not all centres take external candidates, so it is a good idea to contact the Centre's Examinations Officer well in advance of the exam cut-off date to check if they will accept you.  The RHS  host exams at Wisley, but  again places are limited so book the exam well in advance. BEST runs all the exams at its Ryton and North Moreton centres for its distance learning students.

When can I take the RHS exams?

The exams are offered twice a year on dates in February and June – they run on the same weeks each year, and the timetable is published a year ahead by the RHS.

Level 2 Plant Growth exams are on Monday, Garden Planning Tuesday; Level 3 Plant Growth on Wednesday and Level 3 Garden Planning on the Thursday of the exam week.

Each unit has its own exam, so taking a Certificate will mean taking four exams on one day. However you don’t have to take all the exams at once if you prefer to space them out over more than one session.

When can I start studying?

You can start the courses whenever you like. The only fixed points are the examination dates in February and June. You will be enrolled with us initially for two years' tutorial support for a certificate, but if you need to take a break or extend this to fit in with exam dates, this is flexible. We don't cut you off automatically.

Does the course include exam registration and fees?

No, we don't register you for exams as part of the course.

Fees to register for exams are paid to the RHS through the centre where you sit the exams, and distance learners may be studying anywhere in the country, or abroad - so you will need to find you nearest exam venue from the RHS list on their website.

We run the exams at our Ryton and North Moreton Centres, so you can always take the exams with us if there is nowhere closer.

If you study abroad or there is nowhere convenient for you to travel to, the RHS Exams Office will explain their ‘exceptional supervision’ policy and help you sort out somewhere local to take your exam.

Exam booking deadlines are earlier than you might expect – the end of November for February, and April for June.  Check for reminders in Moodle (the VLE).

Do I have to take the exams to study the course?

No, the exams are not compulsory, and a lot of people take RHS courses for pleasure without wanting to put themselves though an exam at the end.

However the RHS will no longer allow us to issue any form of Certification which indicates you have studied the course without taking examinations, so unless you take the exams you cannot achieve a qualification based on the RHS syllabus.

I’m keen on gardening and have quite a lot of practical experience; should I start at level 3, rather than level 2?

There are two main ways to judge if this is a good idea for theory courses:

(1)   At both level 2 and level 3 there is some plant biology and soil science to cover - if you did at least GCSE or A level biology at school, then you may be comfortable at level 3, if you have some horticultural experience too. If you didn’t do science or don’t remember much about it, then you may prefer to recap on all of this at level 2.

(2)   Go to the RHS website and look at the syllabus for both levels of qualification – all the topics and assessment criteria are listed in detail. Level 3 presumes that you have covered the level 2 syllabus, so if there are significant gaps, you may be happier starting at level 2.

Finally,  you might like to look at a couple of the past papers which the RHS make available on their website: do you think, with a bit of revision and brushing up your old studies, that you could do the level 2 papers?  Read the examiner comments published at the end, to see if you were on the right track, and if you were it's worth trying level 3. 

For practical courses, have a look at the syllabus for the level 2 practical; if you are confident you know all the core techniques covered, then you may be fine with starting at level 3  - but if you have done another level 2 practical qualification like C & G or BTec, be prepared for a great deal more plant identification and written work in the RHS course.

I'd like to look at an online classroom - can I?

If you would like to see what an online classroom is like in Moodle, you can go to a sample course in our Virtual Learning Environment; this has some examples of course materials from RHS theory  classrooms at levels 2 and 3, some videos and presentations from RHS practical classrooms. There is a separate sample classroom for the Certificate in Organic Horticulture.

You can either:

  • click on the link here,  find the sample classroom in the  listing on the front page and log in as a guest to enter
  • or download this step by step guide to do the same.