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MAR 16, 2020 • 8 min read
Are you thinking about taking A Levels?
Or, maybe you want to see how your Cambridge International Examination (CIE) results will help you apply for university?
Either way, you’ve come to the right place!
Get ready to have all your burning questions about CIE answered.
If you want to get the lowdown on UCAS points, find out why you should make use of CIE past papers, and learn how you can use your CIE exam results to apply to top universities around the world, including Oxford and Cambridge, then keep reading!
Welcome to your definitive guide to everything regarding Cambridge International Examinations.
Cambridge International Examinations are a series of internationally recognised examinations that originated in the United Kingdom. According to the CIE website, the exams are offered in “55 subjects” and students are given the freedom to take these subjects in any combination they want.
The qualifications offered by CIE are recognised internationally!
This means that whether you want to apply for Oxford, Stanford, or Princeton, the Cambridge exams can help you get to where you want.
Students taking this qualification will usually begin by taking the IGCSE course, then the Advanced Subsidiary (AS) course, then the Advanced level (A2) course for their chosen subjects in the last three years of high school.
Each of these year-long courses increases in difficulty and helps prepare students for a successful academic career at university.
The “A Level”, comprised of 50% of a student’s AS grade and 50% of a student’s A2 grade, makes up their official CIE qualification for a particular subject According to the University of Oxford website, “A-levels (short for Advanced levels) are school-leaving qualifications that are taken by many students in the UK. Students usually choose three or four subjects, and take two years to study for these A-levels between the ages of 16 and 18.”
CIE courses are designed so that students study course material for their chosen subjects throughout the year, usually engaging in practical and written assessments along the way at their school, then take a series of final (externally assessed) exams at the end of the year.
Unlike many other national or international curriculums offered, like the IB Diploma, CIE does not take any internal assessments into account for its final grade. What you get in your final exam is the only factor that determines the grade is written on your official certificate.
However, there are exceptions to this rule for subjects such as Art and Design and Graphics, whereby, due to the format and time constraints of an exam being insufficient to fully assess the student’s ability, internal projects will count toward the final grade.
So, you’ve taken your examinations.
You’ve received your results.
You’ve killed it, and now… drum roll, please... it’s time to apply for university.
But, wait a minute, how do you go about applying to university with your CIE results? This is where UCAS points come in.
The UCAS Tariff system allocates points to scores obtained in your A Levels to help you gain university entrance. Many universities (especially in the UK) will have a minimum UCAS point cutoff for their courses.
You’ll also be able to find the average UCAS score of students who got accepted into awesome universities online so you can compare your own academic profile to successful applicants!
Our study advice is to make a note of the UCAS point requirements for the courses you want before you start taking your A Level courses so you know what levels you’re aiming for!
For most A Level qualifications, the UCAS Tariff points are allocated as follows:
Grade UCAS Tariff Points
For universities in the United States, there is usually no cutoff entry UCAS score. This is because the US takes a holistic approach to reviewing applications and makes an assessment of candidates on a case by case basis.
As such, there is a much greater range of grades and UCAS scores that receive admission into top US universities.
But don’t be fooled!
This in no way means that admission into US universities do not e high UCAS scores! The average applicant receiving admission into top 20 US universities would most likely have a plethora of straight A and A* grades!
So, if you’re aiming for these universities, make sure you have a realistic expectation of what grades you want to be achieving.
Now back to the UK, where most universities have a cutoff entry grade.
Oxford’s CIE admissions requirements range from 3 As at A Level (AAA or 144 UCAS points) to 3As at A Level (AAA or 168 UCAS points).
Note that when calculating your UCAS score of UK schools, you can only use THREE of your A Level scores to calculate your final score! UK universities usually only look at your three highest scoring A Level exams when making the admissions decision.
For example, for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE - one of Oxford’s most renowned courses), you need to get a minimum of 3 As (AAA) in order for your application to even be considered.
Math- and science-heavy courses tend to have higher entry requirements. This includes Oxford’s Engineering Science program, which has an entry requirement of a whopping 3 A* (AAA).
So for any budding Oxford engineers - make sure you’re acing those A Levels!
However, remember that just because you’ve surpassed the grade threshold doesn’t mean that you automatically gain acceptance to these universities.
Competitive universities, like Oxford, will have many applicants applying who fulfill the grade requirements - too many for the limited spaces they have!
So although the grade threshold for a popular course like PPE may be three As, the average offer is actually for students who receive one A* and 2 As.
What does that mean for you?
It means that whilst you should definitely be using the grade thresholds of your dream UK universities as scores to aim for, don’t let that stop you from going above and beyond. Top universities are very selective and you need to make sure you stand out from the other applicants.
As mentioned, UCAS points for A Levels are usually calculated using a student’s top three A Level scores. This is because, traditionally, many students taking the CIE course only sit a maximum of three courses.
However, learning A Levels online has become more popular as more students embrace self-study to make themselves more competitive candidates to top universities. Many students are even opting to take more than three subjects.
If you want to find out how you can self-study A Levels online to gain a competitive edge over other applicants, check out our blog.
Remember, though, that even if you take more than three A Levels, your UCAS score - which is used to see if you’ve met the university’s entry requirements - is calculated from your top three A Levels only.
This means that if you’re taking six subjects, which comes at the expense of your grade point average to the point that your top three A Levels are not able to satisfy the entry requirement, you will not be considered by any university that has a UCAS threshold.
If you want further help and information on how to calculate your UCAS points, you can find amazing tools for calculating UCAS points for A Levels on the official UCAS Website: Calculate your UCAS Tariff points.
Also, remember to check out the information on UCAS point cutoffs and the average UCAS points of admitted students for your target universities.
So, now you have the tools to create a plan of attack for your dream universities. You know what grades you have to aim for in order to be a competitive applicant.
But, how do you get the top grades you need in order to smash the university entrance process?**
Past papers are a fantastic study resource for CIE students. CIE past papers are exam scripts from official externally assessed examinations written by Cambridge in the past.
These will give you a sense of what the end of year assessment will be like and also allow you to approximate your final score based on your current level of knowledge and study.
You can access a huge array of past papers online from a range of different sources, including the official CIE website. Alternatively, your school may also have their own store of past papers so make sure you ask your teacher about whether they have access to this invaluable resource.
There you have it - all the basics you need to know about Cambridge International Examinations.
If you take away one thing, let it be this: your CIE qualification is an internationally recognised achievement that could help you unlock the doors to some of the top institutions in the world.
To find out more about how to do well on your CIE exams, check out some of other posts on our blog dedicated to the CIE qualification.