University of Cambridge

Undergraduate

Study

GCSE and AS/A Level requirements – the facts

Because the University of Cambridge is a highly selective institution, incorrect assumptions are sometimes made about our GCSE and AS/A Level entrance requirements. If you’re considering applying to the University and would like some further detail about our requirements, read on.

The facts at a glance

  • Cambridge does not require a minimum number of A* grades at GCSE.
  • Cambridge does not require 90 per cent in every AS/A2 unit.
  • Cambridge does not require an average of 90 per cent in every AS/A2 subject.
  • Cambridge does not require an average of 90 per cent across their three best or three most relevant A Level subjects.
  • Cambridge is comfortable with applicants retaking a few AS/A2 units.

One of the strengths of the Cambridge admissions system is its ability to assess all applicants individually and to take account of individual circumstances. If you have further queries or wish to discuss any particular circumstances, please contact the College to which you're considering applying.

There is only one certainty in the Cambridge admissions process:

  • if you don't apply, you won't get in!

GCSEs

With the exception of those for Medicine and Veterinary Medicine (grade C or above in GCSE Double Award Science and Mathematics), there are no GCSE requirements for entry to Cambridge, and there is no minimum number of A* grades required for any of our courses.

Our research shows that post-16 examination performance is a much better predictor of degree success at Cambridge. While GCSE results are looked at as a performance indicator, this is within the context of the school/college performance and strong performance in Years 12 and 13 can make up for a less stellar performance at GCSE.

AS/A Level retakes

We recognise that even the best students can have 'bad days' when an exam doesn’t quite go to plan. Therefore, we’re not concerned if an applicant has retaken or is planning to retake a couple of AS/A2 Level units for which the results obtained are clearly 'blips'.

At Cambridge, students are regularly assessed by examination and there's no opportunity to resit any exams (with the exception of professional qualifying examinations in Medicine and Veterinary Medicine). Therefore, we would be concerned about an applicant who seldom seems to have 'good' days and is retaking large numbers of units, unless this number of retakes was justified by circumstances beyond the applicant’s control and explained in their UCAS reference.

UMS performance

We ask applicants to tell us the details of their uniform mark scheme (UMS) performance in every AS/A Level unit taken to date on our Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ). Our research shows that performance at AS/A Level as measured by average UMS percentages is a much better predictor of degree potential than GCSE results.

Our main measure of UMS performance is the average across three subjects: for Arts and Social Science applicants across the three best subjects (excluding General Studies and Critical Thinking); for Science applicants across the three most relevant subjects.

In the last admissions round, the average Cambridge applicant scored about 90 per cent on this measure, while the average successful Cambridge applicant scored nearer 95 per cent. Note that both these figures are averages – applicants don’t need to have achieved a certain score in every module and aren’t required to achieve 90 per cent or above in all modules. There were successful Cambridge applicants who had UMS averages in their best/most relevant three subjects below 90 per cent.

In the case of applicants with UMS percentages at AS to consider, significant emphasis is placed on these when deciding which applicants to call to interview. In general, in the absence of significant extenuating circumstances, competition for places is such that those averaging 85 per cent and below across their three best (for Arts applicants) or three most relevant (for Science applicants) AS subjects are very unlikely to be called for interview. In years where the competition for places is particularly strong, a higher AS average may be necessary in order to secure an interview. An applicant's chance of securing an interview improves with rising UMS.

Applicants not taking modular AS Levels

Where the school/college delivers A Levels without external assessment in Year 12 and this UMS information will be absent from an applicant's profile, more weight will inevitably be placed on the other elements of their application.

Occasionally, an applicant without this information might not get the benefit of the doubt in comparison to one with a very high UMS average. Alternatively, doubt might be resolved by making a stiffer than usual offer (eg A*A*A). Evidence of any internal assessments (provided in the school/college reference or sent as a transcript to the College) could be helpful in such cases.