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A*s and Oxbridge

(124 Posts)
BrendaBlackhead Tue 14-Oct-14 08:36:52

Does anyone know with any degree of certainty if Oxford and/or Cambridge really field candidates on the number of A*s? (Excluding low-performing schools/special case candidates)

I ask because this year ds's cohort did unexpectedly worse than they were expected to in some humanities subjects. The school is battling on with the exam board but no news yet.

It seems so unjust when in the year above 80% achieved A* for Eng Lit and in ds's year (which was apparently a more able cohort) only 40% did.

Also I see that some schools (particularly private) routinely go for remarks which seems unfair on those students/parents who are less informed about the procedure or even that you can do this.

Obviously if you have generally low grades then it's curtains - but if you have 6A*s instead of 7, or 8 instead of 9 it seems not only tough but unfair.

titchy Tue 14-Oct-14 08:41:24

Seriously - of course it won't matter. 5 or 6 A*s instead of 7 or 8 will be absolutely fine really. The A level predictions on the other hand.....

namioexchangio Tue 14-Oct-14 08:41:25

Oxford put a lot of store by 9 x A* grades, together with the aptitude test. Cambridge don't really look at GCSE grades - they look instead at AS percentages (93%+ average for easier subjects (MFL etc), 97%+ for more competitive subjects like Medicine and NatSci).

At my DDs' independent school, 30% of pupils had at least 1 GCSE go up a grade after appeals. Exam boards should be ashamed of their marking standards.

namioexchangio Tue 14-Oct-14 08:43:11

titchy It is very difficult (not quite impossible if you do outstandingly on the aptitude test) to get into Oxford with 5 or 6 A* grades. Perfectly fine for Cambridge as they don't look particularly at GCSE grades, just AS grades.

AllMimsyWereTheBorogoves Tue 14-Oct-14 08:51:04

All universities will be aware that grades are falling at GCSE and A level and will be revising their criteria accordingly, surely?

lismore Tue 14-Oct-14 09:03:09

Cambridge has increased its standard offer for Science courses this year from A* AA to A * A* A but this may be in preparation for the decoupling of AS and A levels to give applicants a realistic view of the high standard they need to reach.
You do not need 97% UMS to be a competitive applicant.

BrendaBlackhead Tue 14-Oct-14 09:09:55

That's what I thought, AllMimsy.

Also ds's cousin in year above was able to take some of her GCSEs three times until she got A*s. So she has 11A*s. 2014's group was not able to do that (not that ds's school ever allowed 'improving' retakes anyway).

lismore Tue 14-Oct-14 09:15:24

Here's a link from 2012 so a bit out of date, but shows that people don't always need loads of A* at GCSE for Cambridge:

BrendaBlackhead Tue 14-Oct-14 09:30:45

Interestingly it shows the number of private school applicants has dropped significantly over ten years. I wonder why. And I wonder if they have correspondingly increased at Oxford. Perhaps private schools are good at numbers of A*s at GCSE and acing the interview and less exceptional at AS scores.

titchy Tue 14-Oct-14 10:23:26

2012/13 entrants - 57% at Oxford were from state schools, 63% at Cambridge.
2011/12 - 58% for Oxford, 58% for Cambridge.
2010/11 - 55% for Oxford, 59% for Cambridge.

So Oxford remains fairly stable, while Cambridge appears to have made a real effort to recruit more from the state sector.

AtiaoftheJulii Tue 14-Oct-14 10:49:33

Oxford put a lot of store by 9 x A* grades, together with the aptitude test.

It is very difficult (not quite impossible if you do outstandingly on the aptitude test) to get into Oxford with 5 or 6 A* grades.

I'd be really interested to see actual evidence for these assertions, namio, because they sound like the sort of rumours that are always wafting about, which may or may not be true. I just don't think saying if you don't have 9 you might as well not bother is very helpful.

And Cambridge don't really look at GCSE grades - they look instead at AS percentages (93%+ average for easier subjects (MFL etc), 97%+ for more competitive subjects like Medicine and NatSci). - these figures get bandied about as if they are MINIMUM requirements. If you look at you will see that:

"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, which means that there were successful Cambridge applicants who had UMS averages in their best/most relevant three subjects below 90 per cent.

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.

To reinforce the reality:
 Cambridge does not require applicants to have achieved 90 per cent in every AS/A2 unit
 Cambridge does not require applicants to have achieved an average of 90 per cent in every AS/A2 subject
 Cambridge does not require applicants to have achieved an average of 90 per cent across their three best or three most relevant A Level subjects "

titchy Tue 14-Oct-14 10:55:17

Atia - I expect these sorts of things are bandied about by the higher ranking private schools - after all if they let slip that little Jonny (well probably quite big Jonny!) doesn't actually need to work his socks off, and that sending him to a cheaper (or dare I say it state) school probably won't affect his chances, then that's their raison d'etre gone!

AtiaoftheJulii Tue 14-Oct-14 10:56:49 re GCSE grades for Oxford.

And in their bit about the EBacc they say they want a majority of A and A* grades.

AtiaoftheJulii Tue 14-Oct-14 10:58:29

titchy - exactly! Drives me mad.

irregularegular Tue 14-Oct-14 11:02:00

I'm a tutor who does admissions at Oxford. The approaches of different subjects will vary. I can tell you with certainty that for my subject GSCEs would be taken into account and given significant weight but there is absolutely no strict formula and you would not be automatically ruled out with 5-6A*. You would almost always be ruled out if you weren't predicted to get at least AAA at A-level as that is our standard offer (for arts/humanities/social sciences). The aptitude test is also extremely important for selecting for interview, and once you are through to interview your performance there becomes very important.

I wanted to be able to tell you that last year my college made offers in my subject to some people with relatively few A* as i expected that would be true! In fact, excluding a candidate from a failing school (and international students with different qualifications) all successful candidates got straight A* at GCSE. But PLEASE don't let that put you off. We are talking about small numbers here and it really surprised me - I'm sure it isn't always true!

As I said, GSCEs are just one factor. However, we do tend to find that on average there is quite a strong correlation across all of GSCEs, AS, predicted A-level, school reference, aptitude tests, and interview - it almost doesn't matter how we weight them as they tend to give very similar outcomes! I do remember that last year was a particularly strong year for my college and subject.

irregularegular Tue 14-Oct-14 11:03:03

We however would look askance at more than the odd B grade in a non core subject unless there were extenuating circumstances.

mice Tue 14-Oct-14 11:07:40

My son started at Oxford last week with "only" 8 A* and 3 A at GCSE , he did have 4 A's at AS level though (all at 95% or above) and was predicted 4 A* at A level. He also has friends that have just started that had less A* at GCSE, so not impossible. What I would say though is that the majority on his course (and of his school friends with Oxbridge places) got straight (or almost) A* at A level despite offers being for just one A* and 2 A's.

BeckAndCall Tue 14-Oct-14 11:21:43

I'm fairly certain that each oxford department (not college) publishes an admissions review each year which describes their intake of students by number of grades for GCSEs etc. (I've looked at a recent physics admissions review, for example)

And if you interpret the Cambridge guidance above you"ll see that is is very unlikely that you'd get an interview if your AS UMS scores are below 90 on average. BUT there is also the pool guidance which says that you WILL get pooled if your AS UMS are averages are above 93 (but only a small proportion get fished, admittedly)

Mindgone Tue 14-Oct-14 12:52:13

Another way to do it, if Oxbridge is really important to you, is to have a gap year, and apply with fabulous known grades. Then GCSEs will be much less significant, I would have thought.

Littleham Tue 14-Oct-14 13:15:09

Oxford put a lot of store by 9 x A star grades

If this is true my dd is stuffed! She did ring Oxford admissions with her grades as well & they said she was fine to give it a shot.

TheWordFactory Tue 14-Oct-14 17:41:53

A few misconceptions here.

First the number of A*s in English went up this year, compared to last. English Lit went down a touch, though the figures didn't take into account the resits yet.

So there really is no excuse for a school to halve their A* figures.

Second, whilst Oxford do put more emphasis on GCSE grades, they do not need to be all A*s. And they still put emphasis on AS grades and scores in aptitude tests and interview.

Cambridge will interview more candidates, including those with lower GCSE grades. They will also send out more offers, but the standard offer will often be higher than Oxford (more miss the grades, than at Oxford).

TheWordFactory Tue 14-Oct-14 17:46:10

It will be interesting to see what happens when some schools don't continue with AS!

Will Cambridge place more importance on GCSEs? Will they give priority to those students who do have an AS score to wave around, rather than a predicted grade?

MillyMollyMama Tue 14-Oct-14 17:51:56

Anecdotal, but DD got 9 A* and got a place at Oxford for Modern Languages. I have friends with a DD who got 5A* at GCSE and got a place at Cambridge for English. Cambridge, in Arts subjects, seem to be a bit more lenient at GCSE. Therefore Littleham, Cambridge?

Littleham Tue 14-Oct-14 17:57:07

Too late MillyMolly! The application is in now (although I believe you can change for 7 days).

And when she rang up Cambridge (and I quote) a 'snooty woman' said 'no chance'!!! So I think she is pretty borderline. Still she has four other choices.

BrendaBlackhead Tue 14-Oct-14 18:08:13

How many did she get, Littleham, if you don't mind my asking? And for what subject?

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