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That it used to be easier to get to Cambridge or Oxford than it is now??

270 replies

countingdownagain · 01/10/2022 17:35

I know a few people that went to Oxbridge in the 70/80s that I struggle to imagine they'd have a hope of getting in today.

It strikes me that it if you were male, fairly well spoken, it was much easier to get in than it would be now??

OP posts:
ScrollingLeaves · 02/10/2022 19:54

Early ‘70s

Croque · 02/10/2022 19:59

nightwakingmoon · 02/10/2022 19:51

*did not is.

(Also we never take DoE into account — see upthread.)

Well, I suppose it remains a mystery why they were not interviewed.

nightwakingmoon · 02/10/2022 20:00

Croque · 02/10/2022 19:49

No they were definitely not interviewed!
DOE = Duke of Edinburgh reward which was mentioned upthread. I did not know that it is common to get 100% in A level exams these days. I don't believe any of their friends did.

It’s really not uncommon for some candidates — in both the state and the independent sector, actually — to be really really good at passing exams and hitting the mark schene exactly, but to not have much independent talent for the subject beyond really really good box-ticking.

Both the interviews and other assessments are designed precisely to distinguish between those who are just good at passing exams (or who have just been really well taught), and those who have intellectual ability or potential in the subject. There are plenty of well taught kids in the independent sector who submit very mediocre essays that aren’t particularly well done but tick all the mark scheme boxes; or who in interview can’t really answer basic questions or evince any genuine interest in the subject despite being very well taught.

Having said all that, if they weren’t interviewed at all, then something doesn’t add up in that story. Cambridge would not deselect in those circumstances; and neither would they be desummoned (not interviewed) by Oxford unless a pre-interview test score was very low. No-one is discharging any candidate before interview without very good reason.

TeenDivided · 02/10/2022 20:00

ScrollingLeaves · 02/10/2022 19:53

I think it was easier in the 1970s before the men’s colleges began to take women. Once more women could apply, the cleverest of them were allowed in over less clever men.

Wasn't easier for the females!

DelurkingAJ · 02/10/2022 20:06

@TheRubyRedshoes my knowledge is 25 years out of date. All I can tell you is that I didn’t do DofE (did got to a posh independent) and got into Oxbridge (with a A A B 1 offer) in the 90s.

Luredbyapomegranate · 02/10/2022 20:08

NancyJoan · 01/10/2022 17:49

Several people in my year at school got in with a mix of As and Bs at A level in the mid 90s. Not a hope of that these days


Yes but A level grades have massively inflated so you can’t compare like with like.

I dunno OP, I think it was pretty hard to get in by the 80s. Pre 50s much easier.

Croque · 02/10/2022 20:08

mediocre essays that aren’t particularly well done but tick all the mark scheme boxes;

This could be the reason. However, they are likely to have done well on every other count. Perhaps their teachers did not provide as glowing references for them as they did for some of the other candidates. Around 10-15 are accepted every year.

Croque · 02/10/2022 20:10

They could have reapplied but they did not seem interested in taking a gap year.

YouSoundLovely · 02/10/2022 20:21

My experience with the entrance exam and finals was very like Sindonym's. I really enjoyed the former - not the latter so much because of the exam pressure, but I always loved engaging with stuff and writing long essays.

My teachers at my (leafyish but pretty ordinary really) state school were extremely supportive of me, but more through encouragement than through practical help as such, although I did have the odd extra chat with one of them.

peaceandove · 02/10/2022 20:35

DD2 got 12 GCSEs all grades 7,8,9. Her A Level grades were good enough for both Oxbridge and LSE. She didn't get a place at any of them. They have all seriously increased their intake of foreign students this year.

Nolongerteaching · 02/10/2022 20:36

It is e trait when you think of the different experiences people have.

I went to a very religious school ( Convent - state) in a very poor London borough ( however the school itself was in a nice area).

We were the last year of O’levels which during the 80s and all the supply teachers/strikes we had was a miracle that we could take - no maths teacher since year 3/9, etc.

We lost our sixth form due to funding and an amalgamation with other schools that hadn’t quite materialised by the September and a few of us spent the summer trying to find somewhere to do A’levels. There was zero support for us which looking back was shocking but the day before term started, we got into an FE college an hour away. Then we had to fight to get our fares paid. Some of the students were coming from Bermondsey across London and out the other end.

This college was very supportive in many ways but not targeted enough for university entrance and most of ended with mediocre grades.

I would also add we were all from immigrant backgrounds - our working class parents, God bless them, were clueless and wanted us to get nice, respectable at 16 in a ‘bank’.

Still, you can’t stop a reader from reading. At 18, I went travelling ( A few months out of gap year spent working in a supermarket and pub!) and met some great people - one in particular who came from a spectacularly privileged background. We became great friends through a shared live of books and I got on to a course at a former poly. I kept reading widely outside of the book list and really loved my subject, then worked for a year in a children’s bookshop in London before applying to Oxford for the PGCE. This was at a time when there were many debates regarding children's literature and I was very informed but genuinely interested ( in the way a book obsessed person is, I guess).

So, I got in. Very few people know exactly my full background but to call it privileged is extraordinary wide of the mark.

Anyways, I’m adding this to illustrate the point which I made earlier - that it is about engagement in subject - real engagement, not just what your teacher told you. I was hopelessly out of my debt reading Sartre at 14 but o knew he was important as a literary figure and wanted to find out why.

All books bought secondhand/ charity shops - the budget way. 🙂

Nolongerteaching · 02/10/2022 20:37

apologies for state of the text. I can’t find my classes

Nolongerteaching · 02/10/2022 20:39


VestaTilley · 02/10/2022 20:40

Definitely. The Miliband’s got in with grades that were far lower than would be acceptable today.

But that’s probably true of all universities - it’s got far more competitive.

Nolongerteaching · 02/10/2022 20:44

And the errors! Depth not debt😖

ScrollingLeaves · 02/10/2022 20:48

Nolongerteaching· Today 20:36
How great that your love of reading and your engagement cut a path for you in the end, in spite of all the obstacles you faced at the outset.

faffadoodledo · 02/10/2022 20:50

Swedishmeatball · 02/10/2022 19:08

Absolutely certain that my white, privately educated, DH would not get in now. We’ve told our DC that if they want to attempt to get in they’ll have to move to the local comp for 6th form.

Don't be silly. If they're bright and do well in the entrance tests and interviews and make their grades of course they will. All private schools I know prep their candidates. Not so DS's comp. And he managed to get in.

onaslant · 02/10/2022 20:53

I went to Cambridge in the 80s and one of my A levels was an E. Without doubt I wouldn't have gotten in today - but back then they had the oxbridge entrance exam which suited me (ideas rather than fact based). I still think I deserved to go though!

ddl1 · 02/10/2022 20:54

I think it's probably harder for many subjects, in that a larger number of applicants are chasing a similar number of places. The number of applicants for university places overall has massively increased, and many universities have responded by massively increasing their intake. Because of their teaching style, Oxbridge can only do this to a limited extent, so yes, many subjects have become more competitive.

Porcupineintherough · 02/10/2022 20:55

RedDwarfGarbagePod · 01/10/2022 19:51

Something shit like anthropology

Yeah. What a waste of time, studying humans and what they do and have done since they became humans. What has the past ever taught anybody anyway?'

Humans? What have they ever done for us? 🤣🤣🤣

faffadoodledo · 02/10/2022 20:55

And DS didn't get contextual offers. Just literally top grades in everything. You really are doing a disservice to bright state educated kids to imply they get some kind of free pass. It's simply not true

Nolongerteaching · 02/10/2022 20:58


i became an English teacher🤣🤣🤣

but thank you. I was back in Oxford recently as I can use the libraries.

My view of the university is that it is something as a country we should be immensely proud of. From a small, market town, a university that held its own against those in the greatest European cities managed to become the best university in the world. 😁

It was sheer pursuit of knowledge and all the questions that brings that made it and you can still feel some of that today.


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faffadoodledo · 02/10/2022 21:09

It's worth bearing in mind too that there is randomness in all uni applications. DS got into Cambridge for English (1 in 12 applicants were successful when he applied for the subject). Yet Durham turned him down! It's a weird old game.
I believe the odds for MFL, Land Management or Anthropology are considerably better. But you have to go for your passion. That's the important thing

Nolongerteaching · 02/10/2022 21:34

Yes, there are a few wildcards, I think.

I remember someone telling me she had gone to a crammer for sixth form and now worked in one. She said the essays were written by her and her colleagues for the students.

I had never seen an ‘a’ grade essay that I hadn’t written myself. How do you know what the expectation is unless you have seen it?

faffadoodledo · 02/10/2022 21:42

I guess that's why the entrance essays done under controlled conditions are a good idea. No cheating! Although some students are still prepared far better than others.

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