Cambridge Pre-U

The Cambridge Pre-U is a British school leaving qualification from Cambridge International Examinations that is an alternative to the current A Level qualification. It is a diploma-type qualification, principally aimed at students aged 16–19, and has recognition for university entrance.[1]

The Cambridge Pre-U was launched in 2008 by Cambridge International Examinations in order to create a qualification which would offer additional depth in subjects beyond the standard A-Level syllabus. A number of independent schools such as Downe House School, Charterhouse School, Cranleigh School, Westminster School, Winchester College, Oundle School, Christ's Hospital, Dulwich College, Shrewsbury School, Rugby School and Eton College have replaced A-Levels with Cambridge Pre-Us in some subjects. They are joined by grammar and comprehensive schools, and sixth-form colleges including Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, Simon Langton Girls' Grammar School, Wimbledon College, Coloma Convent Girls' School, King Edward VI School, Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, Harris Westminster Sixth Form, Watford Grammar School for Girls, Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys and Lancaster Royal Grammar School. A British school in Kenya, Hillcrest Secondary School, switched to Pre-U, making it the first centre for these examinations outside the UK. Over 120 schools offer Cambridge Pre-U and over 300 further schools have registered interest.

Winchester College and Charterhouse were the first schools to introduce the Pre-U across all major sixth-form subjects. The respective headmasters of both institutions, Ralph Townsend and John Witheridge, were key proponents of the Pre-U from the early stages.

As there are continuous reforms with British A-levels, some schools have not only decided to offer the Cambridge Pre-U as an alternative but to switch completely to offering solely the Cambridge Pre-U (or other exams such as International A-levels, the IB etc.) to offer students a more consistent education.[2]

The Cambridge Pre-U is linear, unlike the modular UK A level[3] (the international A level variant delivered by Cambridge International Examinations is also linear[4]), and does not have any compulsory principal subjects as the International Baccalaureate does:[5] students have a free choice of three such "Principal Subjects" out of 27. Additional subjects may be taken, though not incorporated into the Diploma. There are also 'short courses', consisting of one year's study, available in Modern Foreign Languages, Maths and Further Maths. Students who complete an "Independent Research Project" and a "Global Perspectives" portfolio in addition to the three "Principal Subjects" are eligible for the award of the Cambridge Pre-U Diploma.

According to the Cambridge International Examinations website of the Cambridge Pre-U announced that all the 'Ivy League' universities in the USA accepted the Cambridge Pre-U for the purposes of university entrance.[6]

Principal Subjects

The Guide for Schools [7] lists:


In the Pre-U, each Principal Subject is graded on a three-band, nine-grade scale:

Band Grade A-level equivalence
Distinction D1 n/a
D2 A*
D3 A
Merit M1 A/B
M2 B
M3 C
Pass P1 C/D
P2 D
P3 E

The full Pre-U Diploma is graded on the aggregate of the three Principal Subjects, the Independent Research Project, and the Global Perspectives portfolio. The two together (GPR) can also be taken as a separate subject. The Independent Research Project and the Global Perspectives portfolio are each worth exactly half of a Principal Subject; thus, their aggregate forms the equivalent of another Principal Subject. The Pre-U Diploma is graded out of 96 overall; each Principal Subject is graded out of 24, and both Global Perspectives and the Independent Research Report are graded out of 12 each. Some schools will do a mix of A-levels and Pre-U Principal Subjects. With such a mix it is still possible to earn a Pre-U Diploma.[8]

Contribution of each component to the Diploma score
Band Grade Principal Subjects Independent Research Report Global Perspectives
Distinction D1 24 12 12
D2 22 11 11
D3 20 10 10
Merit M1 18 9 9
M2 16 8 8
M3 14 7 7
Pass P1 12 6 6
P2 10 5 5
P3 8 4 4

UCAS tariff

The Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) has awarded a tariff score for Cambridge Pre-U which reflects the HE view of the qualification as very good preparation for university study. Using UCAS tariff scores as a benchmark, universities will be able to compare Cambridge Pre-U and A Level grades.[9]

Unlike A Levels, the Cambridge Pre-U grading scale is divided into three bands: Distinction, Merit and Pass, each sub-divided into three grades (Distinction 1, Distinction 2, Distinction 3 and so on). The top grade, Distinction 1, reports achievement above and beyond the new A Level A* grade; Distinction 2 is aligned towards the A* at A Level (earning a fractionally higher UCAS score), and Distinction 3 is aligned to the current Grade A. The lowest pass grade, Pass 3, is aligned to the border between E and U at A Level.

UCAS has recommended that Cambridge Pre-U Principal Subjects will be awarded 130 points for Distinction 3 and that a Pass 3 is worth 45 points. The tariff points awarded reflect the HE view that Cambridge Pre-U Principal Subjects have more content than A Levels and have a higher degree of ‘criticality’ because of their linear structure. The tariff for exceptional candidates who achieve a Distinction 1 pass were to have been announced after the first Cambridge Pre-U examination entries were assessed.[10]

UCAS has given the Global Perspectives and Research component a slightly different tariff than for a single Principal Subject: 140 for a Distinction 2, 42 for a Pass 3; again, the Distinction 1 is to be confirmed. The 'short course' subjects have a separate tariff score too: 60 for a Distinction 3, 20 for a Pass 3; both Distinction 1 and Distinction 2 have yet to be confirmed.[11]


External links

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