How do GCSE's affect Oxbridge applications? Watch

Mustaine
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I think I've seen a similar thread to this but it was from 2008...

I'm sitting my GCSE exams this summer, and there are a couple of subjects I'm pretty disillusioned with (German I expect a B at most, Tech optimistically hoping for a B/A), though other than that I'm predicted A/A*s. I was however under the impression that Oxbridge were more concerned with A Levels, personal statements and interviews rather than GCSE results.

I'm hoping to study Archaeology and Anthropology and have chosen History, Latin, Chemistry, and English Lit, with ab initio Italian for A Level. I'm also a native speaker of another European language. If I do my A Levels to AAA, do you think that it would be enough result-wise? I'm obviously not going to take GCSE exams lightly, but could decent A Levels redeem a couple of hiccups at GCSE?

Thanks
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Princess Bubbles
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Yes I should think so
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Boristhethird
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when all the applicants have A/A* at A level, with a near identical perfect personal statement, the top unis use GCSEs to split the 'better' from the 'worse' candidates.
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ily_em
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A few B grades at GCSE are NOT hiccups! It seriously won't matter. There are so many other factors to your application which are more important .
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Mustaine
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Thanks

Would they differentiate between different GCSE's depending on the subject you're applying for?
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ily_em
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(Original post by Mustaine)
Thanks

Would they differentiate between different GCSE's depending on the subject you're applying for?
DO you mean if you were applying for maths, for example, they might want an A* in that subject? Yes, they might look at the relevance of the subjects but I doubt they would place that much importance on it. In fact, I know someone who go in to study maths at Cambridge with "only" an A grade in it (I know an A isn't bad, but you would expect someone good enough at maths for Cambridge to achieve an A* as it's relatively easy).

They look at other more important stuff, like AS grades and module scores (for Cambridge), written work you've sent in, entrance exams, interview performance, reference, personal statement, what you have read/ done outside of your schoolwork to show your interest for the subject, etc...

GCSEs are not the be all and end all. For example, I got 12A* at GCSE and was rejected from Cambridge, whereas someone I know applying for the same subject at the same college got in with about 4A* and the rest A and B grades.
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Markh1000
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I can tell you that it definitely does matter for medicine...but I don't know about any other courses at Oxbridge.

If you're at all unsure, contact them before you make an application.
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Mustaine
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Thanks, that's really helpful

When it comes to what you've read/done outside of school, is more the better or do they actively pay attention to whether you actually wanted to do those things? In my school, quite a few people are focusing on doing lots of charity and voluntary work just for the sake of making their application look better. I know it's good to show some interest in extra-curricular/humanitarian/etc stuff, but say if I got the grades and my personal statement was great and I did a few things which actually interested me, and I was up against a candidate of equal academic merit who had an extensive CV working for every charity in England and attending every single public Oxbridge lecture, how much of a chance would I stand? I ask because I became aware a couple of months ago of how some schools/sixth forms take their Oxbridge applicant students to such lectures and then feed them questions to ask afterwards, presumably in order to get recognised :s:
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ily_em
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(Original post by Mustaine)
Thanks, that's really helpful

When it comes to what you've read/done outside of school, is more the better or do they actively pay attention to whether you actually wanted to do those things? In my school, quite a few people are focusing on doing lots of charity and voluntary work just for the sake of making their application look better. I know it's good to show some interest in extra-curricular/humanitarian/etc stuff, but say if I got the grades and my personal statement was great and I did a few things which actually interested me, and I was up against a candidate of equal academic merit who had an extensive CV working for every charity in England and attending every single public Oxbridge lecture, how much of a chance would I stand? I ask because I became aware a couple of months ago of how some schools/sixth forms take their Oxbridge applicant students to such lectures and then feed them questions to ask afterwards, presumably in order to get recognised :s:
Oh no, not at all. I'm sure they're aware that not everyone has the opportunities. It's what you've learnt and gained from what you've done that's important, not just reeling off a list of things. Volunteering and stuff is great if you can do it but stuff relevant to the subject is more important. Get some books from your local library/ college library/ amazon and read a few, then you can mention them and what you found interesting in your personal statement. There may even be a list of recommended reading on the Oxford/ Cambridge websites. Just something like that shows you're interested in the subject, you don't have to go to all the lecturey stuff to get noticed. Also, seeing as you want to do archaeology, I suppose doing stuff like visiting museums etc can be mentioned - are there any good places you have visited?

Have you also thought about doing the Extended Project? If you don't know what it is I can explain.
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Mustaine
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(Original post by ily_em)
Oh no, not at all. I'm sure they're aware that not everyone has the opportunities. It's what you've learnt and gained from what you've done that's important, not just reeling off a list of things. Volunteering and stuff is great if you can do it but stuff relevant to the subject is more important. Get some books from your local library/ college library/ amazon and read a few, then you can mention them and what you found interesting in your personal statement. There may even be a list of recommended reading on the Oxford/ Cambridge websites. Just something like that shows you're interested in the subject, you don't have to go to all the lecturey stuff to get noticed. Also, seeing as you want to do archaeology, I suppose doing stuff like visiting museums etc can be mentioned - are there any good places you have visited?

Have you also thought about doing the Extended Project? If you don't know what it is I can explain.
It's comforting to hear that it is content over quantity I guess being in a school where the importance of the latter is sometimes too emphasised made me a little worried :p:

Well, I've been an avid fan of the Natural History Museum ever since I came to England, and I'm going to apply there for work experience at some point in the near-ish future. I try to visit museums and galleries as much as possible, and whenever we're on holiday I insist on visiting all the archaeological sites, and those were pretty good, so I guess I could mention that.

Erm... I've been fossil-hunting too, with some relatively good results :p:

I've not yet had a chance to look at those lists, but I've got some generally useful reading material for history in general ("Communist Manifesto", "Mein Kampf", "Utopia".. etc. as well as some texts for philosophy as I'm hoping to be able to sit in on some of the lessons during my frees next year.) I do attend a couple of in-school history society-type things as well.

No, I haven't thought about doing an Extended Project.. and I'm not too sure what it is either :P
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ily_em
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(Original post by Mustaine)
It's comforting to hear that it is content over quantity I guess being in a school where the importance of the latter is sometimes too emphasised made me a little worried :p:

Well, I've been an avid fan of the Natural History Museum ever since I came to England, and I'm going to apply there for work experience at some point in the near-ish future. I try to visit museums and galleries as much as possible, and whenever we're on holiday I insist on visiting all the archaeological sites, and those were pretty good, so I guess I could mention that.

Erm... I've been fossil-hunting too, with some relatively good results :p:

I've not yet had a chance to look at those lists, but I've got some generally useful reading material for history in general ("Communist Manifesto", "Mein Kampf", "Utopia".. etc. as well as some texts for philosophy as I'm hoping to be able to sit in on some of the lessons during my frees next year.) I do attend a couple of in-school history society-type things as well.

No, I haven't thought about doing an Extended Project.. and I'm not too sure what it is either :P
Well what you've got there is really good and relevant so you definitely don't need to be worrying about the number of things you are doing

Hmm, maybe your school doesn't do it. The extended project is basically a piece of coursework on anything you want. Most people do an essay, 5,000 ish words long, and you get to pick your own title and subject matter to discuss. Universities really like it because it shows you can do your own independant research, not just the stuff your teachers spoon feed you, and it's kind of like doing an undergrad dissertation I suppose. You could write one on a topic related to arc & anth, and this will again show your passion for the subject and urge to find out more about it. It also gives you something to discuss in your interviews; we talked about my extended project quite a lot in my interview. It's the equivalent to 1 AS level I think, graded A* - E, and most people do it in their second year of sixth form

Here's a link to the website about it.

http://web.aqa.org.uk/qual/projects/...oticeboard.php
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machiavelli123
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I know that Cambridge look at all your module scores and are quite fussy when it comes to percentages. You have to enter them into the SAQ (supplementary application questionaire). Whereas Oxford just tends to look at the grades overall.

As so many people these days seem to have the very top grades (hence the introduction of the A* grade), Oxbridge are bound to look at your GCSEs aswell. If you have 2 two candidates with say AAAA at AS, both predicted to get say A*AA at A2, both with impressive personal statements, but one has 10A*s at GCSE and the other has 5A*s 3As and 2Bs, it gives the first candidate a very slight edge over the latter.

However, I know that both Oxford and Cambridge place a large weighting on your interview performance, which can be enough to tip the balance in your favour even if you get a couple of Bs at GCSE.
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ily_em
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(Original post by machiavelli123)
I know that Cambridge look at all your module scores and are quite fussy when it comes to percentages. You have to enter them into the SAQ (supplementary application questionaire). Whereas Oxford just tends to look at the grades overall.

As so many people these days seem to have the very top grades (hence the introduction of the A* grade), Oxbridge are bound to look at your GCSEs aswell. If you have 2 two candidates with say AAAA at AS, both predicted to get say A*AA at A2, both with impressive personal statements, but one has 10A*s at GCSE and the other has 5A*s 3As and 2Bs, it gives the first candidate a very slight edge over the latter.

However, I know that both Oxford and Cambridge place a large weighting on your interview performance, which can be enough to tip the balance in your favour even if you get a couple of Bs at GCSE.
Yeh, I would say interview performance would be the deciding factor between the two people you described. This is from experience of people I know applying and my own feedback (Cambridge said they were impressed with my grades but didn't perform well enough at interview).
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Mustaine
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(Original post by ily_em)
Well what you've got there is really good and relevant so you definitely don't need to be worrying about the number of things you are doing

Hmm, maybe your school doesn't do it. The extended project is basically a piece of coursework on anything you want. Most people do an essay, 5,000 ish words long, and you get to pick your own title and subject matter to discuss. Universities really like it because it shows you can do your own independant research, not just the stuff your teachers spoon feed you, and it's kind of like doing an undergrad dissertation I suppose. You could write one on a topic related to arc & anth, and this will again show your passion for the subject and urge to find out more about it. It also gives you something to discuss in your interviews; we talked about my extended project quite a lot in my interview. It's the equivalent to 1 AS level I think, graded A* - E, and most people do it in their second year of sixth form

Here's a link to the website about it.

http://web.aqa.org.uk/qual/projects/...oticeboard.php

Thanks And I was wondering whether it was the same as an Extended Essay, or if it was something a bit more "exciting" *facepalm* I have a feeling that my school does something similar when one does IB, but since the IB came in last year for our school and the courses for my subjects don't seem like something I'd like to do, I gave it a miss. I think the Sixth Form my friend is going to does it as an option instead of an AS, which is why she's taking archaeology AS rather than doing the extended essay. Having said that I might see if I can do it additionally, if it is as good as you say. Plus it would be interesting doing one's own research rather than sticking to a sometimes dull curriculum.
Also, the history thing I mentioned does something similar.. I think everyone who attends from year 12/13 picks their own essay question, researches it, writes an essay, and then presents it to the history department and others who attend the "lecture", so maybe there's some credit to doing that as well.
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ily_em
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(Original post by Mustaine)
Thanks And I was wondering whether it was the same as an Extended Essay, or if it was something a bit more "exciting" *facepalm* I have a feeling that my school does something similar when one does IB, but since the IB came in last year for our school and the courses for my subjects don't seem like something I'd like to do, I gave it a miss. I think the Sixth Form my friend is going to does it as an option instead of an AS, which is why she's taking archaeology AS rather than doing the extended essay. Having said that I might see if I can do it additionally, if it is as good as you say. Plus it would be interesting doing one's own research rather than sticking to a sometimes dull curriculum.
Also, the history thing I mentioned does something similar.. I think everyone who attends from year 12/13 picks their own essay question, researches it, writes an essay, and then presents it to the history department and others who attend the "lecture", so maybe there's some credit to doing that as well.
Yeh, it's pretty similar to the IB extended essay. Though that history thing you're talking about sounds like a good substitute.
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loonyplatypus
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(Original post by Mustaine)
Well, I've been an avid fan of the Natural History Museum ever since I came to England, and I'm going to apply there for work experience at some point in the near-ish future. I try to visit museums and galleries as much as possible, and whenever we're on holiday I insist on visiting all the archaeological sites, and those were pretty good, so I guess I could mention that.

I've not yet had a chance to look at those lists, but I've got some generally useful reading material for history in general ("Communist Manifesto", "Mein Kampf", "Utopia".. etc. as well as some texts for philosophy as I'm hoping to be able to sit in on some of the lessons during my frees next year.) I do attend a couple of in-school history society-type things as well.

No, I haven't thought about doing an Extended Project.. and I'm not too sure what it is either :P
Just adding my two cents I didn't get into Cambridge but I did get an interview and then get pooled, so I was almost there xD

GCSEs - obviously unis like this have a huge number of applicants with really high grades, they use GCSEs to help judge them, but they also interview the majority of their applicants. So if you have a decent number of A*s, you should have a good chance of getting an interview and then you can take it from there

Work Experience/Extra-Curriculars - these are important but not essential. In my personal statement I had a week's work experience at a local museum but basically nothing else related to my subject (History). Also, I had very few other activities - a tiny bit of sport and some acting, but nothing particularly interesting, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Extended Project - DO IT! I do IB which means I did a 4000-word Extended Essay in History, and I think that made a huge difference to my applications. It stood out as being a university-style, independent research task so I think unis like Cambridge/Oxford would appreciate that. If you have the chance, I also made a big deal of my small class sizes in my personal statement, saying that it was like uni seminars/supervisions and I worked well in that situation. So I think if you get the chance to do an Extended Project, it could really improve your chances

Obviously none of us are sure what the admissions tutors are looking for, but I'm sharing my personal experience in the hope it may help a little
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machiavelli123
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(Original post by ily_em)
Yeh, I would say interview performance would be the deciding factor between the two people you described. This is from experience of people I know applying and my own feedback (Cambridge said they were impressed with my grades but didn't perform well enough at interview).
One of the other guys being interviewed for my subject had flawless grades, all A*s at GCSE, over 95% in all his AS's, he had clearly read around the subject and had a real interest in it too. He also had all the other extra curricular stuff - charity work, music stuff and sports. Tbh I was pretty sure he would get a place. I got 5A*s and 5As at GCSE, and AAAB at AS, did a bit of extra curricular stuff, but hadn't read anywhere near enough on my subject looking back on it...

In the interviews themselves though, we were asked questions on things that were unrelated to anything we had studied, so it didn't matter what educational background you were from, as it was all new material. There was a girl there applying for the same subject who had gone to that 'Oxbridge Applications' place which prepares you for the interviews, sorts out your PS and stuff. She said it was a total waste of time because the stuff that came up in the interview was nothing like the stuff they had prepared her for.

I thought I had cocked up the interviews badly, but to cut a long story short, turned out that I was offered a place. The guy who had exceptional grades got pooled, but ultimately rejected (I still keep in contact with him); and the girl got rejected straight away. Not sure what happened to all the others.
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ily_em
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(Original post by machiavelli123)
One of the other guys being interviewed for my subject had flawless grades, all A*s at GCSE, over 95% in all his AS's, he had clearly read around the subject and had a real interest in it too. He also had all the other extra curricular stuff - charity work, music stuff and sports. Tbh I was pretty sure he would get a place. I got 5A*s and 5As at GCSE, and AAAB at AS, did a bit of extra curricular stuff, but hadn't read anywhere near enough on my subject looking back on it...

In the interviews themselves though, we were asked questions on things that were unrelated to anything we had studied, so it didn't matter what educational background you were from, as it was all new material. There was a girl there applying for the same subject who had gone to that 'Oxbridge Applications' place which prepares you for the interviews, sorts out your PS and stuff. She said it was a total waste of time because the stuff that came up in the interview was nothing like the stuff they had prepared her for.

I thought I had cocked up the interviews badly, but to cut a long story short, turned out that I was offered a place. The guy who had exceptional grades got pooled, but ultimately rejected (I still keep in contact with him); and the girl got rejected straight away. Not sure what happened to all the others.
Yeh, I'm basically like that guy you described and I didn't even get pooled. I think interview performance is a MAJOR factor.
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Mustaine
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Thanks for all advice

(Original post by ily_em)
Yeh, I'm basically like that guy you described and I didn't even get pooled. I think interview performance is a MAJOR factor.
What is the actual layout, if you will, of the interview? Do they try to put you at ease? How does it start?
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