Guide to UMS averages when applying to Cambridge

What is all this fuss about UMS Average?

Most students apply with AS levels or post A2. Cambridge produce spreadsheets which show each college how their applicants scored in comparison with the entire gathered field for that degree subject. It helps to ensure that the best candidates receive an offer through the pooling system whether they apply to a strong or a less competitive college. Candidates are sorted in to “quintiles”, those without enough UMS scores are in a “Z” quintile. UMS is a rough guide to the strength of your application. It is not a hurdle over which you get an offer and below which you don't. Everything in your application and the interview if you get one, counts.

I study IB/Pre-U/something other than A levels, what about me?

Then this page doesn’t apply to you. Cambridge will assess your strengths in other ways.

How do I calculate my UMS average?

The gritty information is here on the Cambridge website. We've summarised it for you below, but it's well worth reading yourself.

If you're applying for an Arts course:

Use your best three subjects, whether relevant or not. Include Maths, or the wrong language, or the one you are dropping. You can even exclude the subject you are applying for, just use the best three. The only two not to use are Critical Thinking and General Studies (these are ignored by Cambridge).

Work out a score/100 for each of the three subjects, then average these three.

If you're applying for a Science course:

For sciences, a number of different averages are used, the main one is 'SUMS' (Science UMS):

  • SUMS: use the three most relevant science subjects to get a SUMS score. Maths (all Maths and FM scores) is a single science subject. A levels that are counted as science subjects are Biology, Chemistry, Maths [including Further Maths] and Physics.
  • If you're applying for Maths, Engineering or CompSci, you can calculate your Maths/Physics UMS as follows: Add all your Maths & FM UMS, add to your Physics UMS, weight according to the maximum UMS available between the Maths & Physics modules you have done. (So if you got 100% in pure maths, 95% in FM, did another couple of modules and got 92 in them, then got (120+110+56) in Physics you score (400+380+184+286) /13=96.15
  • There's also Maths UMS, an average of all your maths & FM modules. This is vital for Economics.

What UMS do I need?

With less than 85% (average, not in each subject or every module) you may not get an interview unless the tutor thinks there is a specific reason to believe those grades are an under-performance. In the most competitive subjects, you may not get an interview with less than 89%.

Your chances of an offer increase with your UMS %, although it is far from the only factor. Typical offer holders have 94-96% UMS and in the end get 2A*+ for Arts subjects & 3A* for Science/Economics.

Do I have a chance with low UMS?

Yes and No.

  1. If you have extenuating circumstances (although that's not just a headache or a series of silly mistakes!) then Cambridge will take that into account.
  2. Yes, if one or two modules are clearly rogues - perhaps a C where otherwise you average 95%. But don't forget everybody’s UMS would improve if they got two discards.
  3. Keep in mind that “below average for offer holders” does not mean low. <85% means low, maybe<89% for some subject.
  4. What is low for Economics or Law might be perfectly OK for Classics or Geography.
  5. Yes, if you wait another year and apply post-qualification, and do better at A2
What about retakes?

AS retakes in year 13 are not used, it is the year 12 result.

What about Maths?

All maths and further maths units, AS & A2, pure, decision, stats, mechanics, etc are included in the average to produce one subject result.

What about A2 units?

All A2 units are included if you've already taken the exams. So for a post qualification candidate, their UMS average is calculated from their AS & A2 units.

What about my disaster unit?

Admissions tutors are not machines. They look at the whole application and they are experienced in identifying modules that are less relevant or look like outliers.

What is compulsory pooling?

Anybody who achieves a UMS 93% average (for 2014 pool) will be pooled. It follows that they will have been interviewed so that all the information is available if pooled..

The two exceptions are Maths (since most applicants get an average of 93%, so it would mean most applicants were pooled), and Medicine.

From 2016 onwards, Cambridge can only make a UMS average if you're taking three unreformed subjects (those which still use UMS at AS). If you have only one or two subjects using UMS, they will not make an average but will still certainly examine the UMS marks you do have.

Where do you get your information from anyway?

Here's some web links: