What GCSE and A-level grades do I need for Oxbridge?

University students in library

The ultimate 'Am I good enough for Oxford or Cambridge?' article

When it comes to applying to both Oxbridge unis, your A-level grades aren't the only thing that matters. Like other unis, they look at your personal statement and references from your teachers as well as your GCSE grades and (predicted or actual) A-level grades. And then they interview you as well.

Having said that, grades do play an important role in helping Oxford and Cambridge college tutors decide whether or not to make an offer.

So what grades do you need at GCSE and A-level?

What A-level grades do I need for Oxbridge?

Depending on the university and course, you need to be heading for AAA, A*AA, A*A*A or A*A*A*, though there are stories of people getting in with AAB.

TSR member The_Lonely_Goatherd said: "Oxbridge have long known that A-level grades (or equivalents) aren't the best measure of someone's intelligence. One B at A Level doesn't define you at all."

Some individual Cambridge colleges have set A*A*A* as the condition for entry into competitive STEM course such as medicine and engineering.

Cambridge is different from every other UK university (including Oxford), in that it asks for your UMS scores for any modular A-level courses. Now that linear A-levels have taken over, rather than looking at UMS scores Cambridge will expect teachers to provide information about your performance in their UCAS reference.

Each year, more than 30,000 students apply for a place at these universities, which is about five people per place, so competition is strong. However, you cannot be offered a place if you do not apply.

Every year thousands of very able students who would have had a serious chance miss out simply because they dismiss Oxford and Cambridge as only for those from a different background. Remember you have five uni choices!

What GCSEs do I need for Oxbridge?

GCSE grades certainly help to support an excellent Oxbridge application, but they're not the be all and end all, as some successful applicants have found out.

In a thread about GCSE grades for Oxbridge offer holdersBigGuyAkhenaten revealed that he got into Cambridge without top GCSE grades: "I'd like to bust an urban myth that you need all A*s to get into Oxbridge.

"My GCSEs I remember were about:

0 A*s
3 As
5 Bs
2 Cs
1 D

"I got my act together and now I'm looking at 3 A*s A-level and an offer at Cambridge.

"And I'm just a normal dude. I didn't benefit from any quota or scheme that I'm aware of. Don't rest on your laurels, but if you put solid dedication, many hours and several tons of books and enthusiasm into your A levels and your passion, there's a good chance that you can make it to Oxbridge."

So there is hope for you if you didn't get straight A*s/8s/9s in your GCSEs.

matthewleechen provided some context to this student's story: "Oxford place emphasis on GCSE grades while Cambridge has tended not to. Generally speaking, as long as you attained A*s and As (preferably larger numbers of A*s), you stood at good chance at either."

What other factors do Oxbridge use to decide whether to offer me a place?

As well as the grades you achieve (and UMS averages in the case of Cambridge), Oxford and Cambridge look at the following:

Your sixth form or college teacher references

Make sure your teachers know you're applying to Oxbridge, so they can prepare your references on time for the application deadline of October 15, 2019.

Many schools and colleges will make an extra effort for the references of Oxford and Cambridge applicants, but if your school has no history of Oxford or Cambridge applications, don't worry as the reference is only one of many factors the universities take into account.

Your personal statement

Writing your personal statement is the trickiest part of your UCAS application. While other universities place a great importance on extracurricular activities, this isn't the case with Oxford or Cambridge – and the academic stuff really should fill most of it.

Generally the two Oxbridge universities have more information to base their decision on than most other universities (e.g. UMS, pre-interview tests, written work, interviews), so the personal statement is slightly less important when applying to Oxford and Cambridge.

Your subject-specific admissions test scores, depending on your course

You may have pre-interview tests to take, for example the BMAT for medicine, biomedical sciences and dentistry or the LNAT for law.

For Oxford, not all courses require you to take them, but medicine, law, maths, languages, English and engineering do.

For Cambridge, most students need to take subject-specific tests to test your current level of knowledge and potential to succeed on the course you have chosen. If you are applying for maths, medicine or law, you will have another set of pre-exams to take. 

Oxbridge use them to significantly reduce the number invited to interview, so take them seriously. Example papers are available online for most of these tests, so you are strongly advised to practise.

Samples of your written work

For some humanities subjects, you will be asked for examples of your written work. This shouldn't normally be something you've written especially for the application, but rather some high-quality work you've completed recently.

It doesn't always have to be an essay directly related to the subject you're applying for, so check the instructions carefully. An extended project may also be suitable (either complete or in almost-complete draft form).

Your interview performance

Interviews are an integral part of the Oxford and Cambridge admissions procedures. There's no need to be afraid, as interviews are not designed to catch you out or trip you up. The person who is interviewing you is an academic tutor.

Since this person is likely to be personally involved in your tuition throughout your time at university, your interviewer is merely trying to decide the following: "Does this person show outstanding ability?", "Would this person gain academically from the very small group style of teaching?", and "Is this a person I would enjoy teaching?"

There's a lot that can be said about the interview process, so here's everything you need to know about Oxbridge interviews.

Note that you should never ask for, or post, interview questions (past or present) on TSR as this would be unfair on future applicants (questions are often reused). You can share general advice about interviews to help others, though.

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