Seeing Stars

Cambridge has controversially made its first ever A*A*A* offer. The Tab considers the implications for applicants.

a-levels university challenge

Cambridge has controversially embraced the new A* grade and, unlike Oxford, now has a standard minimum offer of A*AA. 

But this week the first ever triple-A* offer for Cambridge entry was made, to an unknown student incorrectly named elsewhere as Joseph Steadman, a Selwyn law applicant.

He actually had an offer of A*A*A, because his school did not allow students to take modules in year 12 and so Cambridge wanted to be sure of his academic credentials.

The  A*, which requires 90%+ at A2 level and a minimum of an A-grade overall,  is seen by many as a welcome way to tell people apart.

But The Tab can reveal the current generation may not like the news a plain A grade is no longer satisfactory for Cambridge – had our offers been the same as Joseph’s, a full 30% of science students would not be here today. Worse, only about half of arts students would have done well enough!

Are we truly academically inferior, or is asking for such astronomical marks just proof the system doesn’t work, and A-levels are too easy? Grades have risen for 27 years on the trot but Cambridge may be making a mistake in trusting a new one before it has been tried and tested.

Colleges are stumped for ideas though – in many subjects the use of aptitude tests has shown mixed results.

The BMAT, which Cambridge requires medical applicants to take, matches degree performance – but not how good a doctor someone turns out.

Josh Scott, 2nd year medic and University Challenge contestant thinks “It’s all a big joke. Soon enough we will have A**** grades and ridiculous offers that mean kids have to learn reams of boring facts at the expense of being normal”.

Cambridge has avowed admission policy to widen participation but asking for grades at the very top of the spectrum may well freeze out applicants from state schools, who inevitably will have lower grades than their paid-for counterparts.

Some experts have argued that A-level grades are in fact good predictors of future success

Our admissions system already accounts for this with GCSEs – where coming from the worst school can effectively give you 4 more A*s than someone from the best, but it looks like it’s going the other way for A-levels.

The actual science says that independent school applicants do worse at uni, so making it harder for the best of the poorer schools is a massive step backwards in every way.

But, A-levels may yet be the best thing we have. Studies by Prof. C McManus of UCL says that “A levels predict degree class, dropout, and repeated years” as well as success at work.

"The government has shockingly recommended an A** grade – maybe that is just going to have to be the future for people that want to study in our most prestigious universities."