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Introduction to Cambridge Pre-U – a new route to higher education

Along with traditional A levels and the international programme IB there is now an innovative course in the modern system of British secondary education. It is called Cambridge Pre-U. There is therefore now much interest in what this programme is and how reliable it can be.

Cambridge Pre-U is a qualification for 16-19 year olds who want to go to university. It has been developed by the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CEI), the world’s largest provider of international education programmes and qualifications for 5 – 19 year olds. Its qualifications are taken in over 160 countries and recognized by universities, education providers and employers across the world.

Pre-U course lasts for two years and pays much attention to individual learning and development of critical thinking, practical skills and deep knowledge in every subject studied. Cambridge Pre-U is linear, unlike modular UK A Levels. Students taking Cambridge Pre-U will prepare for one set of exams at the end of the two years, rather than for module exams throughout the two years. This means schools can teach subjects in depth, without having to hold exams at frequent intervals. This structure is highly supported by both teachers and students. Students start to see the subject in its entirety, instead of studying isolated modules and missing the links between them. Teachers find that the linear structure helps them plan teaching better, and therefore meet the needs of the class and individual students. 

Cambridge Pre-U has a variety of subjects available at Principal Subject level and is also unique with project courses which help students develop their individual thinking and research skills. Another special feature of the course is the in-depth grading system. For the very brightest students, Cambridge has an extra grade (Distinction 1) which is valued even higher than the new A* Grade at A Level.

The programme has been developed recently, within the last five years, and yet it is already highly respected and trusted among numerous schools and universities. The process began in October 2006. CEI submitted Cambridge Pre-U syllabuses to QCA for accreditation in June 2007 for inclusion in the National Qualifications Framework. In June 2010 1578 candidates from 60 schools sat the first examinations. As of August 2011 CEI had over 130 UK schools registered to teach Cambridge Pre-U. Approximately 55% of UK schools registered are independent sector. A further 300 schools have expressed interest in offering Cambridge Pre-U.

Universities were involved in the development of Cambridge Pre-U and have made it clear that they appreciate the linear structure, finer grading scale and enhanced content. 111 UK universities, including all of the Russell Group, have published formal recognition statements. 
Pre-U is increasingly popular in the USA and Canada, where 59 universities recognise it, including Stanford, Yale and McGill.

Cambridge Pre-U is a new challenging course which creates new opportunities for entry into the world of higher education.


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