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Early success at GCSE is key to university applicants achieving their predicted A level grades, new UCAS study shows

GCSE results and the mix of A level subjects studied are the key factors determining whether university applicants meet their predicted grades, new UCAS analysis reveals.
Posted Wed 3 August 2016 - 11:54

The A level predictions of half a million young university applicants were compared to the A level grades they actually achieved, in a study published by the admissions service today (4 August).

It shows that the most important factors in doing well against a particular set of predictions are strong GCSE results and the mix of A level subjects studied. The interplay of GCSE results and the level of the predicted grades is the single most important factor. A typical applicant with predicted grades of ABB is almost 50% more likely to miss by two grades or more if they have GCSE results averaging A/B rather than A*/A.

A typical applicant is around two thirds more likely to miss their predictions by two grades or more if they are studying biology, chemistry and maths than an otherwise similar applicant studying English, history and art.

UCAS’ report Factors associated with predicted and achieved A level attainment (230.33 KB) used statistical models to consider multiple factors together and reveal which are most strongly associated with the difference between predicted and achieved grades.

The report also found that over half of English 18 year olds applying to university missed their A level predictions by two or more grades last year – an increase of 34% on 2010.

Predicted grades are estimated around six months before exams are taken and since they represent what the student might achieve it is usual that not everyone reaches that level, and universities and colleges are experienced at taking this into account.

Predictions differ by types of applicants as well. Even when other factors like GCSE attainment are taken into account teachers seem to predict higher grades relative to final outcomes for applicants from disadvantaged areas, and applicants in the Asian, Black, mixed and other ethnic groups.

Between the predictions being made and examinations being held, applicants will choose one offer to set as their ‘firm’ choice in the UCAS system. Applicants with a firm choice at universities that typically set more demanding conditions to be met seem to achieve grades closer to their predictions than applicants holding offers with a lower typical demand.

Some applicants set as their firm choice an offer that does not have any academic conditions to meet – an ‘unconditional offer’ where a place is secure regardless of achieved grades. Relatively few applicants hold unconditional offers, fewer than 7,000 in the scope of this 2015 study.

These applicants seem to do slightly less well than other similar applicants and are around 9% more likely to be two grades or more below their predictions. These associations are very small in effect relative to other factors. For example, the association with holding an unconditional offer is estimated to represent around 0.6% of all applicants who are two or more grades below their predictions in 2015.

Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS’ Chief Executive said: “University admissions staff understand that predictions represent an optimistic forecast of an applicant’s potential.  The increase in over-prediction of grades over time has not materially altered the pattern of admissions and universities are still admitting students who have the potential to succeed on their chosen courses.”

View the report, along with downloadable data files and figures used in it


About UCAS: UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is a charity and the UK’s shared admissions service for higher education. We manage applications from over 700,000 applicants each year, for full-time undergraduate courses at around 380 universities and colleges across the UK.

UCAS Communications

tel: 01242 545 459

email: communications@ucas.ac.uk

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