GCSEs and A-Levels

How would good would 10 9s at GCSE and 4 A*s at A-Level be in comparison to American standardised tests?

They would not be compared to standardized testing; they are part of coursework.

They aren’t, unless we’re defining coursework differently.

GCSEs/A-Levels are formal exams sat in the early summer, with grade boundaries determined by the average standard across the country.

GCSE/A-Level results are comparable to US high school transcripts. So, your results would likely be equivalent to a 4.0/4.0 unweighted GPA under the US system.

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I am well aware of what they are. I am simply telling you that admissions will consider the results in the context if your coursework and transcripts, not as equivalent to, or in lieu of, SAT/ACT.

Oh, thanks for clarifying.

If the question is attempting to compare how many US student achieve similar academic prowess in high school to the small fraction of 1% of UK students (maybe 0.1-0.2%) that would get all 9s and A*s, then the answer is that there is no direct comparison in the US.

Depending on the high school, up to perhaps 1%-5% of US students have an unweighted 4.0. A fraction of 1% get perfect scores on an SAT or more often the ACT (but that is not directly linked to high school performance), and about 1% of high school graduates got National AP scholar (4 or more on 8+ AP exams), see https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-scholar-data-2019.pdf. National Merit Scholar is another award for about the top 0.5% of high school students, based on a single (PSAT) exam in 11th grade, but selectivity depends on your state.

The problem is that while getting such great scores in UK exams might put you well on the way to being admitted to Oxbridge, in the US even an achievement that puts you in the top 0.5-1% won’t matter much for top colleges unless you have many other achievements in extracurricular or sporting activities.

And pro rata to the population, fewer students attend top 20 US colleges than attend Oxbridge, so those US colleges couldn’t admit the top (say) 0.5% most academically successful applicants even if they wanted to (which they don’t).

Thanks, I was looking for a comparative between the two.

I’ve found that Oxbridge doesn’t at all care about anything beyond academic ability, which is a shame - they take very little notice, if any, of a student’s extracurricular activities.

There are also some painfully difficult admissions tests (STEP), but I guess that’s just how it goes.

An overwhelming proportion of people in the UK would say the opposite, and are horrified at what they consider the “corruption” in the US system with its preferences based on legacy, donations, sports, race, etc. It’s seen as validation of the UK system that the sitting Prime Minister’s son (Euan Blair) got rejected by Oxford and had to go to Bristol. Purely academic extracurriculars, like participation in the IMO, absolutely do count in your favor.

And there are still plenty of talented Oxbridge students in sports and the arts, eg Eddie Redmayne. The most academically able students can complete their work, get a first, and still have time to do other things.

They do when the EC is related to the planned course of study.

He might have amounted to something if only he had received a 1st instead of a 2:1. :rofl:

Ohh, if we’re making a distinction between academic extracurriculars and others, that’s true. When I hear extracurricular, my mind sorta jumps to stuff like music, drama, debating, etc.

And don’t mention Hugh Laurie, a rowing blue and president of Footlights, whose career has clearly been marred by getting a third.

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Once again, you are equating the system used by a small number of elite colleges which primarily serve the wealthy as “the US System”.

Fact is, admissions in the “US System” are primarily based on GPA and SAT scores.

Based on the Chetty article, only about 2% of all students who attend college are attending an “elite” college for which it is true to claim that sports, legacy, donations, etc, are important factors. About 10% attend a “highly selective” college, of which about a half include students from the more well-known public flagships, at which GPA and test scores make up more than 80% of the admissions decisions. About 1/2 of students who attend college attend “selective” schools where the vast majority of students are attending colleges where GPA and test scores entirely determine admissions. Another 4% attend open admission 4 year colleges, and another 35% or so attend community college and Junior colleges, which also tend to be open enrollment.

So close to 90% of all USA college students are admitted to their college based on GPA and test scores.

As for Brits being “Horrified”?

Somehow, with their “non-Horrific” system, Oxbridge have proportionally more upper income kids than the Ivies do. Somehow qualified wealthy kids are more likely to get an offer of admission to Oxbridge than qualified poor kids.

I am sorry, but 50% of the admission process to Oxbridge is a “personal interview”. That means that they are using the exact same factors in determining whether to accept a student as “elite” private colleges in the USA. Just because the USA uses some type of accomplishments to determine whether a kid is “the right sort of person for the college” instead of a single interview does not make it any more “corrupt” than the Brit way of admissions.

Upper class faculty members are in charge of deciding which students will be accepted, based on personal interviews. That works. In fact, it works so well that, back in the 1920s, the Ivies chose that method reduce the number of Jews who were accepted.

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You are ignoring OP’s original question which asked about UK students with perfect GCSE and A level results (who would expect to have a better than even chance of getting admitted to Oxbridge) and whether there is any equivalent in the US.

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True.

For 90% of USA colleges, they would have excellent chances, assuming that the colleges were either test optional or that the OP had great tests scores as well. For colleges with the same “prestige factor” internationally that Oxbridge has, these would be very helpful, but not enough.

From Harvard UK Admissions » Who Are We Looking For?

Not disagreeing with your points for the most part, but what you’ve mentioned about the interview is probably misleading (unless I’ve misinterpreted).

At least for scientific courses, the interviews are completely abstracted away from a students background etc., and completely focused on aptitude.
More than anything, it’s effectively just a spoken examination - I was asked highly technical, subject-specific questions, with almost no greetings/formalities at all (Cambridge, couple weeks ago).

Not to say that this levels the playing field, presumably wealthier students have access to more resources in preparation for interviews, but I don’t think the interview is “personal” in any sense.

Maybe that was just my experience though.

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In-person interviews are always biased, even if it is, essentially, a test. People, especially academics, have a strong tendency to look a lot more positively on applicants who remind the interviewer of themselves (whether the memories are real or not).

My wife started a Russian University (she grew up in the USSR). All final exams in mathematics were oral, like the interviews for Oxbridge. A misogynistic professor failed her because of a very minor error (it took the TA 20 minutes to find the error), and when she repeated the test, she only got a 4/5, despite answering every question correctly. I am sure that he truly thought that he was being fair, but, in his mind, any minor error by a woman was hugely magnified because it immediately joined his previous conviction that women cannot do math. Even if the woman answers everything correctly, in his mind it does not prove that she knows the material as well as a man who provides the same answers.

While that is an extreme case, it demonstrates how much a person’s preconceived notions can influence how they see the accomplishments of a person, or how they perceive the responses of a person. An error by a person who a tester perceives as “smart” will be dismissed as a moment of inattentiveness which does not say anything about that person’s abilities. On the other hand, the same error by a person who the tester perceives as less smart will be seen as “proof” that the person has poor abilities.

Any interviewer will make snap judgements about a person who they are interviewing in person. Overall, the indicators of poverty tend to lead interviewers to perceive the person as less able. This is especially strong in countries with a strong class system - indicators of the upper class often lead to the perception of higher academic and intellectual ability. The UK has such a class system. Moreover, people who run admissions interviews for Oxbridge come from the upper classes.

As an example of how this influences admissions, one of the biggest indicators of a person belonging to established wealth is attending a private high school.

While fewer than 30% of all students who attend University in the UK who achieved an AAA score attended a private school, and similar numbers are seen for triple-A* scores (attempts to write three consecutive A*s will result in italics), private school graduates make up around 40% of all students accepted to Oxford. That is, I think, a pretty good indication that private school graduates are being accepted to Oxford at a higher rate than graduates of public high schools with identical academic achievements.

Of course the preference could come at the applications stage, and applicants from private high schools are more likely to be interviewed. That would be a different issue.

On edit - my point is that relying that heavily on personal interviews, even if they are mostly to personally test whether the student knows what their A-Levels demonstrate, still leaves the door wide open for bias, specifically bias against groups which are historically underprivileged.

I believe there exists conversion tables for figuring out GCSE and A Level grade results into GPA. If so where would one find a conversion table for this?

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I was looking for the story about the girl who was rejected by oxford and Cambridge, who was then invited to go to Harvard…here’s a story that is more recent. A boy who is going to Stanford. I would say, that the UK doesn’t value excellence.

Bottom line - an interview, even if it is mostly a test, doesn’t say any more about the academic level of the interviewee than can be learned from the A-levels. A bad night, a brain fart, and another dozen issues can cause a person to do badly on a personal interview, especially a high stakes one.

Moreover, Oxbridge would know this. They see a student who achieved 7 A* scores, and they know that the student is top level academically. These kids have excelled in high school, and excelled in standardized final tests, and Oxbridge interviewers are not some set of superhuman beings who can learn more about an applicant in an hour than the student’s teachers have learned in 4 years, or than can bee seen in the academic accomplishments of the applicants.

What the interview can do, and I will repeat this again and again, is to identify the class and ethnic backgrounds of the applicants. To to claim that the interviewers are ignoring this, despite strong evidence to contrary is to be supremely naĂŻve.

That being said, strangely enough, for USA students, Oxbridge admissions are likely less biased than they are for UK students. Most interviewers at Oxbridge are probably not familiar with the nuances of the USA class system, and would likely not be able to tell much about the class background of a USA applicant based on an interview.

So USA kids of upper middle class (but not super wealthy), highly educated parents, are probably more likely to be admitted to Oxbridge than to any of the Ivies.

Bottom line - Ivy admissions are set up to make sure that they are accepting students who will ensure present and future wealth, fame, and influence for the college. Oxbridge admissions are set up to maintain wealth and power in the hands of the upper class.

That is because, A, Ivies are private, Oxbridge are public, and B, education is not as tightly bound to class in USA as it is in the UK.

Lest anybody deny the importance of class in the UK, let me remind you all that the House of Lords, a body almost entirely made up of hereditary aristocrats, of which 12% inherit their seats, none of who are elected, are still part of the British Government. The House of Lords also include Anglican Bishops, but no members of any other religion.

Forget about temporary leaders like the Prime Minister, I am curious to know how many children of House of Lords members are rejected from Oxbridge, or, for that matter, any member of the aristocracy.