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Applying to Oxford Computer Science Program with a 4 In APCS Exam

ShwathShwath 3 replies1 threads New Member
I'm currently a junior in high school, and now that it's halfway through the school year, I'm starting to seriously look at my options for college.

I've been looking at UK Schools, particularly Oxford and Imperial College London as they both have top-tier Computer Science programs, which is what I'm interested in studying.

I've taken four of old MAT exams from https://www.maths.ox.ac.uk/study-here/undergraduate-study/maths-admissions-test, on all of which I consistently scored one or two marks above the average score of applicants shortlisted for the interview when I answered all the questions for Computer Science applicants.

Here is where my issue is: Last year I took the Calculus AB, Statistics, and Computer Science. I got 5's on AB and Stat, but I got a 4 on CS, which, as I mentioned earlier, is what I actually want to apply for (I'm guessing that a 5 on AB makes little to no difference since a 5 is required in Calculus BC as a basic entry requirement, but I just included the information in case it was helpful)

While I'm pretty confident I can get 5s on all my STEM APs this year (Biology, BC, and Microeconomics), and at least 4s on Language and Composition and APUSH, I'm still worried about what to do with the 4 that I got on CS.

I'm not trying to imply that I could easily get into Oxford if I had a 5 instead of a 4, because I know that it's an incredibly competitive program, I just don't want it to be the biggest factor that gets my application thrown out.

Also, since CollegeBoard is filled with monopolistic jerks, the AP Exam Registration Deadline was November instead of March, so now I definitely can't retake the exam.

Will this severely hinder my application, or do I still have a chance if I can get my MAT marks up, or is there some other option that I haven't thought of?
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Replies to: Applying to Oxford Computer Science Program with a 4 In APCS Exam

  • HazeGreyHazeGrey 243 replies4 threads Junior Member
    My son is currently reading Maths & CS at Oxford. When he received his offer, it required three AP 5s in "relevant courses". The three that they chose/referred to on his CAS form were CompSciA, Calc BC and Physics C Mechanics. If your 4 was in CompSciA, that could be problematic for your application. I would also think that you would need a better than average MAT score to overcome that AP score and be shortlisted for interview.
    There is an Oxford CS professor who is very active over on the UK's CC "sister" - The Student Room. Might want to reach out to him for guidance. Fair warning - my son who is a strong math student and was active with his high school's ASCL team has found the CS courses at Oxford challenging.
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  • ShwathShwath 3 replies1 threads New Member
    edited January 6
    @HazeGrey Thanks for the notice about The Student Room, I'll make sure to look into it! As for getting my MAT marks up, I'm definitely going to start studying for it. Do you mind telling me how your son prepared, if at all? Thanks!
    edited January 6
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  • Groundwork2022Groundwork2022 2830 replies65 threads Senior Member
    It isn't too late to register to retake the AP CSA exam. You will have to pay a late fee, however.
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  • HazeGreyHazeGrey 243 replies4 threads Junior Member
    He studied by doing a combination of past MAT papers, looking at old AIMEs he hadn't already done/reviewed and also looking at past Singapore national math exam papers. He found the last to be the most challenging.

    Have you taken an AMC/AIME exam before?
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  • TigerleTigerle 436 replies5 threads Member
    edited January 7
    Note that you can glean from Oxfords website that what they’d ideally like to see is A*AA in maths, further maths and CS A-Levels, meaning that they like to see proof that your maths skills are beyond even an A in the regular maths A level, which I understand is already beyond Calc BC. This means that not only is the 4 in CS a problem, but you need a way to show superior maths skills beyond a 5 in calc BC to stand a chance of being invited for an interview. It may be enough to kill the MAT, but competition scores may come in handy here, too.

    Definitely put some thought into the other four courses/universities to include on your UCAS application, because chances are very much limited for Oxford. I have seen Warwick and Edinburgh mentioned for your interests.

    edited January 7
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  • ShwathShwath 3 replies1 threads New Member
    @HazeGrey I've studied for the AMC 10 in the past but I haven't ever actually taken it. I've never studied/taken an AIME exam before.
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  • ShwathShwath 3 replies1 threads New Member
    @Groundwork2022 I didn't know this so thanks for the heads up! I'll keep that as an option but the only thing is that I just checked the AP Schedule and I have APUSH right before. The APCS exam isn't particularly difficult, but last year I made a bunch of silly mistakes, and I would hate to do the same thing this year because I'm too tired to focus. Obviously CS is of a higher priority, but I still am aiming for a 5 on APUSH, so I'm going to have to look into what I'm going to do about that.
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  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 7247 replies71 threads Senior Member
    edited January 8
    Not to be harsh, but if re-taking an exam in your best subject + taking another exam on the same day seems too hard you might want to rethink Oxford full stop. The work load at Oxford / Cambridge is not like anyplace else. Two APs in one day should be entirely doable for an Oxford-bound student (all my collegekids, whether US or UK uni bound had more than one 2-AP days).

    Also, your relative weighting of the importance of US Hx AP suggests that you are not 100% committed to CS. That is absolutely fine!! But it suggests that the monofocus of the UK in general and Oxford in particular might not be a good fit for you.

    edited January 8
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  • Twoin18Twoin18 1868 replies18 threads Senior Member
    edited January 8
    "Not to be harsh, but if re-taking an exam in your best subject + taking another exam on the same day seems too hard you might want to rethink Oxford full stop. The work load at Oxford / Cambridge is not like anyplace else."

    Just to amplify this, in Cambridge the entire year's grade (degree class, i.e. first, second or third) for math is based on four 3 hour papers, taken from 9-12 and 1.30-4.30 over two consecutive days. You don't get any credit for attendance or problem sets during the year, the result is purely based on the final exam. If you don't enjoy the pressure (and adrenaline rush) of really challenging exams then you are unlikely to be well suited to the UK system.

    Have a look at sample STEP papers (these are math entrance tests for Cambridge that are fairly representative of the structure of the undergraduate exams): https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/step/preparing-for-step/

    And I definitely think you should hurry up and register (and practice for) AMC-12 at the end of this month.
    edited January 8
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  • TigerleTigerle 436 replies5 threads Member
    edited January 8
    I cannot agree with @collegemom3717‘s post enough! Please read it through and reflect!

    If you want CS at Oxford, get that 5 for APCS, and get in those math exams as well. You will have to report the initial 4, but if you can surround it with excellent math scores showing your proficiency beyond AP calc level, you may be lucky enough to have it considered noise.

    If you want CS in the UK, forget that APUSH exam. CS departments in the UK won’t care, they want to see depth, not breadth. You will get into an excellent school in the UK, though maybe not Oxford. In theory, there is no need to keep your US options open for safeties.

    If you feel that breadth in your education is more important to you than that, UK schools aren’t the right fit for you. Like @collegemom3717 said, that’s absolutely fine! In fact, it’s better to find this out now about yourself than going to the UK and being unhappy.
    edited January 8
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