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Welcome! My name is Daniel Lim Jhao Jian. Here is where I share my experience, knowledge and ideas. You are welcome to leave comments and follow my blog. You are free to copy anything from this blog. Please recommend this blog to your friends.


Thursday, 16 July 2015

Difference between CIE A Level and UK A Level

LAST UPDATED: 21 January 2017

For the A Level examination, there are many examination boards such as CIE, OCR, Edexcel, AQA and others. 'CIE A Level' refers to A Level by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), while 'UK A Level' collectively refers to A Level by Edexcel, AQA, OCR and all other UK examination boards except CIE. Actually, CIE is also an examination board in UK, and it is a department of the University of Cambridge. CIE A Level is also considered a UK qualification. However, CIE A Level is not considered to be the same as UK A Level. Why is this the case?

The fact is that, CIE is significantly different compared to the other examination boards. UK A Level is intended for students in the UK, while CIE A Level is intended for students outside the UK. Public schools in UK are not allowed to offer CIE A Level, although private schools in UK are allowed to. Colleges and schools outside the UK can offer UK A Level, but majority of them offer CIE A Level. There are several differences between CIE A Level and UK A Level.

One of the differences between CIE A Level and UK A Level is that CIE A Level uses Percentage Uniform Mark (PUM), while UK A Level uses Uniform Mark Scale (UMS). Actually, the concepts of PUM and UMS are the same. Contrary to popular belief, PUM or UMS is not the raw mark or percentage you scored in the examination. Instead, PUM or UMS shows the position of your raw mark relative to the grade thresholds. PUM/UMS of 80%, 70%, 60%, 50% and 40% are defined as the grade thresholds for grades A, B, C, D and E respectively. The grade thresholds will change from one examination session to the next depending on the difficulty of the papers and the performance of candidates, but the definitions of PUM/UMS will always be the same. If your PUM/UMS is 80%, it means that your raw mark is equal to the threshold for A (you just scored the minimum required for grade A). If your PUM/UMS is 75%, it means that your raw mark is right in between the thresholds for A and B. If your PUM/UMS is 68%, it means that after dividing the range of raw marks between the thresholds for B and C into 10 equal parts, your raw mark is 8 parts above the threshold for C and 2 parts below the threshold for B. PUM and UMS actually work in the same way, but there are some differences between them.

Unlike PUM in CIE A Level, UMS in UK A Level is not in shown in the form of a percentage, instead UMS is shown as marks out of a total UMS where the total UMS may or may not be 100. For example, if your UMS is 80% and the total UMS is 600, your UMS will be shown as 480/600 rather than 80%. In CIE A Level, your results will state your PUM for AS Level only and for overall A Level (AS and A2 combined), but not your PUM for A2 only. In UK A Level, your results will state your UMS for AS, A2 and overall A Level.

PUM in CIE A Level and UMS in UK A Level are also different in their definitions of 90% and 100%. For CIE AS Level, PUM of 90% requires your raw marks to be right in between full marks and the threshold for grade A (there is no grade A* at AS Level), while for overall CIE A Level, PUM of 90% requires your raw marks to be equal to the threshold for grade A* (which is usually higher than the threshold for grade A by the same amount that the threshold for A is higher than the threshold for B). For both AS Level and overall A Level, PUM of 100% requires your raw marks to be full marks (this is very difficult to achieve). But in UK A Level, whether it is AS, A2 or overall A Level, UMS of 90% requires your raw marks to be higher than the threshold for grade A by the same amount that the threshold for A is higher than the threshold for B, while UMS of 100% requires your raw marks to be higher than the threshold for grade A by twice the amount that the threshold for A is higher than the threshold for B (this can usually be achieved without having to get full marks).

Because of this difference, PUM in CIE A Level and UMS in UK A Level have different meanings at above 80% for AS and at above 90% for overall A Level (they are the same below that). If your UMS in UK A Level is 95%, it means that your raw mark is higher than the threshold for A by 1.5 times the amount that the A threshold is higher than the B threshold. But if your PUM in overall CIE A Level is 95%, it means that your raw mark is right in between full marks and the threshold for A*. Therefore, PUM of 95% usually indicates and requires a better performance than UMS of 95%.

Another great difference between CIE A Level and UK A Level is their definition of grade A*. To get A* in CIE A Level, your raw marks for AS and A2 combined have to be equal to or higher than the threshold for grade A*. An excellent performance in AS can compensate for less excellent performance in A2, as long as your total raw marks for AS and A2 reaches the threshold for A*. This is advantageous since AS is easier than A2. However, to get A* in UK A Level, you have to get a UMS of at least 90% for A2 only, and also a UMS of at least 80% for AS and A2 combined. Regardless of the UMS you obtained in AS (as long as it is anywhere between 70% and 100%), you still need to obtain UMS of 90% in A2 in order to get A*, so it is not possible for less excellent performance in A2 to be compensated by excellent performance in AS. Therefore, it is definitely easier to obtain A* in CIE A Level compared to UK A Level.

In my opinion, CIE A Level's definition of A* is more accurate compared to UK A Level, because CIE A Level emphasises on excellent performance for AS and A2 in overall, while UK A Level emphasises on excellent performance for A2 only. For UK A Level, a student who obtained UMS of 70% in AS and 90% in A2 (thus a combined UMS of 80%) will get A*, while another student who obtained UMS of 99% in AS and 89% in A2 (thus a combined UMS of 94%) will not get A*. This clearly shows that UK A Level's definition of A* is less accurate and less fair.

Besides, there are individual units for each subject in UK A Level but not in CIE A Level. For every subject in UK A Level, there are 2 to 3 units in AS and another 2 to 3 units in A2. There are 2 examination sessions every year in June and in January, and students can take one or more units for each subject in each session, so it is possible to split the entire A Level into 4 separate sessions (2 for AS and 2 for A2). Students who wish to retake a subject can choose to retake only a single unit that they did not score well. For CIE A Level instead, there are also 2 examination sessions every year in June and in November, but since there are no individual units, students must take the entire AS or entire A2 for each subject in one examination session, so it is possible to split the entire A Level into only 2 separate sessions (1 for AS and 1 for A2). Students who wish to retake a subject must retake the entire AS or entire A2 (or both) of that subject.

Moreover, for science subjects in UK A Level, some of the marks are awarded for the quality of writing, which includes the ability to structure the answer logically, grammar, punctuation, spelling and others, while for science subjects in CIE A Level, no mark is given for the quality of writing. Therefore, students taking UK A Level have to take care of their quality of writing when answering the science subjects, otherwise they would lose marks. In my opinion, marks should not be given for quality of writing in science subjects because quality of writing should only be tested in language subjects.

Mathematics subjects in both CIE A Level and UK A Level require students to give their answers to 3 significant figures. In UK A Level, students are not penalised if their answers are given to 2 or 4 significant figures, but they are penalised if their answers are given to less than 2 or more than 4 significant figures, while in CIE A Level, students are not penalised if they give their answers to 4 significant figures or more, but they are penalised if they give their answers to 2 significant figures or less.

However, UK A Level has changed recently. The first step of the changes is that subjects in UK A Level no longer have individual units, so the entire AS or entire A2 for each subject must be taken in one examination session. Students wishing to retake a subject also have to retake the entire AS or entire A2 of that subject. In this aspect, UK A Level is actually becoming more similar to CIE A Level. One more change to UK A Level is that the January examination session has been abolished and there is only one examination session in June every year. Therefore, students can only take or retake examinations in June. CIE A Level is completely not affected by any of these changes and it will remain the same as it was. CIE A Level never had individual units in the first place, and both its June and November examination sessions will remain. Due to these changes to UK A Level, some colleges and schools outside the UK which previously offered UK A Level had made the switch to CIE A Level.

The second step of the changes to UK A Level is that AS Level becomes a separate qualification from A Level. AS Level has the same standard as before, but its results can no longer be carried forward to A Level. This means that students have to take the entire A Level, which includes both AS and A2 topics, for each subject in one examination session. Students who wish to retake a subject must also retake the entire A Level content of that subject. For some subjects, AS Level can be taught together with the first half of A Level, and students can take AS Level after completing the first half of A Level, but their AS Level results will not have any influence on their overall A Level results, and at the end of the second half of A Level, they still have to take the entire A Level (both AS and A2). Again, this change does not affect CIE A Level in any way. Students are still able to carry forward their CIE AS Level results to CIE A Level.

Despite the differences, CIE A Level and UK A Level are considered to be of equivalent standard by universities throughout the world. CIE A Level and UK Level have their pros and cons. For me, I definitely preferred CIE A Level instead of UK A Level, mainly because it is easier to obtain A* in CIE A Level. Previously, I took CIE A Level and I got 4A*. Thinking back, I am glad that my college offered CIE A Level.

P/S: All the notes and tips that I provide on this blog is for CIE A Level, not UK A Level.

9 comments:

  1. Hi Daniel. Thank you so much for taking the time to write all this. So, does this mean, if let's say I feel extremely unconfident for just one subject, I have to retake the WHOLE programme again? I'm in Taylor's too and it's just so expensive!

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    1. No, you don't have to retake the whole programme. You only have to retake that particular subject, and you can choose to retake either the AS or A2 part (or both) of that subject. However, you cannot just retake a single paper (for example, Paper 1) that you did not score well. That is what I am trying to mean in the post above. I am sorry if I caused some confusion for you.

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  2. Hi Daniel. Just to.confirm if my grade in paper 1, 2, 4 and 5 for chemistry are higher than the grade boundaries for a but my paper 3 grade is only a C, is it possible for me to get an A*?

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    1. Yes, you can still get A* if your total marks for all papers reach the grade threshold for A*. In fact, if you scored really well in the other papers, it is possible for you get A* even if you get 0 mark for Paper 3 !

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  3. Hi, can I know the approximate raw marks required (over 100) to obtain grade A for AS in Chemistry, Bio, physics and maths?

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  4. Hey Daniel, may I know how to calculate PMS marks for AS? Out of 140

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  5. Hello Daniel. You mentioned that PUMs in AS and A2 will determine our overall a level grade. Or are the raw marks more important? Which means, if i get a PUM of 90 for as maths, and a PUM of 94 for A2, I can get A*? Or raw marks only?

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    1. It is your raw mark that determines your PUM and A Level grade. You won't actually get to know your PUM for A2 because CIE will only let you know your PUM for AS and your PUM for combined AS and A2. To get A*, you should work on getting raw marks higher than the A* threshold. The grade threshold changes from year to year, but you can use the thresholds for the previous years as a rough guide.

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  6. I normally don't comment on blogs etc but thank you truly. I am extremely grateful for your blog and this post in particular. I am actually going through my AS/A2 finals (giving both of them in the same session) for bio chem and phy. I am generally an A to A* student and my strong points are the theory papers of both AS and A2 as well as the mcq papers. I just gave my Chem P2 which went extremely well, expecting above 50/60. Similarly, gave Bio P2 and Phy P2 so far with also above 50/60 expectations. However, we had our P5's for bio and phy together with the P2's and I didn't have a good preparation of P5's at all. Both of them will be ranging from 18 to 22 ish marks and that's borderline A or even a B as per most thresholds. My anxiety had taken me over when I tried to figure out whether my other P1 and P4 (and P3 if it goes good enough) wil compensate for bad P5 performance. I spent the entire day on Google and came across the whole UMS issue of UK A level and was very worried that I'd lose my A* chances because of bad P5 performance (cause they want 90% in A2 for A*). Now I came across your post and it clarified that CIE A level allows such compensation to occur. It is a huge relief and now I will be motivated to perform well in the rest of my papers. Thank you so much. God bless you. :)

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