Whilst A levels seem to be the most common choice for 16+ qualifications there are also other options such as the IB or CIE Pre-U Diplomas. Pre-U exams are the most recent qualification out of the three and the first exams were only in 2010.
For those of you that don’t know, the Pre-U is a two year linear course where you take a minimum of three principal subjects. You can break them down into individual subjects which can be taken alongside A levels or you can take a course in Global Perspectives and Research which will allow you to gain a Cambridge Pre-U Diploma. The new A level reforms do mean that there are more similarities between the courses than there have been in the past (such as having to sit all exams at the end of the two years). Despite this, there are still a number of differences between the two courses.
1. The grading systems
The first difference is that the courses are graded differently. Pre-U subjects examined with the grades P3-1, M3-1 and D3-1, with the D1 being above a grade A* at A level. This difference in grading allows for higher UCAS points if you achieve the top grade. Whilst this may not seem like much of a difference, if you are looking at points-based courses then it may be worth considering especially if you are looking at A/A* grades at A level anyway.
2. The requirements
The second difference is the requirement of completing a Global Perspectives and Research course in order to gain the full diploma. Like the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), students are expected to research a topic independently, something which universities can be quite keen to see. The independence that you develop during this report is supposed to be similar to the kind of skills you’re expected to have at university. The main differences between this topic and an EPQ are that there is a teaching aspect (within the Global Perspectives course) and it is compulsory if you want the diploma.
3. Skills development
Pre-U qualifications are supposed to develop some of the skills you’re expect to have for university, which is something that A levels don’t often do. Whilst you can often memorise a good chunk of the content for A level and still do well, this isn’t developing the independence and understanding that you often need at degree level. Obviously you can still develop these skills at A level but it isn’t as simple and supposedly the course for Pre-U qualifications makes it easier.
When you look at the fine details, the difference between Pre-U and A level is minor. Even when looking at AS levels there isn’t much as you can do a short Pre-U course that is only one year long and worth similar UCAS points to an AS level of an equal grade. Whilst the structure is supposed to be more similar to the courses taught at university, it shouldn’t give you a significant advantage over people studying A levels and even though Pre-U exams are supposedly harder, this may not be the case for everyone.
If available then you could perhaps study a combination of A level subjects and Pre-U as they’re worth the same amount when applying to university. At the end of the day it’s your choice; if you prefer the course style and would like an experience that is closer to university then maybe consider studying the Pre-U Diploma rather than A levels.