In the United Kingdom, national exams are a way of standardising schools and students from across the country. This works because students simultaneously sit the same, or at least very similar, exams which require the same amount of practice and preparation.

The first major example of this are your GCSEs. There are some subjects that are compulsory such as maths and English, and others which are optional such as history or geography. But given that the grades are national and there are no competing qualifications for exams taken when you are sixteen (or just about to turn sixteen), it is easy for anyone, anywhere to compare them.

However, post-16 education is a different matter. There are a number of different qualifications and diplomas that you can do which makes life more difficult, especially for universities who are setting the entry requirements for their courses.

So how can you compare different qualifications such as A-Levels, BTECs, Foundation Apprenticeships, International Baccalaureate, Scottish qualifications (e.g Advanced Highers), Welsh Baccalaureate amongst many more, in order to compare and standardise them so as to be able to set standard benchmarks for university admissions for undergraduate courses?

The answer is very simple; UCAS tariff points. UCAS tariff points convert your qualifications, grades, and diplomas into numerical values. Universities and colleges can then use these numbers in their course entry requirements which allows them to match each different qualification up against other ones. So, how do UCAS tariff points work and what are they?

Calculating your UCAS points isn't as complicated as you might be thinking. (Source: Pixabay.com - Pexels)

What is the UCAS Point System?

If you are in the process of applying for an undergraduate course at university, or you are thinking about applying in the near future, then you will almost definitely have heard of UCAS. UCAS stands for ‘Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’ and it does exactly what it says on the tin. It is the way that students apply for:

  • University
  • Apprenticeships
  • Teacher training
  • Internships

This means that you don’t apply to each institution individually but rather you fill in an application with UCAS and they send it on to the higher education institutions that you have opted to apply for. They also govern most correspondence with these institutions, including their response to your application.

When you come to do your UCAS application, you will write your personal statement and you will select your chosen institutions (likely from open days that you have been on). Your selection of institutions should also be based on the entry requirements for the course that you want to study which could be given in UCAS points.

At first glance this can seem a bit alien and overwhelming because the numbers that you will see have absolutely no relevance to your qualifications or grades without any context. You will used to receiving your grades in the standard format for your individual qualifications. For example, A-Levels give grades of A*-E but the International Baccalaureate grades students from 1-7.

This is precisely the reason that understanding the UCAS tariff system is important. It aims to standardise different qualifications that students take to get into university or college so that they can be compared to other qualifications that operate a completely different grading system.

graduating secondary school
The road to graduation could start by calculating your UCAS points. (Source: Unsplash)

How Do UCAS Points Work?

When calculating your UCAS points, the first thing to note is that they can only be calculated for what are known as level3/SCQF level 6 qualifications. Level 2 qualifications aren’t applicable so your GCSE in maths won’t be necessary here!

UCAS use a mathematical model which is based on the size of a qualification and an overall grading scale which gives a total number of points for each qualification. Additionally there are other ways to earn UCAS points, and these are accounted for in a similar way.

Students are encouraged to check each individual course’s requirements but UCAS estimates that around a third of courses listed on its search tool have a direct UCAS tariff requirement meaning you will need to know how many points you will be awarded for each of your accepted qualifications.

You don’t need to concern yourself with the complicated mathematical equations of all of this. The UCAS tariff calculator allows you to input your qualifications and your grade which it then uses to give you a points amount for each qualification.

Improve your chances of getting into university
The UCAS tariff calculator does all of the hard work so you can focus on getting into university. (Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay)

UCAS Tariff Points by Qualification

As we have already mentioned, UCAS tariff points aim to provide a way of comparing different qualifications. Universities and colleges can then use this information to set entry requirements for their courses. This is important because without such a system, it would be impossible to equate an A-Level with a BTEC diploma.

The aim of this blog isn’t to tell you what points are awarded for your specific qualifications, but to give you an idea of roughly what you can get. Here is a short list of how many UCAS tariff points are given for the top grade in some of the most popular post-16 qualifications:

  • A* at A-Level: 56 points
  • D* BTEC Certificate: 28 points
  • D*D* BTEC Diploma: 112 points
  • City & Guilds Level 3 Advanced Technical Certificate: 56 points
  • Foundation Apprenticeship P Grade: 42 points
  • Scottish Advanced Higher A grade: 56 points
  • Welsh Baccalaureate A*: 56 points

What about Qualifications That Aren’t Listed?

Don’t panic if you can’t see your particular qualification on the UCAS tariff calculator. It only has 16 qualifications so there are naturally a number of qualifications and diplomas that aren’t listed. It is always worth contacting the university or college directly in such an instance because they may well accept it regardless.

What’s more, don’t assume that all universities accept all stated qualifications as tariff points. For example, many don’t accept General Studies A-Level as counting towards your accumulated points. Universities usually state any stipulations with their course information either on the course page of their website or in their prospectus, but if you have any doubts then contact them directly.

Computer, laptop, and other gadgets.
You can find all of the information about the course of your dreams through your computer.

Another thing to bear in mind about UCAS tariff points is that, whilst a third of the courses listed by UCAS have a tariff requirement, only about half of universities use the UCAS tariff system.

The rest directly set their entry requirements based on qualifications and grades. So equally you shouldn’t worry if there is no UCAS tariff requirement listed by the university for entry onto your chosen course.

This means that the UCAS tariff system is important for university applications, but your specific university application might not need it at all because any conditional offer that the universities that you have applied to might make could be contingent on the specific qualifications that you are undertaking.

How Can Superprof Help?

Here at Superprof we know that the application process for university can be stressful. For a lot of students it is a huge decision about what undergraduate degree to study for and whether to move away from home for perhaps the first time.

This means narrowing down the list of academic subjects that you would consider studying, researching various universities offering the course, and going on an open day or two. And all of this comes before you do the extracurricular activities to make you stand out or even think about sitting down to complete a UCAS application.

With all of this going on, it can be easy for your school work to fall a little bit by the wayside as you try to get everything else sorted. In such a case, you can sometimes find yourself falling behind with a particular subject, or even just a part of a particular subject. That is the point where Superprof comes in.

With Superprof, you can find your perfect tutor close to where you live. All of our tutors are rated by their students and their biographies list their experience and areas of expertise, making your decision all the more easier. And if this wasn’t enough, most of them offer the first class for free to allow you to decide whether they are the right one for you

So get rid of the feeling of slipping further into quicksand and find your perfect tutor with Superprof to allow you to keep up your studies whilst you make the best decision about what to study and at which university.

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