If you’ve just finished your GCSE exams and you’ve got your sights set on university, then you will surely be familiar with UCAS points by now.

Just like exams, essays, and coursework are graded on a scale, so is your academic progress. The UCAS points system is used by universities to determine whether or not you will cut in at their institution, and if you show academic promise.

Whether or not your GCSEs count towards these UCAS points, and how useful they are for your academic career in general are issues we are going to examine in this article.

UCAS points explained

Calculator in the grass.
UCAS points can be tough to calculate without the right tools.

Acting as the gateway from secondary or grammar school to university, the UCAS points system is an important thing to get your head around when thinking about your academic future.

Basically, as a student, you will be assigned a number of UCAS points based on various factors. Your points tally can be calculated using one of many UCAS tariffs points tables, like the one which can be found on the official UCAS website.

Your academic career up until the point at which you apply to university will be condensed into numerical form, to show universities what they can expect from you should they admit you to their institution.

How to acquire UCAS points

The most common way students acquired UCAS points, is through sixth form studies.

However, this isn’t confined to just A-levels.

Each qualification that contributes to the acquisition of UCAS points is allocated a weight, based on the amount of hours of study.


The most common way to acquire UCAS points, passing A-level subjects will provide you with a numerical value depending on how high the grade is.

For example, an A grade will fetch you a handsome 48 points, while an E grade will bring in a less impressive 16 points.

It’s as simple as that really, so if you want a better chance of being admitted to your preferred university, you’ll need to ace your A-levels.

International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme

Some schools and colleges offer IBDP at sixth form level which is an alternative to A-levels.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is a great alternative to A-levels, especially for particularly well-rounded students.

An internationally accepted qualification, the IBDP has the student pick from three subject groups, while completing three compulsory elements, which include an extended essay of around 4000 words.

The grading system in this programme is different from A-levels, since you will be working with numbers instead of grades. On a scale of 1-7, a 6 will be an A grade equivalent for example.

These numbers correspond to different amounts of UCAS points. Plus, rather than being considered as a whole, the IBDP system allocated UCAS points for individual elements, such as exams, the extended essay, and the other compulsory ‘Theory of Knowledge’ unit.

Since IBDP students tackle more subjects than their A-level taking counterparts, they will cover them in less detail, which is taken into account by universities.

As a result universities will adjust their entry requirements accordingly for IBDP applicants.

The programme has been praised widely for its well-rounded approach, which helps the student develop the perfect skill set for future success in higher education.

Vocational courses

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Vocational courses can lead to careers.

The last way you can garner UCAS points for your university application academically is through vocational courses.

BTEC Nationals are well-respected qualifications which can boost your chances of getting a spot at your first-choice university.

This type of vocational course is popular among students looking to gain practical skills which will prove useful in their future career.

According to the BBC, approximately 20% of university students have sealed their spot through studying BTEC Nationals on their own.

That means they are a viable alternative to A-levels and the IBDP when it comes to gathering UCAS points.

One of the best parts of BTEC Nationals is that there are thousands of courses to choose from, which cover everything you could possibly imagine.

This makes them great value for anyone who is looking to take a vocational approach, and build practical skills towards a career before cementing their theoretical knowledge at university.

There are other vocational courses available through the OCR exam board, and the City and Guilds organisation too.

Plus, in 2020, the government is planning to introduce T-levels. This new qualification will count as three A-levels, and be a natural step up from GCSE level study. They have been created to provide a combination of practical and theoretical study.

Non-academic ways to get points

Aside from academic performance, UCAS points can be earned through volunteering and musical talent.

If you are reaching for the stars with your university application, then you’ll want to ensure that you have as many UCAS points as humanly possible. As a result, you should consider doing community-based volunteering courses to bolster your total.

If you are musically gifted, you can earn some extra points by getting graded with an instrument. A grade higher than 6 will put you in a position to add valuable UCAS points to your profile.

UCAS points aside, if you wish to pursue other extracurricular activities and courses, it certainly won’t hurt your chances of getting accepted, and will most likely be taken into account alongside your points total.

However, it’s important to note that not all universities adhere to the UCAS points system, so don’t bother calculating your tally unless you are applying to some which use the system.

Do GCSEs count towards UCAS points?

Student with head in his hands.
So do GCSEs count, or not...?

As you might have noticed from the previous list, GCSEs are absent. So if you were wondering if they count towards UCAS points, then you already have your answer: they don’t.

As mentioned earlier, it isn’t until A-level or IB in sixth form that you can start to accumulate UCAS points through your exam marks and coursework.

So what's the incentive to do well in GCSEs?

Even though GCSEs don’t contribute to your UCAS points tally, they are very important for universities considering your application alongside the points.

GCSEs are useful both to you and the universities.

For you, GCSE results will provide a good indicator of where you’re at with your studies, and which universities you should realistically aim for.

They also serve well as practise for future exams. Once you get to university, the exams will come thick and fast, and the level of independent study required increases dramatically.

That’s why it’s worth putting the effort in for GCSEs, so you can prove to yourself that you’re capable of studying well, and holding your own when the pressure is on.

If you struggle staying focussed or feel like you could use a helping hand with a subject or two, consider getting in touch with one of our experienced private tutors at SuperProf.

Providing you with the tools you need to succeed in the important exams, our private tutors can be there with you every step of the way, providing pertinent feedback and useful study tips.

Lost your GCSE certificate? Not to fear, we have a guide detailing your options in this case.

GCSEs and their importance for universities

As for the universities, GCSE results provide a strong indicator of how you will perform in your A-level exams, which is one of the only things universities will have to go on.

If you do well in your GCSEs you will be sending a strong message to prospective universities about how well you can perform in a high-pressure academic setting.

If you have no gcses but want to go to university, things can start to become more difficult.

However, all is not lost. If you fail all of your GCSEs, you can resit the exams or take some Functional Skills courses to get the important subjects (maths and English) up to a C grade (4 under the new system) equivalent.

Plus, GCSEs will help determine which school or college you can go to for sixth form.

Most schools and colleges will require that you have 4 or 5 grades of between 4 and 5 at least to be accepted.

Just like universities, schools and colleges will take a look at your GCSE grades to consider your aptitude for their sixth form. Where you study sixth form could affect how well you end up doing in A-levels or IBDP, so it’s important to do well in them for this reason too.

A good way to look at the GCSEs is as the first domino in a series of many. If you pass with flying colours, you can knock down the first domino with confidence, and in so doing, open up a lot of doors going forward.

Fail to do so, and you will leave the domino standing. However as we have discussed, there are other ways to knock this domino down, and open up the path to university if that is your end goal.

Going to university without gcses is possible as we’ve already established, so at the end of the day while the relationship between UCAS points and GCSEs is non-existent, you can still get plenty of UCAS points from different sources.

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Sam is an English teaching assistant and freelance writer based in southern Spain. He enjoys exploring new places and cultures, and picking up languages along the way.