The Cambridge Pre-U is a new post-16 qualification offered by Cambridge University, which was developed in conjunction with universities and other higher education establishments. It helps students gain the skills and knowledge needed to succeed at university through the promotion of independent and self-directed learning.

Students walking outside Kings College, University of Cambridge

Image Credit: Kosala Bandara/

It is underpinned by a clear set of educational aims:

  • Encouraging the development of well-informed, open and independent-minded individuals.
  • Promoting deep understanding through subject specialisation, with a depth and rigour appropriate to progression to higher education
  • Helping learners to acquire specific skills of problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, team-working, independent learning and effective communication
  • Recognising the wide range of individual talents and interests
  • Promoting an international outlook and cross-cultural awareness

To obtain the Pre-U Diploma students undertake 3 principal subjects, of which one or two can be substituted for A-levels, along with Global Perspectives and Research (GPR). GPR is taught as two successive one-year courses. During the first year, students develop their research and thinking skills and in the second year students complete an extended project, or Research Report.

The Cambridge Pre-U is available in 27 Principal Subjects including Art and Design, the sciences, maths, the social sciences, the humanities and languages. Each principal subject is a two-year programme of study with exams at the end. The courses are linear and students are required to make links between the topics they've been taught (unlike the modular A-levels). Short courses (typically one-year programmes) are also available in some subjects.  All syllabuses develop in-depth subject knowledge and skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, team working, independent learning and communication.

Assessment takes place at the end of the two years and students can achieve one of 9 grades:

  • Distinction 1, 2 and 3
  • Merit 1, 2 and 3
  • Pass 1, 2 and 3.

The top grade, Distinction 1, reports achievement above Grade A* at A Level while Distinction 2 is roughly equivalent to an A* and Distinction 3, roughly equivalent to an A. Students can take either the full Pre-U Diploma, or undertake a number of courses and obtain a separate grade for each one.

The Pre-U is accepted for university around the world in countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. In the UK, the Russell Group has welcomed the academic rigour, retention of subject specialism and the linear approach of these qualifications.


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