Cambridge National vs GCSE | Grading System Comparison

In GCSE, General by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

There are a wide variety of qualifications that are equivalent to GCSEs. However, despite being equivalent qualifications, there are often many differences between these. This is especially the case with vocational qualifications, such as Cambridge Nationals that are not only structured and taught in different ways but are also graded in a different way also.

When it comes to comparing these different grading systems, it can get a bit confusing to see which grades match up where. However, in this article, we’ll take you through these grading systems and compare them for you.

The following table will show you a brief overview of how the Cambridge Nationals grades and the GCSE grades match up to each other.

Cambridge Nationals England GCSEs Wales GCSEs Northern Ireland GCSEs
9 A*
D* (level 2)
8 A*
D (level 2) 7 A A
6 B
M (level 2) B
5 C*
C
P (level 2) 4 C
D D
D (level 1) 3
E E
M (level 1) 2 F F
P (level 1) 1 G G

Continue reading to get a better idea of how the Cambridge Nationals grading system works and how this relates to the GCSE one. This article will be looking at GCSE grading systems from different parts of the UK and how these all compare to Cambridge Nationals grades.

How are GCSEs graded?

With all of the changes, the GCSE grading system is known to baffle a lot of people. With the “new” system and the “old” system it can be difficult trying to figure out how the letters and the numbers match up. However, in reality, the GCSE grading system is a little bit more complicated than that.

In the UK, GCSEs are only taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Scotland having alternative qualifications, known as Nationals. However, in each of these 3 countries, the grading system slightly differs.

In England, there is the “new” grading system. This is a numbered grading system that ranges from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest grade. In this case, a passing grade is a grade 4. Check out the new GCSE grading system in this Think Student article.

In Wales, the “old” lettered grading system is used. This compromises of grades from A* to G, with A* naturally being the highest grade. In this grading system, a passing grade is a C grade.

In Northern Ireland, the grading system is more like something in between the “old” and “new” systems. While a lettered grading system is still used, ranging from the grades A* to G, there is an additional grade. This means that there are 9 grades like the “new” grading system rather than 8 like the “old” one.

This additional grade is the C* which was designed to be the same as a grade 5 of the numbered grading system.

Look at the following table to see how these 3 UK GCSE grading systems compare to each other.

England Wales Northern Ireland
9 A*
8 A*
7 A A
6 B
B
5 C*
C
4 C
D D
3
E E
2 F F
1 G G

You can learn more about this by checking out this guide by CCEA as well as this Think Student article.

How are Cambridge Nationals graded?

Cambridge Nationals are similar to GCSEs in that they are aimed at students between the ages of 14 and 16. However, unlike GCSEs, Cambridge Nationals are vocational qualifications, meaning that they are more practical and significant portions of coursework.

Cambridge Nationals are also combined level 1 and level 2 qualifications, with which students end up receiving being dependent on how they perform. You can learn more about Cambridge Nationals by checking out this Think Student article.

Cambridge Nationals are graded using the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system. This is similar to how other vocational qualifications, such as BTECs are graded, which you can learn more about in this Think Student article.

When it comes to Cambridge Nationals, the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system is slightly altered. As previously mentioned, whether a student receives the level 1 or level 2 qualification will depend on how they perform. This means that they will get their Pass, Merit or Distinction grade at either level 1 or level 2, depending on how well they do.

Also, students can also get the additional grade of a Distinction*. Although, this grade is only available at level 2.

Due to this, students will either get Pass, Merit or Distinction at level 1 or Pass, Merit, Distinction or Distinction* at level 2. You can learn more about the Cambridge Nationals grades by checking out this guide by OCR.

Cambridge Nationals grades vs GCSE grades

Both Cambridge Nationals and GCSEs are aimed at students between the ages of 14 and 16, meaning that students may take these alongside each other. Due to this, it’s important to see how their grades match up.

Above, you got to see the table of how these grades align. However, in this section we’ll put this into perspective with some much needed context and explanations.

In order to be able to compare the grades of Cambridge Nationals and GCSEs, we first need to look at what level they are at. As previously mentioned, Cambridge Nationals are combined level 1 and level 2 qualifications. Whereas GCSEs are just level 2 qualifications.

At level 1, Cambridge Nationals are equivalent to GCSE grades between D/ 3 and G/ 1, which are below a GCSE pass. At level 2, Cambridge Nationals are equivalent to the passing GCSE grades.

You can learn more about the different levels of qualifications and what they are equivalent to in this Think Student article.

However, Cambridge Nationals grades and GCSE grades don’t match up exactly. The highest Cambridge Nationals grade, a Distinction* at level 2 is roughly equivalent to a grade 8.5 in the 9-1 system.

A Merit at level 2 is roughly equivalent to a grade 5.5, both of which are obviously not actual GCSE grades.

Look at the following table to see how the 3 GCSE grading systems used in the UK match up to the Cambridge Nationals grading system.

Cambridge Nationals England Wales Northern Ireland
9 A*
D* (level 2)
8 A*
D (level 2) 7 A A
6 B
M (level 2) B
5 C*
C
P (level 2) 4 C
D D
D (level 1) 3
E E
M (level 1) 2 F F
P (level 1) 1 G G

You can learn more about this by checking out this guide by OCR. You can also check out this Think Student article, which goes into more detail about this comparison.

What is a pass for Cambridge Nationals?

Having compared the Cambridge National grades and GCSE grades in general, we can now look a little closer into the specifics of how these grading systems compare. One of the best ways to do this is to look at the passing grades for Cambridge Nationals and to compare these to passing grades for GCSEs.

The Cambridge Nationals grading system is Pass, Merit and Distinction, so it’s no surprise that “Pass” is the passing grade for Cambridge Nationals. Due to the nature of Cambridge Nationals qualifications, however, there are actually 2 passing grades for Cambridge Nationals.

While both of these grades are simply “Pass”, students can get this grade at level 1 or level 2.

As mentioned above, at level 2, this Pass is equivalent to a grade 4 or C for GCSEs, which is also the passing grade for GCSEs. However, or level 1, this Pass is the equivalent of a grade 1 or G grade, which is the lowest actual grade that a student can receive for GCSEs.

Is a level 1 a fail for Cambridge Nationals?

In this article, we’ve already mentioned quite a lot about how Cambridge Nationals are combined level 1 and level 2 qualifications. However, seeing that GCSEs are just level 2 qualifications and how the level 1 Cambridge Nationals grades match up to GCSE grades, you might be wondering if getting a level 1 grade for Cambridge Nationals would also be a fail.

In comparison to GCSE, yes, level 1 is technically a fail. This is because the level 1 grades of Cambridge Nationals, Pass, Merit and Distinction are equivalent to grades 1/G, 2/F and 3/D, respectively. As none of these grades are a pass at GCSE, it would technically mean that you would have failed.

However, unlike GCSEs, Cambridge Nationals are specifically designed as level 1/ level 2 qualifications to allow students to still receive a qualification, even if they are slightly below the level 2 standard. Therefore, no, receiving a level 1 grade is not a fail for Cambridge Nationals.

A failing grade for Cambridge Nationals is instead a grade U. This stands for unclassified and means that students didn’t receive enough marks to be given a minimum of a level 1 Pass. Students can also get this grade at GCSE level if they don’t receive enough marks to get a grade 1/ G, although neither is a passing grade.

You can learn more about this by checking out this page of the OCR website.

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