What Are Cambridge Nationals?

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There are so many different qualifications that you can study. Due to this, it can get a little confusing at times to know what the difference between each of these is and what each one actually is.

Today’s qualification is Cambridge Nationals. This qualification can get particularly confusing in comparison to others as there are several kinds of “Cambridge” qualification as well as a wide range of different types of qualification that are called “Nationals”.

However, in this article, we’ll make sure that you’re crystal clear about what Cambridge Nationals are and how they differ from other qualifications.

In short, Cambridge Nationals are a type of vocational qualification that can be taken by students between the ages of 14 and 16, making it a GCSE alternative. Due to this, are very similar to BTEC Firsts qualifications. However, Cambridge Nationals are combined level 1 and level 2 qualifications with the performance of each student determining which they receive.

Stay tuned to the end of the article to get more detailed information about Cambridge Nationals. This article will take you through important information to do with equivalent qualifications, the type of qualification it is and even how it’s graded.

What is a Cambridge National?

As there are a wide range of different “Cambridge” qualifications, it can be difficult to figure out what Cambridge Nationals, specifically, are.

Cambridge Nationals are a type of qualification that you can study in the UK. This type of qualification is designed for 14- to 16-year-olds, making it an alternative qualification to GCSEs. However, unlike GCSEs, Cambridge Nationals are combined level 1 and level 2 qualifications. You can compare Cambridge Nationals to GCSEs in this Think Student article.

Cambridge National qualifications are vocational were designed to engage students in specific subject areas and learn more about these fields. They are also meant to give students an introduction to vocational education, which they may decide to pursue further once completing these.

Cambridge Nationals may also be referred to as OCR Nationals, relating to the exam board that they’re offered by. However, you can learn more about this in its respective section below.

For more information about Cambridge Nationals, check out this guide from OCR and this page from the Cambridge Education website. You can also have a look at this page from the NI Direct website, which provides even more details.

What are Cambridge Nationals equivalent to?

Cambridge Nationals are combined level 1 and level 2 qualifications. This means students may end up with a level 1 qualification or a level 2 qualification depending on how they perform. You can learn more about this by checking out this page of the OCR website.

At level 1, Cambridge Nationals are equivalent to a range of vocational qualifications, such as level 1 NVQs/ level 4 SVQs and level 1 BTECs. It is also equivalent to academic qualifications, such as Scottish National 4 qualifications as well as grades D/ 3- G/1 for GCSEs.

At level 2, Cambridge Nationals are equivalent to passing GCSE grades, so from A*/ 9 to C/ 4 as well as Scottish National 5 qualifications. More level 2 qualifications include vocational ones, such level 2 BTECs and level 2 NVQs/ SVQs.

For more information about what these levels are and for more examples about the qualifications at these, check out this Think Student article.

What type of qualification is a Cambridge National?

As previously mentioned, Cambridge Nationals are a form of vocational qualification. However, we’ve not quite looked into what this actually means.

A vocational qualification refers to a kind of course that is designed to prepare you more directly for a specific area or trade. This is unlike more traditional qualifications, which tend to be academic and are more general.

As vocational qualifications, Cambridge Nationals are also more hands-on and so students will also be given a more technical education. By extension, this means that students will often have greater amount of coursework elements compared to more traditional forms of education, such as GCSEs.

Moreover, this coursework will often be quite hands-on and practical, so students may be creating something or more directly getting involved in the field in some other way. To learn more about vocational qualifications, check out this Think Student article.

Are Cambridge Nationals a BTEC?

Having learnt that Cambridge Nationals are more hands-on and practical and that they have significant portions of coursework, it might bring to mind other qualifications, such as BTECs. In fact, you might be wondering if these qualifications are the same thing or even if Cambridge Nationals are a type of BTEC.

To answer this, let’s first clear up what a BTEC actually is. A BTEC is a type of qualification that is a vocational and hands-on course. Due to this, it does sound very similar to Cambridge Nationals.

However, the term BTEC stands for Business and Technology Education Council and was originally the name of the exam board that offered these qualifications. Since then, this exam board has become a part of one of the main exam boards in the UK, Pearson Edexcel.

Therefore, for a qualification to actually be a BTEC, it needs to be offered as such by the Pearson Edexcel exam board. Although, you may here people refer to similar qualifications even when offered by different exam boards, such as Cambridge Nationals, also being referred to as BTECs.

While Cambridge Nationals aren’t BTECs, Pearson Edexcel does offer a very similar kind of qualification. These are called BTEC Firsts and once again are aimed at students between the ages of 14 and 16, once again making it a GCSE alternative.

You can learn more about BTECs by checking out this Think Student article.

What subjects can you do for Cambridge Nationals?

In this article, we’ve already looked at Cambridge Nationals from a general perspective. Now, we’re going to delve deeper into what you can actually study during a Cambridge National course.

Look at the following list to see which subjects you can take if doing a Cambridge Nationals course.

  • Child Development
  • Creative iMedia
  • Engineering Design
  • Engineering Manufacture
  • Engineering Programmable Systems
  • Enterprise and Marketing
  • Health and Social Care
  • IT
  • Sport Science
  • Sport Studies

As you can see from the list above, the kinds of subjects offered as Cambridge Nationals are pretty different to what you can study for GCSEs, as these courses were designed to be vocational and in specific areas. Please note that these subject offerings are the ones currently in use at time of writing (January 2024) and that they may slightly with some subjects being discontinued or new ones being added.

You can learn more about which subjects are offered as Cambridge Nationals by checking out this page of the OCR website.

What exam board is Cambridge Nationals?

We’ve already mentioned exam boards quite a lot in reference to Cambridge Nationals, but you may still feel a bit confused about what these actually are and what the one is for Cambridge Nationals.

An exam board is an official organisation that creates and sets exams and then is responsible for marking these for a specific qualification. This specific qualification may be a national one, such as GCSEs or A-Levels, but it could also be the exam board’s own independent qualification, such as with Cambridge Nationals.

You can learn more about exam boards by checking out this Think Student article.

Cambridge Nationals are offered by the OCR exam board. OCR stands for Oxford, Cambridge and RSA, so it’s not too surprising that they offer this qualification.

OCR is one of the main exam boards in the UK. While this is particularly for GCSEs and A-Levels, they also offer over 100 vocational qualifications, Cambridge Nationals included.

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

How are Cambridge Nationals graded?

Often, one of the most confusing parts of understanding a qualification is getting your head around its grading system and how this relates to other qualifications at the same level. This is especially the case for Cambridge Nationals as we’ve already seen how they can be similar to both GCSEs and BTECs and so you might be wondering which if either of these the Cambridge Nationals grading system is more similar to.

Cambridge Nationals are graded in a similar way to that of BTECs due to the fact that both use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system. The Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system is where students can get a highest grade of Distinction, a lowest actual grade of a Pass, although it’s also possible to get a Fail or a U grade.

For Cambridge Nationals, this Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system has been slightly altered. First of all, students can also get a Distinction* grade at level 2.

Moreover, as previously mentioned, whether a student receives the level 1 or level 2 qualification will depend on how they perform. Due to this, they 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.

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