Cambridge Qualifications for University Entry

Cambridge International A Level develops ‘university-ready’ students

The positive impact of Cambridge International A Levels on teaching and learning is backed up by a growing body of research.

Thousands of students get into university each year using Cambridge qualifications. The United States is a top study destination for Cambridge learners with more than 450 universities accepting Cambridge International AS and A Levels, including all Ivy League and Ivy Plus universities.

Cambridge qualifications can help students get ahead in higher education, and this is backed up by a growing body of research on the Cambridge International AS and A Level programme (and its group award, the Cambridge AICE Diploma) in the US.

In a recent study, Cambridge explored the impact of AS and A Level on ‘college readiness’ – in other words, how the qualification helps prepare students for university. Career and college readiness is receiving ever greater focus in US high schools, as aspirations rise and government legislation promotes college readiness for all.

Having reviewed the literature on this topic, Cambridge identified a number of school to university transition criteria necessary to measure a student’s readiness for university (see below).  They mapped these criteria to the attributes of Cambridge International AS and A Level learners, drawing on the data from previous impact research studies, to measure the degree to which the Cambridge International AS and A Level (Cambridge AICE Diploma) programme promotes US college readiness.

Research data

The data used in the study was collected from eight case study high schools in Florida and Virginia, and two universities in Florida and Minnesota.


The research shows that Cambridge International AS and A Level is distinct from other acceleration programmes (geared towards preparing US learners for college) because:

  • it emphasises skills, especially critical thinking and advanced comprehension, more than content
  • it develops knowledge of a narrow spread of material in greater depth 
  • it promotes advanced writing skills, particularly the ability to structure and defend an argument, rather than large amounts of detailed recall.

The research shows that Cambridge International AS and A Level is distinct from regular high school classes because:

  • there is a higher reading load – students are expected to read more
  • the academic expectations are closer to those experienced in college
  • there is a greater degree of independent learning.

These characteristics of Cambridge International  A Level have a positive impact on college readiness.

Our research has also shown that Cambridge exams have a ‘washback effect’ on classroom practice – in other words, they impact on teaching and learning. Teachers emphasise argumentation skills, both written and verbal, and require their students to write more than in other classes. This helps learners get ready for the type of study required of them at university.


What schools around the world say about Cambridge courses


“We have observed a marked increase in the use of higher order thinking in our classrooms since adopting the Cambridge IGCSE curriculum across all schools in all core area classes in ninth grade during 2011–2012.”

Toni Badone, Superintendent,
Yuma Union High School District, USA



“Cambridge IGCSE’s emphasis on conceptual knowledge and accuracy, as well as more rigorous testing, has proved to be a far better basis for the next stage of students’ education.”

David Hempstead,
Head of French,
St Paul’s School, London, UK



“We have been impressed by the way Cambridge IGCSE requires learners to best utilize the material they have been taught, and combine this with their own initiative to produce evidence of their knowledge and understanding.”

Richard Wijeratne,
Laude The Lady
Elizabeth School,


“Taking pupils through their Cambridge IGCSEs and Cambridge International A Levels successfully has always brought me a sense of immense achievement.”

Dr Kypros Kouris,
Director and Secondary School Headteacher,
The Heritage Private School, Cyprus


“Our students benefit enormously from the enriched curriculum, and the fact that Cambridge IGCSE is also part of the prestigious University of Cambridge reassures parents of the all-round high quality of education that our school aims to offer.”

Omneya Kassabgy,

Mananaging Director,

The British School of Egypt, Egypt



Further reading

1 Shaw, S. D. & Bailey, C. (2011a). Success in the US: Are Cambridge International

Assessments Good Preparation for University Study? Journal of College

Admission, No.213, pp.6–16, Fall. Shaw, S. D. & Bailey, C. (2011b). An American

university case study approach to predictive validity: Exploring the issues.

Research Matters, Issue 12, June 2011, pp. 18–26.

2 Shaw, S. (2011). Investigating the Impact of Cambridge International

Assessments on U.S. Stakeholders: Student and Teacher Perceptions. College and

University, Vol.87 No.2, pp.12–23, Fall.

3 Shaw, S. D. & Hudson, P. (in submission). The impact of the Cambridge

International AS and A Level (AICE) Acceleration Program on US College


Source: Cambridge Outlook Issue 14, 2013 7




30th August - Y2 Introduction Day

2nd September - Term starts 8:30