The Cambridge Pre-U, which was launched in 2008, was billed as a more academically demanding qualification than A levels that would “prepare students better for the rigour of university study”.
It is now catching on in state schools after being adopted by several private sixth-form colleges, says the exam board University of Cambridge International Examinations, which runs the Pre-U.
Sixty-four state schools and 74 independent schools will enter students into the Pre-U this year – 20 per cent more schools than did so last year.
Overall, there are 4,000 examination entries for the Pre-U this summer, compared with 3,000 in 2011.
However, the A level – recently criticised by Michael Gove, the education secretary, for supposedly failing to prepare young people for higher study – will remain the exam of choice for most of the 572,000 candidates who have applied to university so far this year.
Cambridge International Examinations believes that the Pre-U, in which students sit all their exams at the end of the upper sixth, could become more popular because of concerns among some universities that multiple re-sits are leading to a “dumbing down” of A levels.
A report published last week by the exam watchdog Ofqual said that the number of “bite-sized” modules within A levels should be reduced, which could lead to the scrapping of AS levels.
Ann Puntis, chief executive of Cambridge International Examinations, said: “When it first started, Cambridge Pre-U was seen by some as the preserve of the elite.
“These statistics prove this is simply not the case – it is growing in popularity for schools across the board.
“More teachers and students are experiencing the benefits of a different learning environment – where teaching to the test isn’t an option.
“The structure of Cambridge Pre-U provides teachers with more teaching time to nurture students’ passion for their subjects and enables students to develop attributes that universities want.
“With increased focus on the outcomes of a university degree and the employability of young people, we have an obligation as educators to ensure that those who choose higher education are sufficiently prepared to get the most out of it.”