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GCSE and A level awarding in 2018

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A levels and GCSEs

We, like schools and colleges, are already looking ahead to this summer’s exams. This year there are more new AS and A level subjects and 9 to 1 GCSEs being awarded for the first time. They include the new GCSE science suite of qualifications, GCSE and A level geography, dance, drama and music, GCSE history, and GCSE and A level French, German and Spanish. We also have the second year of awards for those subjects taken for the first time in 2017, and some unreformed qualifications too. So, how will awarding work for each of these groups this year?

Subjects first awarded in 2018

The list of subjects being awarded for the first time has changed, but our approach for these subjects is the same as in 2017 (and 2016 for new AS); that is, to make sure this year’s cohort is treated fairly.

GCSE subjects graded 9 to 1 in 2018: English, maths, biology, chemistry, physics, combined science, computer science, geography, history, art and design, French, German, Latin, Spanish, classical Greek, dance, drama, music, food preparation and nutrition, physical education, religious studies, citizenship studies. Reformed English and maths were first awarded in 2017.
GCSE subjects graded 9 to 1 in 2018
Reformed AS and A levels in 2018: English literature, English language, English language and literature, art and design, dance, drama and theatre, music, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, economics, business, psychology, sociology, religious studies, classical Greek, French, German, Latin, Spanish, history, geography and physical education. The following subjects were first awarded in 2017: English literature, English language, English language and literature, art and design, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, economics, business, psychology, sociology and history.
Reformed AS and A level subjects being awarded in 2018

We will again follow the principle of comparable outcomes to carry forward standards in the first year of the new qualifications. Exam boards will be relying heavily on the statistical evidence to do this, but also using senior examiners to check the grade boundaries that the statistics are pointing to.

In the new A levels, this means that, provided the 18-year-old cohort is similar to previous years in terms of their previous GCSE results, national results in a subject in 2018 will look similar to results in 2017 in that subject.

In the new 9 to 1 GCSEs, exam boards will use predictions to anchor standards to the legacy A* to G GCSEs. This means that, if the 16-year-old cohort is similar to previous years in terms of their previous key stage 2 attainment, the proportion of students who achieve grade 4 and above in any new subject will be similar to the proportion that previously achieved grade C and above. The same principle applies to grade 7/grade A and grade 1/grade G.

Grade 9 in the new GCSEs will be set using the ‘tailored approach’ formula. This means that across all subjects (when all GCSEs are graded 9 to 1) about 20% of those students achieving grade 7 or above will achieve a grade 9. The proportion for an individual subject might be higher or lower than 20%. In summer 2017 GCSE maths, for example, 19.9% of students achieved a grade 7 or above, and 3.5% achieved a grade 9 – that’s about 18% of those achieving a 7 or above.

There are several reasons for taking the approach outlined above for the new qualifications.

  1. We know from our research on the sawtooth effect, that student performance dips a little in the first years of a new qualification, because teachers are less familiar with the new specifications, and there are fewer support materials and past papers for students to use. Using statistics compensates for that dip, so that the 2018 cohort is not unfairly disadvantaged by being the first to sit these new qualifications.
  2. The changes to these qualifications would make it challenging for senior examiners to compare the quality of student work this year in response to papers that are different in content and style to those in previous years.
  3. Using the statistics means that we can have confidence that the grade standards are aligned between different exam boards in a subject, so that it is no easier to achieve a particular grade with one board than with another.

Subjects first awarded in 2017

Summer 2018 also sees the second full cohort awards of GCSE English language, English literature and maths. Exam boards will be using statistical predictions to maintain the standards set in 2017. These predictions will be based on the national results for 16-year-olds in 2017. Predictions will also be used for grade 9, based on the national grade 9 outcomes in 2017. We expect to see changes in the overall cohort this year, as the entry will include significantly more post-16 students who will mostly be re-sitting their exams. As such, overall results might look different, but we expect that results for the 16-year-old cohort will be similar to 2017.

For the second awards of the new A levels first awarded in 2017, exam boards will also use statistical predictions to carry forward the standards set in 2017 at grades A*, A and E. These predictions will be based on the national results for 18-year-olds in 2017. If this year’s cohort is similar in terms of prior attainment, we expect to see similar results in summer 2018.

Other GCSEs and A levels

For all other AS and A level qualifications, exam boards will continue to use predictions for 18-year-olds based on their prior attainment at GCSE, and for GCSE they will use predictions based on key stage 2 outcomes.

Coming soon

I will be blogging on various topics over coming months, published here and also in our ‘9 to 1 news’ and ‘Exam matters’ newsletters.  I will be taking a detailed look at the new GCSE science suite, providing an update on our research looking at tiering choices in GCSE maths, and letting you know how we will approach the first awards of the new A level maths specifications in 2018. Do let me know if there’s a topic you’d like me to cover by leaving a comment below.

Cath Jadhav
Associate Director, Standards and Comparability

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  1. Comment by Delia kelly posted on

    Did teachers need to submit As maths in 2017. Or could they have waited until their final exam in 2018.

    • Replies to Delia kelly>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      There was no requirement to cash in the AS in 2017 for students taking the legacy A level in 2018.

  2. Comment by Berangere Farris posted on

    When looking at the Science suite, could you include info on tiering too? Thank you.

  3. Comment by Lee Ridout posted on

    Will there be approx same percentage of 4+ in maths this year as there were last year?

    • Replies to Lee Ridout>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      We expect that the percentage achieving grade 4 and above for 16-year-olds will be similar to last year, but the percentage for the total entry for maths might be different. The total entry for maths in 2018 will include post-16 students so the overall cohort will be different from the 9 to 1 maths cohort in 2017 (which was almost all 16-year-olds).

  4. Comment by T. Nunn posted on

    My son's school is looking at 64 points from 9 subjects, is this high?

    • Replies to T. Nunn>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      I'm sorry, but we can't help with this question - schools can set their own requirements for entry to sixth form.

  5. Comment by Manisha posted on

    Information has been very useful.

  6. Comment by Abigail posted on

    How much will the English and maths grade boundaries differ from last year?

  7. Comment by Steve Hemley posted on


    What will the A Level maths grade boundaries be like, for candidates sitting the first exams in June of 2018? Bearing in mind that they are going to be very high because everyone sitting these exams will be further mathematicians, so due to their school's exam policy, they are required to sit the full A Level in year 12. Is there any rough guide to how many marks will be required? I'm quite concerned that my pupils are going to need somewhere in the neighborhood of 260-270+/300 marks in order to get an A*, which seems very tough to me. And will they award more A*s than normal, given the cohort's strength?

    • Replies to Steve Hemley>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      We are expecting a small, generally high ability cohort for the first awards this summer. In other years, these students will have been entered alongside the larger year 13 cohort. Predictions will have been based on year 13 students, but the same grade boundaries will have applied to all students. Grade boundaries are never set in advance, but the predictions will be based on the year 12 cohort. If, as we expect, they have high prior attainment, then the predictions will be higher than for a normal summer cohort.
      We are currently surveying schools to get a better understanding of their plans to enter students and it would be great if your school could complete this.

      • Replies to chrisshadforth>

        Comment by Steven Hemley posted on

        But surely that is going to disadvantage the very much-so capable students? Who would have probably got an A* had they sat the exams another year with everyone? And why wouldn't they just drop out now and sit the exams next year with everyone else, hence the much lower grade boundaries?

  8. Comment by David Coates posted on

    Is there still no decision on how the proportion of students anchored at grades 7-7, 4-4 and 1-1 in Combined Science will be calculated, since the proportions achieving A, C and G in legacy Core and Additional Science were very different?

  9. Comment by ChrisAllen posted on

    What support will we get for making tier decisions for students around the 4/5 boundary if we have no idea of those boundaries on Foundation or Higher science papers?

    • Replies to ChrisAllen>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      Our approach to setting standards in these new GCSEs should mean that, in general, a student who would previously have achieved a grade C should achieve a grade 4 in the new GCSEs (or 4, 4 in combined science). Similarly a student who would previously have achieved a grade A should achieve a grade 7 (7,7 in combined science). Our advice therefore is to use those anchor points at A/7, C/4 and 1/G as a guide to tier entry, bearing in mind that the overlap grades on higher and foundation tiers are a little higher than in the old GCSEs.

  10. Comment by Sukhjeet Rayat posted on

    Are A Levels grade of 9 to 1 or A* to E?

  11. Comment by Becky posted on

    Are the grade boundaries for A Levels expect to change that much from last years?

    • Replies to Becky>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      It will depend on how difficult the papers turn out to be compared to last year's papers. If they are a bit more difficult, then grade boundaries are likely to be lower, and if they are a little easier than last year, then grade boundaries are likely to be higher.

  12. Comment by Catherine Prichard posted on

    AQA have indicated that for Art & Design the new Level 9 is above an A*. Therefore, my daughter's school appears to consider a Grade 9 is, in effect, unattainable and is marking accordingly - with percentage marks well below those achieved by previous cohorts. Is this the correct approach?

  13. Comment by Elisabeta posted on

    Hi there my son is in year 9 and is grade is 5 in the new (9-1)is this a good grade for year 9 ?

    • Replies to Elisabeta>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Hi Elisabeta, it's best to speak to the school about your son's progress. For a better understanding of the grade scale, have a look at this postcard.

  14. Comment by Dominic H posted on

    When are A level grade boundaries agreed please. Particularly Photography. Thanks.

    • Replies to Dominic H>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Grade boundaries are not set until late July. They will be published in August alongside results.

  15. Comment by Elle posted on

    Will grade boundaries significantly decrease this year compared to the previous years ? E.g. if the grade boundary for ocr chemistry was 56% last year and the exam was easier, could the requirements for an A increase by over 10-20% or will it increase but not by a huge amount?

    • Replies to Elle>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      The new qualifications have different structures so previous grade boundaries are less useful as an indicator of where the grade boundaries might be in the new qualifications. Where they are set will also depend on how students find the papers. That's why they won't be set until after the marking is finished.

  16. Comment by Ann posted on

    Are AQA biology and OCR chemisty A level boundaries expected to be higher or lower than last year

    • Replies to Ann>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      As we have said above, grade boundaries are set to reflect the demand of the papers. So more demanding papers will have higher grade boundaries, and less demanding papers will have lower grade boundaries. Exam boards will publish this year's grade boundaries on results day.