https://ofqual.blog.gov.uk/2018/01/26/gcse-grade-boundaries-in-2018/

GCSE grade boundaries in 2018

Grade boundaries for GCSEs and A levels are never set in advance of the exams being taken, for a variety of reasons. A key one is that it is impossible to judge precisely how difficult students will find a paper compared to previous papers or sample papers. Therefore exam boards wait until most or all of the marking is complete so they can see how difficult students found the paper, and individual questions on the paper, and take that into account when setting the boundaries.

With new qualifications and new styles of question papers, it is particularly difficult to predict how students will perform, and how many marks they might score. Exam boards have provided sample papers and mark schemes for those new subjects being taken this summer, but it will be the first time that students take these exams 'for real' and the first time that the teams of examiners go through the full standardisation and training process and do the marking 'for real'.

This time last year we urged schools and colleges not to rely on predictions about the likely positions of grade boundaries in new GCSEs in English language, English literature and maths. Our advice is the same for the GCSEs that are new this year.

GCSE subjects first awarded in 2018

As I have previously explained, exam boards will rely heavily on statistics in the first years of awarding these new qualifications. Exam boards will use the cohort's prior attainment at key stage 2 to predict likely achievement at the key grades: 7, 4 and 1. For those subjects being first awarded in 2018, the bottom of these grades will be aligned with the bottom of grades A, C and G in 2017 respectively. This means that the proportion of students achieving grade 7/A and above, grade 4/C and above, grade 1/G and above will be similar to 2017.

Comparing old GCSE letter grades to new number grades.

This year, we have already seen some speculation about the position of grade boundaries in the new science GCSEs. We suggest that schools should not rely on predictions about where the grade boundaries will be, but they can rely on the statistical alignment described above. For example, in general, a student who would have achieved a grade A or above in a previous qualification is likely to achieve at least a grade 7 in the new qualification.

GCSE subjects first awarded in 2017

For GCSE English language and maths, summer 2018 will be the third set of papers and the third awards (although only the second award for GCSE English literature); schools will have seen where grade boundaries were set in June and November 2017. Nevertheless, we would still urge caution in assuming that the boundaries in 2018 will be very similar to those set in 2017. The 2018 papers could turn out to be slightly more difficult or more accessible than those in 2017, and the grade boundaries will reflect those differences. So, if you are using the 2017 boundaries as a guide, our advice would be to assume the potential for movement up or down, and therefore not to rely on the 2017 boundaries as absolute indications of where the 2018 boundaries will be set.

Cath Jadhav
Associate Director, Standards and Comparability

56 comments

  1. Comment by Curious Science Teacher posted on

    Is there any further clarification as to which course Combined Science will be aligned towards (Core or Additional or 'halfway between each'). With there being a considerable difference in the % of Grade C's achieved in Core and Additional, it would be useful to know where Science departments should be drawing a line between a Grade 3 and 4.

  2. Comment by music teacher posted on

    At a meeting for OCR GCSE Music, we were told that 60% would be the grade boundary to achieve a grade 4. Is this correct? It seems to be at odds with everything else we have been advised.

    • Replies to music teacher>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      Exam boards might have designed their assessments with a target in mind (for example, for the grade 4 boundary to be approximately 60% of the marks) but even then, they will wait until they see how students have performed in the exam before setting grade boundaries. If students have found the exams more difficult, that figure might be lower, and if students have found it easier than expected, the figure will be higher. Our advice is not to make assumptions about grade boundary positions in first year of reformed qualifications.

  3. Comment by Kamal posted on

    When will the official boundaries will be released?

    • Replies to Kamal>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      Grade boundaries are usually published on results day, so the AS and A level boundaries will be published on 16th August and GCSE grade boundaries on 23rd August.

  4. Comment by Lovepreet posted on

    What is the percentage to get B and c in higher

  5. Comment by harriet posted on

    what should some one do if they seat for GCSE English for 4 times and every time he or she fails because of the one point to get grade D. And it because of the changes every year, what should they do to get to uni as they are really disparate. and they did all the sciences all and got distinctions she is really low we need an advance on this and how you can help please

    • Replies to harriet>

      Comment by unknown posted on

      just learn the techniques of English and use one sentence paragraphs unknown . you can still go uni there is no rush just try your best and do not leave everything to the last minute. type in the English exam and copy the techniques of how they answer the questions and the reason for the low level is because of lack of English techniques and strucutre mainly good luck

  6. Comment by Student posted on

    Will a 4 still be a "C" grade? I hope so.

    • Replies to Student>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      Yes. The bottom of a grade 4 is anchored to the bottom of the old grade C.

  7. Comment by lesley barclay posted on

    please can you give some advice to my daughter who is just about to do her GCSE's, today at school the students were told that they will have to achieve a grade 5 to achieve the old level C, is this true?

    • Replies to lesley barclay>

      Comment by Shaf posted on

      yes a 4 and a 5 are grade C's. 5 is more like a low B and a high C but most people just say its C.

    • Replies to lesley barclay>

      Comment by Adam Sandler posted on

      Grade 4 is equivalent to a C, for example if you get a C in business studies this year it will give 4 points, which is the same points you get from a 4.

    • Replies to lesley barclay>

      Comment by khurram ali posted on

      no a 5 is a low b / high c so you would need a grade 4 which is a weaker grade c

  8. Comment by Paul Wear posted on

    A grade 4 is a low grade C

  9. Comment by Eugene posted on

    Will schools and departments be measured against 5 and above or 4 and above?

  10. Comment by Mohammed Shahid posted on

    Will I still be able to achieve a grade 9 if I get 60 marks in Maths Paper 1?

    • Replies to Mohammed Shahid>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Grade boundaries are set at overall subject level and will not be set until late July.

  11. Comment by A Atkins posted on

    How are papers graded/standardised in, say GCSE English Lit if some students study certain texts and their choice of question/s are believed to be easier/harder than the question/s others had to answer? Making particular reference to the AQA English Lit paper taken today where one question on poetry was taken directly from the sample paper published a few years ago - many teachers would have analysed this sample question extensively with their students already.

    • Replies to A Atkins>

      Comment by chrisshadforth posted on

      We are aware that a question in AQA's English literature exam paper was very similar to one in an earlier specimen paper. This is unusual and inappropriate. We will closely monitor AQA’s plans for awarding this qualification; we will want to be sure that all students are treated as fairly as possible, whichever option they have taken.

  12. Comment by A Atkins posted on

    Thanks for responding to my query and recognising this as an issue.

  13. Comment by maazullah posted on

    what mark do you need to get grade c in maths?

    • Replies to maazullah>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      As explained in the blog post above, grade boundaries won't be set until after the marking is finished, towards the end of July.

  14. Comment by Ns posted on

    For gcse history, what percentage do students need to get a 7?

    • Replies to Ns>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      As explained in the blog post above, grade boundaries won't be set until after the marking is finished, towards the end of July.

  15. Comment by Gupta posted on

    Is possible that the marks required for a grade 9 in maths (Edexcel) could increase by over 20 marks if the paper is thought to be easy or would it be a slight increase?

    • Replies to Gupta>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      The grade boundaries will reflect the difficulty of the paper. Until all the papers have been sat and marked, we won’t know exactly how they compare to 2017, and grade boundaries will not be set until late July.

  16. Comment by Tam posted on

    Why are our children put under so much pressure to achieve high grades in the new (very difficult) GCSE grades 9-1. Teachers , children and parents are continuously in a state of anxiety as exams are getting difficult and not even the teachers canpredict what topic areas will appear for maths , science etc. This country is destroying children's love of learning!

  17. Comment by Cv posted on

    Can you explain why grade boundaries change every year depending on how the population performs, surely if they find an exam difficult or easy that is the true reflection of their abilities? So rather than marking students up or down it should naturally reflect the actual performance they delivered rather than fitting everyone into a distribution curve? Otherwise how would you measure if students are getting ‘brighter’ or not over time?

    • Replies to Cv>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      As we explain in this earlier blog it is the case that senior examiners, however good they are, find it very difficult to write papers that are of equal difficulty to previous years. Grade boundaries therefore take account of the small changes in difficulty that we see from one year to the next, so that students who encounter a more difficult paper one year are not disadvantaged.

      • Replies to Hannah Bradley>

        Comment by Cv posted on

        Hi Hannah thank you for your reply, just seems strange that after decades of preparing exams, and thousands of exams being taken and marked the examiners are unable to measure more scientifically what would be termed “too difficult”. There’s a set curriculum and surely it’s simple to set questions based on principles and agreed standards? Or am I missing something?

        • Replies to Cv>

          Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

          There is a wide research literature on the difficulty of making judgements about student performance on papers that vary in difficulty from one year to another. Despite the best efforts of senior examiners, it is very difficult to write papers that are precisely aligned, in terms of difficulty, with previous papers. One of the reasons for that is that GCSE and A level questions are not pre-tested and so it is often the case that students will find some questions easier/more difficult than expected.

  18. Comment by Unknown posted on

    Is it likely that a grade boundary for a stage 5 in AQA maths will rise any higher than 10 marks? (68 in November, 72 in June)

    • Replies to Unknown>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      The grade boundaries will reflect the difficulty of the paper. Until all the papers have been sat and marked, we won’t know exactly how they compare to 2017, and grade boundaries will not be set until late July.

  19. Comment by Coralyn Pickard posted on

    I sat the AQA new spec biology paper in May/ June this year. I sat foundation level and just wondered what the highest grade I can achieve will be. Some are saying grade 4 and some say grade 5. Thank you for your time.

  20. Comment by Alioune Badara Diouf posted on

    23 rd August approaching and I am still really anxious as I don’t know how they will do the new Gcse marking and I don’t even know how many marks do we need to get a C . Would be really appreciated if someone explain me that . Thank you

    • Replies to Alioune Badara Diouf>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Marking will have been done in line with the specimen mark schemes produced by the exam boards. Grade boundaries will be set so that a new grade 4 is anchored to a C in the old GCSEs, but the exact number of marks for a grade 4 will vary according to how difficult or easy the papers were. Exam boards will publish grade boundaries on Thursday when you get your results. Please don't be anxious about next week's results and if you need advice when you get them, your school or college will be able to help and support you.

  21. Comment by Tony Bees posted on

    Is a 5 in english literature and a 3 in english language acceptable as a grade c in english?

    • Replies to Tony Bees>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Hi Tony, you should speak to the relevant school/college about their requirements.

  22. Comment by Mark posted on

    The Edexcel Maths mark for a grade 6 was 96/240 in 2017, this has increased to 109/240 in 2018. This equates to a 5.4% increase in the total mark needed. Are the grade boundaries allowed to rise by such a high percentage in 1 year?

    • Replies to Mark>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Grade boundaries are set after all exam papers are sat and papers are marked, they are not set in relation to a previous paper's boundaries. As Cath says in the above blog post, this is because it is so difficult to judge precisely how difficult students will find a paper in comparison to a previous paper. For this reason, along with differences in cohort abilities, it won't be helpful to compare grade boundaries from one year to the next.

    • Replies to Mark>

      Comment by Ant posted on

      Hi I received 123 marks in my maths GCSE foundation paper but only got a grade 3. This doesn't sound right to me, can anybody explain as it seems like a low grade for over 100 marks.

      • Replies to Ant>

        Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

        Hi Ant, you can check the grade boundaries on the respective exam board's website, but the way the tiers work is that there are three 'overlapping' grades (grades which can be achieved on either the higher or the foundation tier papers) which are 5, 4 and 3. For the foundation papers, the grade boundaries will be higher for these grades, because a 5 is the top available grade. You can read more about how this works here.

  23. Comment by Kat posted on

    The edexcel grade boundary for a standard past in maths foundation in 2017 was 122/240 this year it has increased to 136/240. Such a huge jump. Is this really fair?

    • Replies to Kat>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Grade boundaries are set after all exam papers are sat and papers are marked, they are not set in relation to a previous paper's boundaries. As Cath says in the above blog post, this is because it is so difficult to judge precisely how difficult students will find a paper in comparison to a previous paper. For this reason, along with differences in cohort abilities, it won't be helpful to compare grade boundaries from one year to the next.

  24. Comment by Kamila posted on

    How many marks should I expect to have to gain a grade 4 at English language GCSE?

    • Replies to Kamila>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Hi Kamila, exam boards have published this year's grade boundaries for all GCSE subjects on their websites.

  25. Comment by Lisa posted on

    Is it true that a grade 5 English literature will absolve my son of having to retake his language? He was 3 marks off grade 4 but the college are saying he must resit. My understanding was that he is still funded for a literature grade 5

    Thanks in advance

    • Replies to Lisa>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Hi Lisa, there is some information on 16 to 19 funding here, which appears to support your view, but school/college requirements are a matter for them and the college may require a certain grade for both English qualifications. It would be worth having a discussion with them about this.

  26. Comment by John posted on

    Several schools seem to be stating categorically that a GCSE grade 8 is equivalent to an A* (with a grade 9 equivalent to a strong A*, which is clearly correct).

    Other sources seem to suggest that grade 8 includes the equivalent of old-style strong grade As too, as well as "weak" A* performances.

    Which approach is correct?

    • Replies to John>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Hi John, there are no direct equivalents between the old grades and the new ones, so a grade 8 is not equivalent to an A*. The closest comparison you can get in your example is the latter (that a grade 8 covers strong grade As and those on the lower end of A*s). But of course schools and colleges have their own requirements and can make their own judgements as to the standard they expect of students.

  27. Comment by Dinah posted on

    Hy, i took the maths foundation tier and got 135\240, can i send my result back for remark since I'm one mark off from a 4?

    • Replies to Dinah>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Hi Dinah, the best place to direct your query is your school or college, who will be able to give you your options.