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


  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

  6. Comment by Student posted on

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

  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?


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