Grading the new GCSE science qualifications

The new GCSE science qualifications can be taken in different ways – students can take single GCSEs in one or more of biology, chemistry and physics, or they can take a double GCSE in combined science. Students who take combined science will study all three sciences and they’ll cover roughly two thirds of the content of the single GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics.

If they take the single GCSEs they will receive a single 9 to 1 grade for each subject, in the same way as for other reformed GCSEs. If they take the combined science qualification, they’ll receive an award worth 2 GCSEs. It will consist of two equal or adjacent grades from 9 to 1, giving 17 possible grade combinations – for example, (9-9); (9-8); (8-8) through to (1-1).

Why a double grade?

Since students will have covered two GCSEs’ worth of content and the overall exam time is similar to that for two GCSEs, it’s right that the grade they get recognises that. The double grade will be based on their overall mark across the three subjects; they won’t get a separate mark for each science, and good performance in one area will compensate for weaker performance in another, as in any GCSE. This is reflected in the available grade combinations, which can therefore only be either the same (for example 5-5) or adjacent (for example 5-4) grades from 9 to 1.  So students won’t end up with grade combinations such as 5-3 or 7-4.

Why have a 17-point grade scale?

We considered a scale that only included (9-9); (8-8); (7-7); etc but we said it would be unfair for students to lose (or gain) two whole grades at each grade boundary. After all, a student studying single sciences who just misses a grade 5 by one mark in biology would not also lose their grade 5 in physics or chemistry. As such, it’s fairer for all if those who just miss, say a (5-5) get a (5-4). Exam boards will set 17 grade boundaries for combined science, as shown on the postcard.

Why is the bigger number first?

We are asking exam boards to adopt this convention to avoid any suggestion that there are more than 17 possible grade combinations.

Predictions for 2018

Several people have asked us about the basis of predictions for the new science GCSEs, and in particular for the combined science award.

Let’s start with the single science GCSEs. In biology, chemistry and physics, exam boards will use statistics so that broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as previously achieved a grade C and above in the legacy GCSE single science qualifications. The same holds for grades 7/A and 1/G. That means that if the national cohort for chemistry remains similar to previous years, we would expect to see a similar proportion of students nationally at the key grades.

In combined science, those anchor points are less clear, because there is no previous double GCSE award for comparison. We also know that exam boards will need to take account of the fact that some schools previously entered students for science in year 10 and additional science in year 11, while others entered students for both at the end of year 11, and some students were entered for science but not additional science. We are working with the exam boards to make sure that the predictions used in the summer take account of these different practices. We’ll be looking carefully at the provisional entry data in April to see if there are any changes.

For schools who want an indication of the likely percentage of students at grade 4-4 in combined science, we suggest a reasonable indication would be the percentage of students that, in previous years have achieved a grade C in both science and additional science, whether they took them both in year 11 or one in year 10 and one in year 11. Similarly, the percentage of students who previously achieved a grade A in both would be a reasonable indicator of the likely percentage of students achieving a 7-7. But do bear in mind that if your school cohort has changed or if you have changed your approach to selecting students for separate sciences/combined science, that might mean your results are more variable compared to previous years.


Cath Jadhav

Associate Director for Standards and Comparability


  1. Comment by Judith Cave posted on

    Is there any way to determine where a students strengths/weaknesses lie in this grading system to help choice of A levels?

    • Replies to Judith Cave>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      It will depend on which specification the student has taken. Some specifications divide the content into the separate sciences so students will take two biology papers, two chemistry papers and two physics papers to get an overall combined science result. Schools/colleges will be able to see how well students have performed on each of the papers, and so will get an idea of strengths and weaknesses. Other specifications integrate the content so that the papers cover a mixture, and in those cases it will be more difficult to get any feedback about the separate science elements.

  2. Comment by Brittany posted on

    How much do you need on each paper to achieve a grade 4?

    • Replies to Brittany>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Hi Brittany, grade boundaries are not set in advance of the exams being taken for several reasons, so there is no answer to that yet. For an explanation on how grade boundaries are set, please see this blog post.

  3. Comment by Ian Taylor posted on

    This link doesn't work. Are you sure it is correct.

  4. Comment by Lolly posted on

    So how is a grade generated? Say you do really well on the first set of sciences and not as well on the second is an average formed since the grades have to be equal or adjacent

    • Replies to Lolly>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      The grades are not separate. A double grade is calculated at the overall qualification level. The marks for all the papers will be added together, and 17 grade boundaries (9-9, 9-8, 8-8 through to 2-1, 1-1) will be set on the overall marks.

  5. Comment by lisa simm posted on

    for GCSE combined science, if a student gets a grade 3 in physics, is it still possible to get an overall result of say a 5-5 if he gets say a 6 in biology?

    • Replies to lisa simm>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      In the combined science qualifications, students will not be graded for each individual science. Marks from all the combined science papers will be added together and grade boundaries (for example, 5-5) will be set at the qualification level. Higher marks on one paper or on one of the science content areas can therefore compensate for lower marks on another. In your example, it is the case that better performance on the biology papers/questions could compensate for poorer performance on the physics papers/questions. The overall grade will be determined by the total number of marks achieved.


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