- What are GCSEs and how are they graded?
- What do GCSE exam grades 1-9 mean?
- What is the GCSE grades 2022 update?
GCSEs are a national qualification in the UK undertaken by all students at the end of secondary school. As the National Curriculum has changed over the years, so has the (sometimes very confusing) grading system, which means support can be lost through generations as the system resets.
Read on for our step-by-step guide to GCSE grading 2022; what the numbers mean and all of their equivalents. This guide is the UK GCSE exam grades, explained!
What are GCSEs and how are they graded?
GCSEs stand for General Certificate(s) in Secondary Education and are a part of the National Curriculum in the UK. Usually, subjects are taught between the ages of 14-16 to students in Years 10 and 11 (also known as Key Stage 4) in secondary school. At the end of those two years, you will gain qualifications in each subject at a range of different grading levels.
Even within the UK the system can vary – remember that Scotland uses a slightly different grading system – so for the purposes of this article it’s important to note that we’re talking specifically about GCSE grades in England. 👍🏼
Each exam board uses the same grading system, which we’ll break down in this article.
Why do GCSE grades matter?
Universities and higher education establishments will need you to submit your GCSE grades, meaning they are often just as important as A-Levels in helping universities to decide to offer places.
Remember though, GCSEs were first taught in 1986 and the first GCSE exams took place in 1988, so things have come a long way in terms of grading. Despite being scary, exams are actually the fairest form of assessment. They help you to:
- Show all that you’ve learnt during your preparation time and be tested alongside your peers.
- Feel a sense of achievement after learning how to revise and get better at a particular subject, no matter your ability or learning needs.
- Help you to advance onto the next stage of your education or career by providing an example of what you’re capable of under pressure.
There is some freedom regarding which subjects are studied at GCSE level. Three core subjects, English, maths and science, are compulsory along with PSHE and PE (although there are no exams in the latter two!). 🏑
All other subjects taken at GCSE are optional. Some schools make other subjects compulsory (like languages or religious studies) and some keep it entirely open.
Schools also make optional subjects available in blocks, for example the humanities (history or geography) or the arts (art or design and technology). What you choose before you start can help determine your future, so it’s important to choose something you enjoy and have the potential to excel in.
It’s a rigorous course, with most people taking an average of 7 to 10 subjects (and sometimes more). This can become hard to manage and prepare for. It's not unusual for students to get overwhelmed or panic and check out of the process.
Need these GCSE grades explained for 2022? Read on as we explain this GCSE grading system a bit further.
What do GCSE exam grades 1-9 mean?
You might be used to the old A* to U system, where an A* denoted top grades and U meant ungraded. These vary a little for the GCSE 2022 grades, though. Things changed in 2017, and numbers replaced letters.
Let’s break down the GCSE grades 1-9 equivalent in relation to the old-style grades to help you visualise, as they don’t quite match up like for like:
- Grade 9 – The top mark is even higher than the old A*! This is very sought after and achieved by a small percentage of students.
- Grade 8 – Below an A* but above an A, still considered ‘top grades’.
- Grade 7 – Slightly below an A but only just...
- Grade 6 – Slightly better than a B, these are sometimes called ‘middle grades’.
- Grade 5 – Below a B but above a C. Also called a ‘strong pass’ and still worthy of taking the subject further.
- Grade 4 – Equivalent of a C. Also called a ‘standard pass’. Every 4 counts!
- Grade 3 – Below a D but above an E, this does not count as a pass.
- Grade 2 – Between an E and an F
- Grade 1 – Between an F and a G
- Ungraded – The lowest mark possible. As in the old system, a U means a fail.
It’s all subject and cohort-dependent as to which percentages equal which grades. As a rough example, in a higher-tier maths exam, you can expect to gain a grade 6 with a 50-70 per cent overall mark, and an 8 if you achieve 86 per cent or more. Grade 9 is reserved for the upper half of the old-style A* (over 90 per cent in the paper overall). But remember, this can change every year with different papers!
Dictating a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ grade can be an arbitrary process. Yes, whilst certain grades equate to certain percentages and can indicate great subject knowledge and preparation, exams aren’t for everyone. For neurodiverse children or those that have learning differences, exam time can be particularly challenging.
So why change a system that already worked? Well because so many students began to start achieving A*s, the 9 was introduced to benefit the very top students as a marker of an almost perfect exam response. However, the most important one to remember is the GCSE grade 4 which is equivalent to a passing grade. 🌈
Remember that 20 per cent of grades over a 7 will actually be a grade 9, due to how the boundaries are calculated. The top isn’t too far away! As teachers get better at understanding the new syllabus and grading system, and students reflect on their learning and previous cohort, grades above a 7 are actually increasing overall. This is great news for students taking exams next year.
What is the GCSE grades 2022 update?
So what about the GCSE marks in 2022? Well, these will follow the 1-9 system above. But unlike previous years, we have no idea what the landscape will look like due to grades having been teacher-assessed for the previous two cohorts.
Teachers had to follow strict protocols in a rigorous assessment and moderation process, but it will make things a little more challenging for the next cohort who don’t have as accurate boundaries to compare to. The GCSE grading system for 2022 can be a little confusing because even if some students are used to the new system, you’re going to have to deal with some changes to your exams because of lost learning due to Covid-19.
It’s really important to note that the exam regulator, Ofqual, is adapting to the difficult two years we’ve just had in education. They’re providing some educational equity in their decisions surrounding next year's exams. 🌍 One thing they’re doing is ensuring they’re basing grade boundaries on cohorts pre-pandemic when students sat their exams in formal, assessment conditions.
In certain papers, exam boards may have changed their boundaries altogether, so it’s important to make a note of these based on advice from your school and teachers. The exact change and how you may be better advantaged next year will depend on the exam board.
Here are some examples. Next year in English Literature (based on the update by the exam board AQA), schools will have the option of removing one taught component for assessment. For example, a whole play or a group of poems. This frees up time, energy and memory for thousands of students who have lost learning time. It then leaves valuable room for other components as students lead up to their final assessments.
In maths, students will be given formulae sheets and revised equation sheets in GCSE combined science and physics to give them a starting point. 🚩 Exam boards are also changing requirements for practical science work and practical art and design assessments to ensure fairness. This is great news for any anxious students out there.
If you are part of the 2022 cohort, you will have had your education disrupted and are probably feeling challenged, nervous and scared for exams next year. Schools and teachers will be doing all they can to adapt and support, but with the right knowledge, you can also work from home. 2022 is still a transition year, and exam boards will take this into account.
Exams will still happen in May and June as normal. Results are likely to be higher than the last examined cohort, in 2019, but not as high as 2022 when results were inflated, and that’s okay! GCSE results day will be held on August 25th, remember to stay in the loop as we cover more exam topics and questions right up until next summer. ⭐
Book a free tutoring session with GoStudent today and let us support you in your journey toward your national exams and exceed your GCSE targets. Our tutors are fully equipped to manage changes and tailor learning to suit you.