GCSE Grade Boundaries 2023/2024: The New Grading System Explained

The GCSE grade boundaries we have for 2023 and 2024 began their change in 2017. We moved from the familiar A*-G letter grades to the number grades 9-1.

Maths, English language and English literature were the first subjects to move over to this new grading system, with more subjects changing over in 2018 and then the remaining subjects by 2020.

In this post, we look at the 9-1 grading system and the reformed GCSEs. We explain grade boundaries and how they are set, the proportions of students achieving different overall grades and how the new grades compare to the old grades.

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GCSE 2024 dates
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Analysis of GCSE Maths Paper 1 (2023)
Analysis of GCSE Maths Paper 2 (2023)
Analysis of GCSE Maths Paper 3 (2023)
Summary of ALL GCSE Maths Papers (2023)

What’s the difference between the new and old grades and how do they compare?

The new grading system runs from 9-1, with 1 being the lowest grade and 9 being the highest grade. The old numerical system ran from A*-G.

The new system is designed to allow more differentiation among the higher grades, with grades 4-6 covering what were grades B and C and grades 7-9 covering what was were the top grades of A and A* in the old grading system. Grade 9 is considered to be higher than an A* and roughly the top 20% of GCSE students who achieve a grade 7 or above will achieve a grade 9.

GCSE grade boundaries grade structures

The new GCSE grading system

  • Grade 9, Grade 8 and Grade 7 are equivalent to the old Grades A* and A. 
  • Grade 6, Grade 5 and Grade 4 are equivalent to the old Grades B and C. 
  • To pass you need at least a Grade 4 or Grade 5. 
  • Grades 1 to 3 are like the old D to G. 
  • The U grade, meaning “ungraded”, remains the same.

A 9 is for a student who has performed exceptionally well – usually in the top 5% of the cohort. A Grade 7 has been matched to the bottom of the old Grade A and Grade 1 aligns with the bottom of the old Grade G. Grade 4 is a standard pass. Grade 5 is known as a strong pass. 

  • 9 = High A* 
  • 8 = Low A* or high A grade
  • 7 = Low A grade
  • 6 = High B grade
  • 5 = Low B or high C grade
  • 4 = Low C grade
  • 3 = D or high E grade
  • 2 = Low E or high F grade
  • 1 = Low F or G grade
  • U = U

In order to ensure continuity and fairness, the system has been designed so that the bottom of grade 1 aligns with the bottom of grade G, the bottom of grade 4 aligns with the bottom of grade C and the bottom of grade 7 aligns with the bottom of grade A.

This means that any student who would have achieved at least a grade C under the old system will now achieve at least a grade 4, for example. This makes it easier for educational establishments and employers to draw comparisons between the old and new grades. 

Prior to the system changing, a grade C was considered a pass at GCSE. This translates to a grade 4 in the new system, which is considered a ‘standard pass’. Where a grade C would previously have been accepted as an entry requirement into further education or employment, a grade 4 should now be accepted. 

Grade 5 has been labelled a ‘good pass’ and it is worth noting that schools are now held to account for the percentage of students achieving grade 5 or higher.

In terms of GCSE exam papers, the current foundation paper covers the grading scale 1-5 and the current higher paper covers the grading scale 3-9.

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Why have they changed the GCSE grading system?

GCSEs in England have been reformed. All courses are now linear, meaning that they are examined at the end of the course rather than in modules throughout the course. There is also less coursework than in the old GCSEs. They also contain new and more demanding content, with the aim being to bring English standards up to match those in other high performing countries.

Changing the grading system is a clear way of indicating that the GCSE courses have changed. It is also hoped that the new system will give sixth forms, colleges, universities and employers a better idea of what level someone is working at, allowing them the opportunity to micro-distinguish between the various grades, such as 7, 8 and 9.

Ofqual rules regarding design of exam papers

As part of the redesigned maths course, Ofqual set some rules regarding the design of exam papers to ensure exam boards are consistent in the way they are setting their papers.

These rules state that:

  • In a higher tier paper, half of the marks should be targeted at grades 9, 8 and 7 and the other half of the marks should be targeted at grades 6, 5 and 4.
  • In a foundation tier paper, half of the marks should be targeted at grades 5, 4 and the top of grade 3 and the other half of the marks should be targeted at the bottom of grade 3 and grades 2 and 1.

When setting these rules, it was Ofqual’s aim to ensure that there is sufficient challenge across the ability range. It does mean that higher papers now contain more demanding questions and that only around 20% of the questions on the paper are designed for grade 4. This helps to explain the low grade boundaries for a grade 4 on higher papers.

What are the GCSE grade boundaries?

The GCSE grade boundaries tell us the minimum marks a student is required to achieve in order to receive a certain grade. The grade boundaries are different for each subject and vary slightly each year in order to ensure the system is fair for students. 

Each year the grade boundaries are set by senior examiners and these grade boundaries will determine whether a student achieves a grade 1, 2, 3, … etc. 

Fractions decimals percentages lesson support slide from Third Space Learning online one to one maths intervention
Breaking down an exam-style question in a Third Space Learning online revision lesson

How are the GCSE grade boundaries worked out?

Exam boards strive to ensure that it is no easier or harder to achieve a particular grade from one year to the next. This means that if one year’s paper is harder than a previous year’s paper, the grade boundaries are lowered to reflect this. This principle is called Comparable Outcomes.

Grade boundaries for a subject are decided after the exams have been sat and all of the marking has been completed.

Senior examiners take into account a number of factors when deciding on grade boundaries.

These include:

  • Feedback from examiners about the particular paper;
  • Question papers from previous years;
  • Data about the previous achievements of the cohort of students taking the exam;
  • Previous statistics. 

Examiners look especially carefully at the work of students around the grade boundaries to decide where the grade boundaries should be set.

When are the GCSE grade boundaries released?

Grade boundaries are released on GCSE results day. Much like A-Levels, they used to be released prior to results day, but this was changed to try and reduce stress amongst students who were trying to predict their grades. The grade boundaries from previous years can be found on the websites of each exam board.

What were the GCSE grade boundaries in 2022?

Grade boundaries are set by each exam board based on the papers they have set. We are going to look at the grade boundaries for each exam board for 2022.

Summer 2022 saw the first full exam series for GCSE qualifications since 2019. GCSE exams were not sat in 2020 and 2021 and grades were given through teacher assessment.

To recognise the significant disruption to teaching and learning due to the pandemic, exam boards were able to offer students a number of adaptations to the GCSE exams. These included optional content, additional support materials such as formulae sheets, and advance information.

Additionally, results reflected a mid-point between summer 2019 and summer 2021 teacher-assessed grades. This meant that overall results were higher than summer 2019 when exams were last sat but lower than 2021’s alternative arrangements.

Edexcel GCSE maths grade boundaries 2022

987654321
Higher194165137104713821
Foundation1731351006632

AQA GCSE maths grade boundaries 2022

987654321
Higher214185156121865133
Foundation1721351015733

OCR GCSE maths grade boundaries 2022

987654321
Higher242200158120824526
Foundation170119855219

WJEC Eduqas GCSE maths grade boundaries 2022

987654321
Higher17013610377522714
Foundation12599734721

What were the GCSE grade boundaries in 2023?

It is worth noting that this was the second exam sitting following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although learners taking their exams in 2023 did not suffer school closures during the course of their GCSE years, it was recognised that they had still suffered significant disruption to their studies leading up to their GCSEs. Therefore, steps were taken to ensure fairness to these learners.

Firstly, maths students were provided with a formula sheet during the exams. Secondly, grade boundaries were set in a similar way to when the grading system first changed. This means that examiners looked at the grades achieved in pre-pandemic years by cohorts of students, along with the prior attainment data of those cohorts. Their aim was to decide upon grade boundaries which meant that students with similar prior attainment data would achieve the same grade pre- and post-pandemic.

Edexcel GCSE maths grade boundaries 2023

987654321
Higher203174145112794731
Foundation1821471097133

AQA GCSE maths grade boundaries 2023

987654321
Higher214186158125925942
Foundation1891581177635

OCR GCSE maths grade boundaries 2023

987654321
Higher242(194)193(154)144(115)109(87)74(59)39(31)21(17)
Foundation178(142)129(103)92(74)56(45)20(16)

WJEC Eduqas GCSE maths grade boundaries 2023

987654321
Higher18715211788603218
Foundation133105774921

All marks are out of 240, except OCR where the marks are out of 300. For comparison, the numbers in brackets for OCR represent the scaled grade boundary had it been out of 240.

GCSE grade boundaries for 2018-2022

EdexcelAQAOCREduqas
June 2018Edexcel June 2018AQA June 2018OCR June 2018Eduqas June 2018
Nov 2018Edexcel November 2018AQA November 2018OCR November 2018Eduqas November 2018
June 2019Edexcel June 2019AQA June 2019OCR June 2019Eduqas June 2019 
Nov 2019Edexcel November 2019AQA November 2019OCR November 2019Eduqas November 2019
Nov 2020Edexcel November 2020AQA November 2020OCR November 2020Eduqas November 2020
Nov 2021Edexcel November 2021AQA November 2021OCR November 2021 Eduqas November 2021 
June 2022Edexcel June 2022AQA June 2022OCR June 2022Eduqas June 2022 
June 2023Edexcel June 2023AQA June 2023OCR June 2023Eduqas June 2023

What proportion of students achieve each GCSE grade?

This will vary between different year groups and different subjects. The grade boundaries are not decided so that a certain proportion achieve each grade but by the difficulty of the paper and the prior data of the cohort taking the paper.

We can, however, look at data from previous years to give us an idea of the proportion of students who achieve each grade.

Let’s look at the data for 2022 and 2023, the two most recent exam sittings. The following percentages of students achieved each grade:

2022U1234567899-4
Maths2.5%7.5%11%13% 17%16%10%8.4%7.1%4.4%64.9%
Total1.6%4%8.5% 13% 14%. 17.4%14.7%10.9%8.5%6.6%73%

2023U1234567899-4
Maths2.5%7.6%12.6%16.3%17.9%15.8%10.1%7.6% 6.2%3.3%61%
Total2%4.9%9.3%16%15%16%14%9.6%7.1%4.9%67.8%

You can see from both tables that the percentage of students achieving grades 9-4 in Maths is lower than the percentage receiving grades 9-4 across all subjects.

The results for GCSE English language are similar to those for Maths, and one factor in this could be that every student has to take Maths and English, whereas other subjects are chosen by the student.

Centre assessed grades in 2020 and 2021

It is interesting to compare the results in 2018 and 2019 to those in 2020 and 2021 when results were decided by teacher assessment and 2022 and 2023 when we were all dealing with the impact of the pandemic.

The following chart shows the proportion of students achieving each grade in maths over the years 2018-2023:

We can see that in 2020 and 2021 the percentages achieving the lower grades noticeably decreased compared to 2018 and 2019, whilst the percentages achieving the higher grades increased. This is particularly noticeable in the percentage achieving grades 9-4.

Examining previous data, we can see that this is an anomaly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is one that does not just affect the maths results. Examiners have been working over the last two years to bring the results back to pre-pandemic levels.

The following table shows the percentages gaining 9-4, or the equivalent A*-C, over the past 10 years:

Maths A*-C or 9-4Total A*-C or 9-4
202361%67.8%
202264.9%73%
202169.2%76.9%
202066.4%75.9%
201959.6%67%
201859.4%66.9%
201759.4%65.3%
201661%66.9%
201563.3%69%
201462.4%68.8%

The percentages remained fairly consistent, even during the crossover to the new grading system, until 2020.

In fact, maths was one of the subjects that was affected least. If we look at computer science, for example, the percentage achieving 9-4 jumped from 62.6% in 2018 to 80.1% in 2020.

In 2022, Ofqual’s aim was to provide a transition period, with the aim of ultimately returning to pre pandemic levels in 2023. We can see that the distribution of maths results did not really fit the pattern in 2022, although the overall percentage achieving grades 9-4 in maths was in between the percentage who achieved 9-4 in 2018/2019 compared with 2020/2021.

This disparity in results may have been caused by a number of factors, for example, the previous achievements of this particular year group or the effects of disrupted learning due to the pandemic on different cohorts of students. The results in 2023, however, were much more similar to pre-pandemic levels.

What about other GCSE subjects?

In general, the proportions achieving each grade in each subject does vary. Let’s have a look at the proportion achieving 9-4 in 2023 across a few subjects:

Maths61%
English language64.2%
Physical education72.4%
Religious studies72.2%
German76.9%
Double award science56.6%
Physics90%

If we compare these results, Maths and English results both sit lower than many other subjects. As previously mentioned, all students are expected to take English and Maths, whereas other subjects are chosen due to preference. It is worth considering the situation with Science. In general, higher ability students are entered for separate sciences, whilst lower ability students are entered for combined science. This could explain the differences between the grades awarded in these subjects.

Some of the subjects with the highest achievements are modern foreign languages such as Urdu, Punjabi and Polish. This is likely because those taking these GCSEs are native speakers of the languages in question. 92.1% of those taking modern foreign languages in 2023 received a grade 9-4.

Grading in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland

The grading system is different in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Wales reformed their GCSEs in 2015 but still use the A*-G grading system. Northern Ireland has introduced a new grade, C*, and so now also has a 9 point grading system. Students taking exams under English exam boards will receive grades 9-1. Scotland has a separate exam system, Scottish Highers. Scottish National 5 certificates grade A to C are equivalent to GCSEs grade 4 to 9.

What GCSE grade is 75%?

75% is GCSE grade 8 on a higher paper or grade 5 on a foundation paper. Remember that this is not guaranteed, however looking back over the past few years, is usually true.

What are the grade boundaries for GCSE maths?

Grade boundaries vary each year. The grade boundaries for GCSE mathematics in 2023 were:
Edexcel mathematics grade boundaries

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Higher 203 174 145 112 79 47 31
Foundation 182 147 109 71 33

AQA mathematics grade boundaries

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Higher 214 186 158 125 92 59 42
Foundation 189 158 117 76 35

OCR mathematics grade boundaries

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Higher 242

(194)

193

(154)

144

(115)

109

(87)

74

(59)

39

(31)

21

(17)

Foundation 178

(142)

129

(103)

92

(74)

56

(45)

20

(16)

WJEC Eduqas mathematics grade boundaries

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Higher 187 152 117 88 60 32 18
Foundation 133 105 77 49 21

Were GCSE grade boundaries in 2023 lower than in 2022?

Grade boundaries were based on a mid-point between 2019 and 2021 in an attempt to return to pre-pandemic grading. This means that grade boundaries were higher in 2023 than in 2022.

Results in 2023 were more in line with results from summer 2019, when exams were last set.

What is a passing grade for GCSE maths?

Grade 4 at GCSE is considered to be a ‘standard pass’. Grade 5 is considered to be a ‘strong pass’.

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GCSE maths topic list

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