GCSE Grade Boundaries 2022/2023: The New Grading System Explained
GCSE grade boundaries began to 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 the remaining subjects by 2020.
In this post, we will look at the 9-1 grading system and the reformed GCSEs. We will discuss 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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- What’s the difference between the new and old grades and how do they compare?
- The new GCSE grading system
- The New GCSE Grading System
- Why have they changed the GCSE grading system?
- Ofqual rules regarding design of exam papers
- What are the GCSE grade boundaries?
- How are the GCSE grade boundaries worked out?
- When are the GCSE grade boundaries released?
- What were the GCSE grade boundaries in 2022?
- GCSE grade boundaries for 2018-2022
- What proportion of students achieve each GCSE grade?
- Centre assessed grades in 2020 and 2021
- What about other GCSE subjects?
- Grading in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland
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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.
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
The New GCSE Grading System
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.
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.
- 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. It is worth noting that this was the first exam sitting following the Covid-19 pandemic. GCSE exams were not sat in 2020 and 2021 and grades were given through teacher assessment.
Learners taking exams in 2022 had suffered severe disruption to their learning and so Ofqual decided that advanced information on topics that would appear on the exams would be given out. Grade boundaries were adapted appropriately to give a halfway point between the results in 2019 and the higher, teacher assessed results in 2020.
Edexcel GCSE maths grade boundaries
AQA GCSE maths grade boundaries
OCR GCSE maths grade boundaries
WJEC Eduqas GCSE maths grade boundaries
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
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 2019 and 2022, since GCSE exams were not held in 2020 or 2021. The following percentages of students achieved each grade:
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 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 2018-2022:
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.
The following table shows the percentages gaining 9-4, or the equivalent A*-C, over the past 8 years:
|Maths A*-C or 9-4||Total A*-C or 9-4|
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.
Going forward, we should use the grade boundaries for 2022 with caution.
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 2022 across a few subjects:
|Double award science||60.5%|
Whilst all of these results are a higher level than pre-pandemic levels, the comparison between different subjects reveals a regular pattern. 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. 93.4% of those taking modern foreign languages in 2022 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.
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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?
The grade boundaries for GCSE mathematics in 2022 were:
Edexcel mathematics grade boundaries
AQA mathematics grade boundaries
OCR mathematics grade boundaries
WJEC Eduqas mathematics grade boundaries
Remember, grade boundaries do vary year on year.
Are GCSE grade boundaries in 2023 lower than in 2022?
Grade boundaries in 2022 were varied between the different exam boards. The OCR and Edexcel GCSE maths exam grade boundaries were similar to usual so we can expect that the grade boundaries for 2023 will not be too different from those in 2022.
The AQA GCSE maths grade boundaries were the highest they have been since 2018 and the Equdas GCSE maths grade boundaries were the lowest they have been since 2018.
Overall, the grade boundaries do not vary a great deal and looking at past grade boundaries will give you a good indication of what to expect for 2023.
As soon as we know the 2023 ones we will update this article.
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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