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The GCSE grading system explained

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When the GCSE grading system had an overhaul in 2017, it changed grades from letters to numbers. 

Phased in over four years, all subjects now come under this system.

For anyone still unsure, here's what it all means…

How the grading system works

GCSE grades A* to G in England have been replaced by a grade scale numbered from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest grade.

The numerical grading scheme was brought in alongside a new GCSE curriculum in England, that is intended to be more challenging. 

Since last year, all subjects are now ‘linear’, with grades depending on exams sat at the end of the course. Coursework and controlled assessment have disappeared, apart from in practical subjects such as art and drama.

According to exams regulator Ofqual, the numerical grades help to better differentiate between students of different abilities.

As the infographic below reveals, there is no direct read-across from the old to the new grades.

Three number grades, 9, 8 and 7, correspond to the old-style top grades of A* and A – this is designed to give more differentiation at the top end.

When the numerical grading system was introduced, Ofqual said fewer grade 9s would be awarded than A*s and that anyone who gets a 9 will have “performed exceptionally”.

Grades 5 and 4 range from B to C and 3, 2 and 1 range from D to G. As before, a U means ungraded.

The definition of a pass has become more complicated. A grade 4 is considered a standard pass; a grade 5 is a strong pass. 

Schools are judged on the percentage of grade 5s achieved and many sixth forms and colleges will ask for a grade 5 or above in the subjects applied for at A level. 

However, students who achieve grade 4 in GCSE English language and maths will not be expected to resit these exams post-16. And a grade 4 is often the benchmark in these core subjects for many employers and academic institutions. 

The government claimed:

  • Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as previously achieved a grade C and above
  • Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 7 and above as previously achieved a grade A and above
  • Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 1 and above as previously achieved a grade G and above

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further reading

Read the Parent Info guide to this year’s A level and GCSE results, and what parents need to know about them.

Parent Info’s guide on helping your child cope with exam stress.

For advice on what your child can do after taking their GCSEs, read Parent Info's  Making choices post-16

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: ​August 2020

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