Demystifying The GCSE Grading System - My Learning Room

Demystifying the GCSE Grading System: Understanding Your Academic Progress

A lot has changed about GCSEs since 1986. Once, letter grades had been used (A-G initially), before the introduction of the A* grade to reward exceptional students. Now, the system has moved from letters to numbers, but what do they all mean, and how can you understand your own academic progress?
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Demystifying the GCSE Grading System

A lot has changed in UK education over the last few decades or so, with September 1986 proving a decisive date in the history of education as we know it in the UK. This date saw the introduction of GCSEs in order to establish a national qualification for those leaving school at 16 without pursuing any further academic exploits. Gone were the O-Levels of yesteryear, and in came the GCSEs that we continue to know and use today.

GCSEs have become something of a benchmark for educational performance, regardless of any criticisms that may be directed toward the GCSE system. Naturally, there are plenty of such criticisms, given the position of the UK relative to other countries on education.

Of course, the process of studying and revising for a GCSE is nowhere near as daunting as it used to be, thanks to today’s era of easily accessible online GCSE tutors and the countless other means available to ensure students are best prepared for the big exams on the horizon.

Turning to online tuition is by no means merely a “last resort” for students that are struggling. After all, such a step can also help higher achieving students get to the level they wish to get to.

A lot has changed about GCSEs since 1986. Once, letter grades had been used (A-G initially), before the introduction of the A* grade to reward exceptional students. Now, the system has moved from letters to numbers, but what do they all mean, and how can you understand your own academic progress?

What are the GCSE grades?

Since 2017, grades have been awarded from a scale of 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest and 1 the lowest. Grades 9-7 tend to align with A* or A, with 6-4 aligning with B and C, and D, E, F and G aligning with grades 3-1. The U grade remains from the previous letter system, which stands for ungraded – this is the lowest mark a student can receive.

How do GCSE grades work?

The new grading system was introduced to distinguish with greater clarity between the highest performing students. But of course, this hasn’t rendered any results prior to this change redundant on CVs, or university and job applications.

The grading system remains the same at A-Level, should students decide to study beyond their GCSEs, you can also get further support from an online A level tutor. Generally speaking, however, the grade system at GCSE level offers more flexibility in terms of allowing for greater distinction between grades.

When it comes to further study, A-Levels require students to have a minimum of five GCSEs grade 9-4, with at least a grade 6 in the subject students wish to study after their GCSEs. With apprenticeships an increasingly popular option with students, at least five GCSEs grade 9-4 are required, along with some Level 3 qualifications in any relevant subject.

As for university, many universities require GCSEs from grade 9 to 4 in Mathematics and English Language at the very least, as well as the sufficient A-Levels required in the given university’s specification.

What is the GCSE grading system?

As well as the new scale of 9-1, GCSE content is said to have become more challenging in recent times, with fewer Grade 9s awarded than A*s in previous years. Senior examiners make the ultimate decision per exam as to what the minimum mark needed is for each grade. 5 and above is considered a strong pass, while 4 is considered a standard pass. Anything below is deemed a fail grade.

What’s a standard pass?

A standard pass is grade 4, which aligns roughly to C in previous years. This is generally the minimum requirement across the board for university courses, although this depends on the university in question.

 

What’s a strong pass?

A strong pass is anything from 5 and above, which broadly encompasses a high C and above from the previous grading system. The new system has led to some controversy, given that a strong pass can encompass anything from 5 and above. This, in turn, potentially makes understanding one’s progress academically that bit tougher.

 

Why was the grading system changed?

The grading system has been changed in order to make GCSEs more challenging, as well as to distinguish more between grades. In the previous system, there was arguably less flexibility between the eight letter grades, although with one additional grade, that issue is less prominent.

The change was introduced during the 2010s as part of a curriculum overhaul, spearheaded by the then education secretary, Michael Gove. As well as the grading system having changed, the GCSE process itself is a lot more exam focused, with a lesser focus on coursework than in previous years. It is likely that the gradually increasing success rate from 1988 forced the government’s hand in making the process more challenging.

As well as this, students take exams after two years of study, which again adds to the more challenging nature of modern GCSEs. The government has also said that changing from letters to numbers makes it clearer as to whether the student has taken one of the newer, more challenging GCSEs.

Understanding and measuring student progress

Although the grading system has changed and the process itself has become more challenging, measuring one’s progress is easier in theory given the additional grade compared to previous years.

The key to understanding one’s progress lies in setting attainable goals and targets through the duration of study. It would be wise for students to start thinking about what they wish to accomplish beyond the exam season, and looking at ways in which they can work towards that end.

Setting up a realistic revision timetable is an ideal start, but this doesn’t mean students have to study 24/7 – if anything, regular breaks are just as important for successful study. Study groups may also be highly beneficial to students – after all, knowledge shared is knowledge gained.

Students should also be encouraged to try as many practice papers as possible in order to know what to expect when the real thing starts. Online tutoring could also be hugely beneficial, whether students are really struggling, or just need that extra push in the right direction.

To learn more about the services and expertise of our own GCSE tutor online here at My Learning Room, please don’t hesitate to book a discovery call with us to see how we can help improve your grades.

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