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How exams will be marked differently this year and what it means for results

A-level students have finished their exams and are now bracing themselves for results day on Thursday 17 August.

But they’ve also been warned that this year’s results will see a return to a pre-Covid state of affairs, which was marked by an upswing in high grades after supportive marking was implemented to cushion the disrupted school year.

In 2020, students were assigned grades predicted by their teachers in lieu of actual exams. Most of these adjustments have now been minimised, and Ofqual, the exams watchdog for England, has told schools tougher grade boundaries have been imposed.

But what will this mean for students and how will exams be marked differently? Here’s what we know.

How will exams be marked differently?

Last year, 45 per cent of all A-level grades were either an A or an A* in 2021, up from 33 per cent in 2019. The return to pre-pandemic grading means that national results will be lower than last summer’s.

To bring grades back to pre-pandemic levels, experts at the University of Buckingham claim that 59,000 fewer A*s and 36,000 fewer As will need to be awarded this year.

The study, helmed by Centre for Education and Employment Research (Creer), predicts that the proportion of A* grades will fall from 14.6 per cent in 2022 to 10 per cent this year, while As will fall from 36.4 per cent to 27.5 per cent.

A report filed by Creer said: “Assuming a reduction in two subjects per person, this would mean about 30,000 students not getting the A* grades they could have expected last year, and nearly 50,000 not getting the A*/A grade.”

Students’ grades will be determined only by the number of marks they achieve on the assessments, and the same grade boundaries will apply to everyone taking the qualification.

How will this affect results?

In the UK, England has opted for the hardest line in terms of grade boundaries. Last week the schools minister, Nick Gibb, said results in needed to return to their former standard to carry the same weight with employers.

“A typical student in 2019 – given the same level of ability, the same level of diligence – the likelihood is that same student would get the same grades in 2023 as they would have done in 2019,” he told PA Media.

Those finishing school this year have faced an education disrupted by the pandemic and teacher strike action, as well as the changes to grading.

Ofqual has stated, however, that it will make no special allowances for pupils whose teaching was affected by eight days of industrial action in 2023.

More moderate arrangements are in place this year in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Information about the content of some papers was given to students in advance, and Covid disruption was taken into account in the marking. In Wales, grade boundaries will be set midway between 2019 and last year’s results.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This year GCSE and A-level grading is largely returning to normal, in line with plans set out by Ofqual almost two years ago, to make sure qualifications maintain their value and students get the opportunities they deserve.

“This means national results are expected to be similar to those in pre-pandemic years, and a student should be just as likely to achieve a particular grade this year as they would have been before the pandemic. The number of top grades also has no bearing on the number of university places available.”

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