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The way GCSE exams results are graded has undergone a major overhaul. This started in 2017 with English Language, English Literature and Maths results, which were published in August, attracting the new grading system. 

If your child is receiving their results in August 2018, the new grading will also apply to many more subjects in addition to the three in last year's pilot. If your child will be taking their GCSEs within the next few years, then these changes will also apply to them. By August 2020, the new numerical grading system will apply to all GCSE subjects, and the old alphabetical system will no longer be in use.  

If you're unclear about any of the changes or what it means for your child's education, this quick guide will give you all the details you need as well as resources for further information.

Do these changes apply to Wales and Northern Ireland?

No. Education is devolved to the regions, so these changes currently only apply to English education, and to children studying at schools in England. GCSE students in Wales and Northern Ireland continue to receive grades between A* and G. See Ofqual for more on the grading differences between the regions.

What do the new grades mean?

The following diagram shows the new grading structure. 

  Current grading  New grading 

A*, A

9, 8, 7


B, C

6, 5, 4


D, E, F, G

3, 2, 1

   U  U

As you can see from the diagram above, the highest grade a student can attain is 9. The lowest grade they can attain is 1. Numerical grades have replaced the long-standing alphabetical ones.

What does the examining board look for in deciding how to grade my child's exam?

Ofqual has information on every subject of what level of knowledge and critical thinking a student is expected to display in order to reach higher, middle and lower grades. It doesn’t differentiate between every grade on the 9-1 numerical scale, but gives a useful overview.

What else has changed?

The exams cover, in the Department for Education's words, “more challenging content”. This means it will be harder than in recent years for pupils to reach the top few grades, and a smaller proportion of students will achieve the highest ‘9’ grade compared to the previous highest A* grade. However, roughly the same proportion of students will attain grade 4 or above as would have been marked as grade C or above in the old system.

Why are these changes being made?

The government says that then new grading system will be better than the previous model at reflecting students’ individual achievements. This is because, with more grades in the scale, it’s easier to differentiate between students of different abilities. Whereas previously the top grades were ranked across four letters (A*, A, B and C), the same proportion of children attaining the equivalent levels will be split across six tiers.

When will the new grades apply for every subject?

The new grades were introduced in 2017, but only for English Literature, English Language and Maths. 

For students sitting GCSEs in 2018, the following subjects will be marked in accordance with the new grades: 

English Literature, English Language, maths, art and design, biology, chemistry, citizenship studies, combined science, computer science, dance, drama, food preparation and nutrition, French, geography, German, classical Greek, history, Latin, music, physical education (including short course), physics, religious studies (including short course), Spanish.

All remaining subjects (barring a few rare foreign languages) will have adopted the new grading system for the 2019 exams, with every subject using the numerical scoring system by 2020.

Reviewed: May 2018

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