GCSE grade boundaries began to change in 2017. We moved from the familiar A*-G to the numerical system of 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 new grading system. 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.
- What’s the difference between the new and old grades and how do they compare?
- GCSE grade boundaries explained: What is the new grading system?
- Why have they changed the GCSE grades?
- 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 2019?
- Ofqual rules regarding design of exam papers
- 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 new system is designed to allow more differentiation among the higher grades, with grades 4-6 covering what was grades B and C and grades 7-9 covering what was grades A and A*. Grade 9 is considered to be higher than an A* and roughly the top 20% of students who achieve a grade 7 or above will achieve a grade 9.
GCSE grade boundaries explained: What is the new grading system?
In the current grading system, a score of 9, 8 and 7 are equivalent to an A* and A. A 9 is for a student who has performed exceptionally well – usually in the top 5% of the cohort. The previous C grade has been replaced with two grades which are both considered a pass: Grade 5 is known as a strong pass; Grade 4 is a standard 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
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, for example, would now achieve at least a grade 4 and 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’. It is expected that, where a grade C has previously been accepted as an entry requirement into further education or employment, a grade 4 would now be accepted.
Grade 5 has been labelled a ‘good pass’ and it is worth noting that schools will be held to account for the percentage of students achieving grade 5 or higher.
In terms of GCSE exam papers, the new foundation paper will cover the grading scale 1-5 and the new higher paper will cover the grading scale 3-9.
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Why have they changed the GCSE grades?
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. 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. There is also the ability to micro-distinguish between the various grades, such as 7, 8 and 9.
What are the GCSE grade boundaries?
The GCSE grade boundaries tell us the number of raw marks that 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, depending on maximum marks and minimum marks. 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 2019?
Grade boundaries are set by each exam board based on the papers they have set. We are going to look at the grade boundaries in maths for each exam board for 2019. This is currently our best reference year since students did not sit exams in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and GCSE grades were decided by exam centres.
Edexcel mathematics grade boundaries
AQA mathematics grade boundaries
OCR mathematics grade boundaries
WJEC mathematics 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.
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 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 who achieve each grade.
In 2019, for example, the following percentages of students achieved each grade:
You can see from the table that in 2019, 59.6% of those who sat GCSE maths received a grade 9-4. You can also see that overall, 67% of the GCSE grades awarded across all subjects were grade 9-4s. 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.
The following chart shows the proportion of students achieving each grade in maths over the years 2018-2021:
We can see that in 2020 and 2021 the percentages achieving the lower grades noticeably decreased 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.
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 2019 across a few subjects:
|Double award science||55.4%|
Maths and English both sit at around 60%, with other subjects coming in at just above 70%. 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 double or single award science. This could explain the differences between the grades awarded in these subjects.
Some of the subjects with the highest grade boundaries 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. 89.9% of those taking modern foreign languages in 2019 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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The 9-1 grading scheme was brought in alongside a new GCSE curriculum in England. The highest grade is now 9, while 1 is the lowest. The U grade, meaning "ungraded", remains the same. The number scale is not directly equivalent to the old letter one.What is the new GCSE grades equivalent to? ›
The reformed GCSE qualifications will be awarded on a grade scale of 9 (the highest grade) to 1 (the lowest). This new scale will be aligned to key grades on the current A* to G scale. broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 1 and above as currently achieve a grade G and above.What do GCSE grades 1 9 mean? ›
Every GCSE subject is assessed using the 9-1 grading system, with all exams set at the end of Year 11. Grade 1 is the lowest grade, and Grade 9 is reserved for the very top students. Grade 4 is the Standard Pass grade.What is 7 in new GCSE grading system? ›
7 = Lower A grade.What is a 9 in GCSE percentage? ›
Grade 9 is considered to be higher than an A* and roughly the top 20% of students who achieve a grade 7 or above will achieve a grade 9.What is 60 in new GCSE grades? ›
If a paper is allocated 120 uniform marks, the range of marks allocated to grade B is 84 to 95 (70% to 79% of 120); for grade C, 72 to 83 (60% to 69% of 120).What is the American equivalent of GCSE level? ›
In the United States, the equivalent of GCSE and A level is a high school diploma and an associate's or bachelor's degree.How do the new GCSE grades equate to the old ones? ›
We have designed the grading so that there are comparable points at key grades. The bottom of a grade 7 is comparable to the bottom of the old grade A, the bottom of a new grade 4 is comparable to the bottom of the old grade C, and the bottom of the new grade 1 is comparable to the bottom of the old grade G.What percentage equals what grade at GCSE? ›
According to this illustration, grade 4 requires 56 - 66 per cent, grade 5 requires 67 - 77 per cent and grade 6 requires 78 - 88 per cent.How do you interpret GCSE results? ›
In the current grading system, a score of 9, 8 and 7 are equivalent to an A* and A. A 9 is for a student who has performed exceptionally well. A grade of 4 is the equivalent of a C grade, known as a standard pass. A grade of 5 is also a C grade but is known as a strong pass.
You get your total mark by multiplying your raw marks by the weighting factor and then adding these marks together. We check the total mark against the qualification grade boundaries to get your qualification grade.What is a fail in GCSE? ›
What is a Fail in GCSE? Anything below a 4 is a fail under the UK grading system, with U standing for 'ungraded', which was the same in the previous system.Is passing 7 GCSEs good? ›
Entry requirements for school and college sixth forms vary – ranging from four to five grade 5-4s (a C under the old GCSE grading system), with perhaps 6-5s in the subjects you want to study, through to at least six GCSEs at 7 or above for the most selective colleges.How many marks do you need to pass GCSE maths higher? ›
|Exam board||Pass mark|
|Pearson Edexcel (Higher)||71|
|Pearson Edexcel (Foundation)||173|
A student who gets grade 7 (lower A) must have scored approximately 70-82 per cent in their examinations. According to the GCSE 2022 grade boundaries, securing grade 7 is considered a pretty decent score.How rare is it to get a 9 in GCSE? ›
|Characteristic||Percentage of entries|
9 to 1 grading
The way GCSEs are graded changed in 2017. They're graded using 9 to 1, rather than A* to G. Grade 9 is the highest grade.
So 70 would be a Grade 6, but 69 would be a Grade 5. The GCSE grade boundaries are now only being released to students on results day, whereas previously they were published in advance.What GCSE grade is 86%? ›
As a rough example, in a higher-tier maths exam, you can expect to gain a grade 6 with a 50-70 per cent overall mark, and an 8 if you achieve 86 per cent or more. Grade 9 is reserved for the upper half of the old-style A* (over 90 per cent in the paper overall).What grade is 60 out of 100 in UK? ›
|Grade Letter||Percentage Score||Grade Definition|
|A||70% – 100%||Excellent to Outstanding|
|B||60% – 69%||Good to Very Good|
|C||50% – 59%||Satisfying|
|D||40% – 49%||Sufficient|
Approximately 50% of the marks on the higher paper are aimed at grade 7 and above (this is the usual requirement for entry to an A-level Maths course), so most of a higher paper will be too difficult to someone who's doubtful of achieving Grade 4. Tiers cannot be mixed, so one must either take foundation or higher.Do American colleges look at GCSEs? ›
Entry requirements for American Universities
Entry requirements will vary across the US but as a minimum you will likely need 5 GCSEs A* - C to include English and Maths. You will need to be studying post-16 qualifications (ie A-Levels) for four-year universities but you could get into a community college with less.
SATs are not study courses like GCSEs, but are rather tests to let the universities ascertain what level of competency the student has reached. SATs are merely meet an entry criteria for universities that satisfy them that the student has the capabilities for the course.Is American high school diploma equivalent to GCSE? ›
High School Graduation Diploma is considered comparable to GCSE (grades A*-C / 9-4), for every Grade 12 level subject passed High School Graduation Diploma (with a minimum 3.0 GPA), plus three Advanced Placement (AP) Examinations at grade 3 or higher. This must include science, if applying for a science degree. We also ...What does a 3 mean in GCSE results? ›
3. Is a 3 a pass in GCSE? No, the GCSE grade 3 equivalent is in between the traditional grades D and E.What does M mean on GCSE results? ›
They mean merit and distinction in the speaking exams. Just another grade separate from the others.What grade is 49% in GCSE? ›
The GCSE grade boundaries for summer 2022 exams are available here. While the maximum mathematics mark was 140, students had to achieve 94 marks to get a A* equivalent, but 49 to earn a C grade.How do you calculate GCSE percentage? ›
Find 1% first by dividing the amount by 100 and then multiply the amount by the percent you want. Write the percent you want as a decimal and then multiply the amount by this decimal. Write the percent you want as a fraction in simplest form and then multiply the amount by this fraction.
What is the Pass Mark For GCSE English?
|Exam board||GCSE English Language pass mark||GCSE English Literature pass mark|
|AQA||70||50 (NM) or 49 (PM) or 48 (PN)|
|Pearson Edexcel||77 or 68 (2.0)||51|
These boundaries are set by the exam boards after each exam series and are based on the performance of the students who took the exam. The grade boundaries are not fixed, and they can vary from one exam series to another, depending on the difficulty of the exam and the performance of the students.
The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic qualification in a particular subject, taken in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. State schools in Scotland use the Scottish Qualifications Certificate instead. Private schools in Scotland may choose to use GCSEs from England.How many points is each GCSE grade worth? ›
|Grade||Full GCSE points old system||Full GCSE points new system|
is no Grade 'a*', the percentage uniform mark range for Grade 'a' is 80–100. ' The information in this factsheet is intended as a guide for schools in countries where percentage uniform marks appear on statements of results for Cambridge IGCSE®, Cambridge O Level and Cambridge International AS & A Level.What is the most failed GCSE subject? ›
The hardest GCSE in 2023 is Film Studies. Nationwide it only scored a 0.46 E:F ratio. This means you are over twice as likely to fail as you are to score an 8 or 9 on your Film Studies GCSE.Is an E at GCSE a pass? ›
In summary, a passing grade is a 4 at GCSE and an E at A-Level. The best way to get yourself across the grade boundary is to gain as many “easy” marks as possible and learn the information. After that, you just need to practice everything you don't understand well and sometimes, skip out the most difficult content.What grade is a fail UK? ›
|Upper second class (2:1)||60-69%||B|
|Lower second class (2:2)||50-59%||C|
|Third class (3rd)||40-49%||D|
None of our courses have a specific GCSE requirement; however, there are some parts of our admissions process that use GCSE grades to contextualise applicants' performance, and we are not able to use other Level 2 qualifications (or equivalent) to replicate those measures for students not taking GCSEs.Can you get into college without GCSEs UK? ›
While universities usually require a passing grade in GCSE Maths and English, it's certainly possible to get in with no GCSEs. However, you will have to fill out your application with plenty of impressive-sounding skills and character traits.Is it hard to get a 9 in GCSE? ›
You'll need to work hard throughout your GCSE years in order to get a 9 in any subject, putting in regular effort rather than leaving it all until exam time. If you're aiming for a Grade 9 then you may need to look further afield for resources, other than just past papers, to help you excel in your weaker areas.Has anyone ever got 100% on a maths GCSE? ›
From what I remember with DS at GCSE and A-level a few years ago, it is possible to get 100% UMS without actually scoring 100% in the exam(s), due to the way things are worked out. I got 100% in my English GCSE and was told by my teacher. Dd1 got 100% in maths, biology & chemistry GCSEs.
ELITE Tuition have coached thousands of GCSE students over the past ten years and are proud to report a 100% Grade 8 / 9 (A* Grade) success rate for the students completing our programme (cover the entire course with their ELITE Tutor).How many times can you fail maths GCSE? ›
Every single subject on your GCSE course allows two attempts (one general and one resit) before you have to retake the entire course again. You can, however, retake the course as many times, with as many subject combinations as you want.What GCSE grade is 20%? ›
The approach to awarding the top grades is the same for all GCSE subjects. A formula is used that means that around 20% of all grades at 7 or above will be a grade 9.What is Grade 9 in UK years? ›
|Age||UK Years||US/International Grades|
|14 - 15||Year 10||9th Grade (Freshman)|
|15 - 16||Year 11||10th Grade (Sophomore)|
|16 - 17||Year 12 / Lower 6th||11th Grade (Junior)|
|17 - 18||Year 13 / Upper 6th||12th Grade (Senior)|
As per the guide below, issued by the exams regulator Ofqual, the numerical system essentially boils down to the following: 9 = High A* grade. 8 = Lower A* or high A. 7 = Lower A grade.What is a 5 in GCSE equivalent to? ›
Equivalent GCSE grades
Grade 5 is a 'strong pass' and equivalent to a high C and low B on the old grading system.
Grade 8 is considered a strong A and grade 9 an A*. Grade 4, a "standard pass", is equivalent to a C while grade 5 - also a C - is deemed a "strong pass" and grade 6 is equivalent to a B.What is a 3 in new GCSE grades? ›
3. Is a 3 a pass in GCSE? No, the GCSE grade 3 equivalent is in between the traditional grades D and E.What percentage is a 7 in GCSE? ›
A student who gets grade 7 (lower A) must have scored approximately 70-82 per cent in their examinations. According to the GCSE 2022 grade boundaries, securing grade 7 is considered a pretty decent score.Is a 7 good in GCSE? ›
However, a 4 is being classified as a standard pass, which can be broadly compared to a grade C, while a 5 is a strong pass. Grades 9-7 are roughly equivalent to the old top grades of A* and A.
You get your total mark by multiplying your raw marks by the weighting factor and then adding these marks together. We check the total mark against the qualification grade boundaries to get your qualification grade.Is a 3 a fail in GCSE? ›
As mentioned above, any grade below a 4 in the 9-1 grading system will be registered as a fail, so if you score 3 in a subject, then you will have to retake it to earn the qualification.What percentage is a pass in GCSE? ›
Proportion of GCSE entries that achieved a pass grade in the UK 1988-2022. In Summer 2022 GCSE students in the United Kingdom had a pass rate (achieving a grade of C/4 or higher) of 73.2 percent, the lowest since 2019 but still a noticeable increase when compared with years prior to 2020.What percentage do you need to get a 8 in GCSE? ›
As a rough example, in a higher-tier maths exam, you can expect to gain a grade 6 with a 50-70 per cent overall mark, and an 8 if you achieve 86 per cent or more.What is a 5 and 6 in GCSE? ›
For a 'standard pass', equivalent to the old C grade, students will need to achieve a 4 grade, while a 5 will constitute a 'strong pass'. Overall grades 4,5 and 6 will be equivalent to grades B and C in the old grading system.What is a 2 GCSE equivalent to? ›
2 = Lower E or high F.What is a 2 and 3 in GCSE? ›
These grades correspond to old GCSE grades D, E, F and G. Grade 3 ranks somewhere in-between a D and an E, whilst Grade 2 is somewhere between an E and an F.What grade GCSE is 50%? ›
Approximately 50% of the marks on the higher paper are aimed at grade 7 and above (this is the usual requirement for entry to an A-level Maths course), so most of a higher paper will be too difficult to someone who's doubtful of achieving Grade 4.How do new GCSE grades compare to old? ›
1. The new GCSEs in England have a 9 to 1 grading scale, to better differentiate between the highest performing students and distinguish clearly between the old and new qualifications. 2. Grade 9 is the highest grade and will be awarded to fewer students than the old A*.How many marks do you need to pass English GCSE? ›
How many marks do you need to pass GCSE English 2022? According to bbc.com, students usually need to achieve a grade of '5' for a strong pass and '4' for a standard pass. Although, many government school students strictly need to secure a '5' in their GCSE English to pass.