Understanding GCSE and A-level exam reforms


The main exam period for GCSEs and A-levels is now underway, and pupils are sitting a host of new qualifications in 2018.

Following exam reforms, pupils will face 20 new GCSE exams and 11 new A-levels, including a number of major subjects.

This follows the launch of three reformed GCSEs – English language, English literature and Maths – and 13 new A-levels last year.

That formed the first part of a four-year programme of reform, while next year will see the introduction of 25 new GCSE exams and 20 new A-levels.

Finally, the process will be rounded off in 2020 with five new GCSEs and an additional 13 A-levels, with the majority of those modern foreign language subjects.

This year Science, geography, history and modern foreign languages are among the new GCSE exams being sat this summer, while PE and religious studies feature in the list of new A-levels.

Part of the reform saw the marking structure change to a numbered grade system, while coursework aspects have largely been removed.

According to the Department for Education, the new grading system is meant to represent tougher exams that are more challenging for pupils.

Under the new marking set up, numbers 9, 8 and 7 correspond to the top grades of A* and A, which should enable greater differentiation among the best performers.

A 4 is representative of a standard pass while a 5 is deemed to be a strong pass.

GCSE exams in ancient language – including Greek and Latin – art and design, biology, chemistry, citizenship studies, combined science, dance, drama, food preparation and nutrition, geography, history, modern foreign languages – including French, German and Spanish – music, physics, PE and religious studies will all be graded 1-9 from this year.

AS-level outcomes no longer contribute to A-level grades either and are part of the reforms initially announced by former education secretary Michael Gove.

Secondary school teachers have suggested that the new GCSE workload is excessive, while the Association of School and College Leavers said removing coursework could increase stress among pupils.