This year, the country’s exam system will go through an overhaul. Starting this summer, the grading system for GCSEs will change, with grades 1 to 9 introduced in place of A to G, with 9 being the highest grade. The first subjects that will use the new grading system are Mathematics, English Language, and English Literature. They were first taught in September 2015 and will be examined this summer. Other subjects such as Biology, Physics, Chemistry, History and Geography will use the new grading system from the summer of 2018, and others such as Business, Media Studies, Ancient History and Information and Communications Technology from 2019. This change in the grading system comes with changes in the coursework, with the courses having lesser coursework than before, with the grades depending entirely on exams. The modular examination has been stopped; therefore, exams will be done at the completion of the course.

The 9-1 grading system explained

The traditional grading system, A to G, has been in use for many years, with an A as the highest grade. The new system will use numbers for grading, though the correlation between the A to G system and the 9 to 1 system is still not clear. For example, grades 9 to 7 are thought to be equivalent to A* and A in the older system, 6 to 4 lie in the B and C grades, 3 is more or less a D, and 2 to 1 lying in the E to G grades. The grade boundaries for the new system has not been given, though, creating confusion among teachers and students; they can only speculate.

This unclear conversion from one grade system to another will create a problem for the current Year 11 students, as they will receive some of their grades (English and Mathematics) in the new grading system and the rest of the subjects in the older one. The Year 10s will receive most of their grades in the current system, though some may be in the A-G one if they are taking subjects whose grading system will change in 2019.

The problem of undefined grade boundaries

The minimum mark required for each grade in the 9-1 system has not been communicated to teachers and students yet, the only information available is that grade 5 will be rated as a good pass, and 4 a standard pass. It would have been useful to have the boundaries as it makes it easier to predict a student’s likely results. Some associations have taken matters into their own hands and had their member schools sit for mock exams to try and estimate the grade boundaries. Ofqual has, however, urged organizations not to try to predict the grade boundaries as they may be disappointed if the set boundaries turn out to be different from their predicted ones.

Some teachers have come up with their own algorithms to convert the grades from one system to another, all in a bid to try as much as possible to be able to predict their students’ performance in the GCSE exams. If they can have a way of showing which grade in the old A-G system corresponds to the grades in the new 9-1 system, then they can predict how their students will perform in their GCSEs.

While teachers are preparing their students for the upcoming exams, they are having problems trying to predict the students’ likely performance. This is because they have no way of relating the students’ prior performance using the A-G system to the new 1-9 system. A Mathematics teacher at County Durham’s Whitworth Park School said that in as much as they are giving mock exams to their students, they cannot tell them their right grade since they are not sure of the grade boundaries. He said that a student could have gotten a B, but they can’t predict what they will get in the new system, whether it will be 6 or 5 or even 4, hence end up confusing the students.

Since there is no method for directly converting from one grading system to the other, it is going to be difficult for universities and potential employers to compare candidates, since for a few years students will receive results with both grading systems, until the 9-1 system is fully implemented.

Seeing as the relation between the 9-1 and A-G grading systems is not known as it is not clear where each grade lies in the other system, say, is 5 a B or a C, no one can claim to accurately predict the results of anyone taking their GCSEs this year, unless the government is clear about the grade boundaries. The uncertainties surrounding the grade boundaries and prediction of results will only end once the grade boundaries are made official.