What’s happening to GCSE and A-level exams in 2022?

Today (30th September 2021) has been a big day for exam announcements in England . Ofqual has made three significant calls that affect students sitting their GCSE, A-Level and vocational exams in 2022.

For many months students and their parents – and indeed teachers – have been wondering what changes might be made to courses and grading in 2022. Specifically because:

  • Students had a disrupted start to GCSE in year 10, with significant disparity in course coverage from school to school
  • Across the board the level of grades awarded has been higher than before the pandemic. This is due to teacher and centre assessed grading.

Also, while the government has been clear that exams will go ahead, that was the official position last year, which of course ended in the cancellation of exams.

So what are the changes to courses?

Firstly accommodations and adaptations will be made to courses. This is to reflect the fact that there hasn’t been the time – or equal access – to sufficiently cover the curriculum. The key changes are:

  1. Optional topics and content in English Literature, History, Ancient History and Geography
  2. Practical work (for example in science) can be demonstrated rather than hands-on
  3. Art and design students will be assessed on the portfolio only.
  4. All exam boards will provide advance information by 7/2/2022 on the focus of content for all exams
  5. Formulae sheets will be given in GCSE Maths and an equation sheet in GCSE Physics and combined sciences.

These apply only to the 2022 exams as it’s intended that 2023 will be back to normal.

What will be different about grading?

The years without exams – 2020 and 2021 – saw an increase in passes and a general upward trend in results than in 2019 and before. This is because JCQ and the exam boards closely monitor marking so that there is little “grade inflation”. In the non-exam years, teacher and centre judgement was used. So there was little to no normalisation of the grades.

The issue with this is a fear that the top grades are “devalued”. A return to the 2019 normalised approach is seen as the best route. However, it is generally accepted as harsh on future students; they will be compared by FE/HE institutions and, potentially, employers unfairly to candidates with abnormally high grades.

So, Ofqual and Department for Education have determined that it is important to return to 2019 levels quickly and will use 2022 exams as a transition year. This means that 2022 should see more top grades than in 2019, but not as many as in 2020. Those students taking exams in 2023 will be back to the 2019 levels.

You said three big announcements.

The other event of the day was a consultation on what teacher assessed grading should look like if – as unlikely as it is – exams were to be cancelled. The document states and restates that exams are preferred. But it is encouraging to see that this consultation at least considers the possibility and seeks to address some of the shortfalls in previous TAG approaches – most crucially the burden on teachers and pressure on students.

So what does that mean?

Well, for now it’s business as usual! Work hard, getting studying and move forward!

Schools may have some ground to make up so the pace should feel ramped up for many. While there will be reduced content and early warning of what areas might appear, deliberately, exams boards are unlikely to share the content focus too soon. The courses are about preparing for the next level in more broad terms, not simply about the exam. Also, many schools have mocks in December 2021 and January 2022.

If you have any questions or concerns, please do get in touch.