GCSE-&-A-level-examinations-summer- 2022–update

For the third year running the pandemic casts a shadow on traditional GCSE and A-level summer exams. The examinations were cancelled in both 2020 and 2021 and replaced with teacher assessment. The government’s position remains that those examinations will go ahead, albeit with minor adjustments to account for loss of learning time due to the disruption caused by lockdown.  We must remember that the government insisted in the months leading up to the 2021 exams that the exams would go ahead, only to change its mind and cancel them. Below is a brief summary of the government’s position on the summer examinations.

GCSE and A-level exams will go ahead in the format that was in place up to 2019, before the pandemic. However, the nature of the exams will be slightly different. There will be the following changes:

  • advance notice of topic areas to be examined in each subject, but not the questions that will come up in the exam
  • the option to choose from a set of questions in certain subjects such as History and English Literature
  • a longer list of formulae sheet provided in Maths and Physics
  • a back-up plan – with more mock tests in schools, and teachers must keep a record of test marks – just in case the exam can’t be held due to COVID-19
  • the proportion of the top grades A* and A that will be awarded will be lower than in 2020 and 2021 but higher than it was in 2019 – the last time proper exams took place.

Before offering a view on whether  I think the exams will go ahead or not, I’d like to highlight the events that have taken place in the last couple of years and the position in which they have placed the young people at the centre of all this.

One notable point that has been publicised in the media is the huge increase in the number of GCSE and A-level candidates who have been awarded the top grades of A* and A. Below is a short set of statistics:

  • The proportion of A* and A awarded at A-level in 2019 was under 26%, in 2021 it was over 44.3% – an increase of about 70%
  • For GCSE, 22% of entries were awarded Grade 9, 8 or 7 (A* to A) in 2019;  it has jumped to 30% by 2021 – an increase of about 36%

Yes, every year, even before the pandemic, there was an increase in the number of higher grades awarded. The increase each year for GCSE and A-level is usually about 1 %, not between 36% and 70% within two years between 2019 and 2021.  

The huge increase in top grades has meant that top universities have a long list of students who were asked to defer their places on popular courses such as medicine and dentistry. This is because too many candidates met their offer grades, and the universities cannot accommodate so many students on those courses. The consequence of the long list of students on the waiting list to automatically take up their places on those courses in the autumn of 2022 means that fewer offers will be made for the applicants who are currently in the final year of their A-levels.

It could be argued that there is nothing wrong in 44% of A-level grades being A* and A, provided that is what society wants. However, every action has a reaction. Firstly, this sort of increase is not sustainable, and nobody will argue that anything close to that increase will be maintained. Secondly, if   grades remain at that sort of level, less value will be attributed to top grades, and it will be impossible for universities to use A-level exam grades as the main selection criterion for their degree courses. This is the reason why the government has proposed that, within two years, the proportion of top grades awarded will go back down to the level seen in 2019 – the last time a proper examination took place.

Given the position of things as discussed above, I am of the view that proper GCSE and A-level exams will take place in the summer of 2022. However, no one knows what COVID-19 will throw at us, so the teenagers who are due to take exams must prepare for all eventualities, be it summer exams or teacher assessment as a tool for awarding grades.

We parents have a crucial role to play in reminding our children what the current position is and helping to guide them in interpreting the information we all have and making an educated guess on what is likely to happen. Uncertainty exists in a big way in all these, and it is something we all have to live with. The events of the last couple of years will help us in making a decision about what is likely to happen and how to make the best of the situation.

Below are some recommendations I’d like to offer teenagers on how to deal with the current situation in which they find themselves, so there are no nasty surprises in the summer and autumn of 2022.

  • Preparation for examination is a marathon and not a sprint event. Working consistently with a level-headed approach is vital. Studying and revising well for all school tests – small or big – will equip them for either teacher assessment or a proper exam
  • Top universities are still worth their weight in gold, and it will be more challenging to gain admission to those in the autumn of 2022, as there are many candidates on the waiting list who have already met the entry requirements and will automatically go on those popular courses 
  • The teenagers must keep up to date with relevant information surrounding the exams – including the format of the exam and the content of what they need to revise.
  • If they need help in understanding topics, mastering concepts or exam technique, they must begin to seek   help as early as possible and not to leave things too late, as every little test may end up counting towards their grades.
  • Online and offline learning is nothing new; the pandemic has only made it more important, and it needs to be done effectively. Whilst it is key to use online tools to find information such as past exam papers and other study materials, most examinations are still handwritten. They still need to print out some questions and practise doing some of them under exam conditions. This way, it reflects the real exam, as things such as timing of questions and handwriting can be a problem if they do not do question practice the way it should be done.

The next blogpost will be about extra tuition. I will be using available evidence to draw a comparison between one-to-one tutoring and small group tutoring. I will also be pointing parents and students to information about to step-by-step process of making the critical decision as to whether extra tuition is needed, finding a tutor or tuition centre and getting the most out of whichever method is decided upon.