9-1: The new GCSE grading system explained


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January 9th, 2020

Last updated: January 22nd, 2020

9-1: The new GCSE grading system explained

In this blog Sobia explains the new GCSE 9-1 grading system and answers common questions around it. The new system will be rolled out in full by Summer 2020.

Understanding the New GCSE Grading System

The new GCSE grading system (9-1) has now almost exclusively replaced the old system (A-F) and will have entirely replaced it by Summer 2020. So this year you will most likely see your grades (or your child’s grades) on the new 1-9 scale.

You may be wondering how a 1-9 scale can replace an A-F scale, what the equivalence is between the old and new grade levels, and even why such a scale is necessary in the first place – what is it designed to achieve?

The new scale was designed to be able to test the same range of abilities as the old scale, but to also differentiate more accurately between students of different abilities.

The GCSE grade/scale equivalence is outlined below:

New grading structureCurrent grading structure

So for example, the lowest level 7 is equivalent to the lowest A; a 4 would be a ‘standard pass’ and a 5 a ‘strong pass’. A grade 8 is at the A/A* boundary, while a grade 9 is at a higher level than the current A*. This means that the new system can differentiate whether the grade attained is a weak or strong grade at a particular level. As well as being useful to colleges and universities as well as employers, it can also be a useful gauge for the student to understand their own performance in a subject.

New GCSE Science Grading

One of the changes in the way combined sciences will be graded under the new system. Instead of a combined score that is just a single grade expressed as a double grade e.g. A/A, B/B etc, students will be given two grades that can be adjacent to one another or the same, more accurately reflecting their performance across the sciences, e.g. 5/4 or 5/5. There will also be less coursework, with grades more dependent on exams, which will be slightly more challenging.

Can I Use Old Papers to Revise From?

A question I am sometimes asked by students and their parents, is whether they can use old exam papers for revision. Essentially, the content has not changed with the new upgraded grading system (forgive the pun!). I still use “old” GCSE papers across the three sciences and also maths and english. These papers can be found extensively online, and it is a good idea to make use of them for revision. However, specimen papers are also available under the exam board resources for each subject, as well as the 2018 papers which were the first papers under the new system for most core subjects.

Should I be Worried About the New System?

The new grading system is designed to be a more accurate gauge of ability but this doesn’t necessarily mean it is tougher, or that the exams are more difficult. However, some students have reported that the 2018 exam content was slightly more challenging in some subjects such as Science. Overall though, changes to the grading structure have been a regular feature down the years, and it seems that schools and teachers as well as students have adapted to these changes well.

More about Sobia

Sobia qualified as a teacher in Science in 2002, and now works as a tutor with Owl Tutors.

Sobia has done a lot! She initially trained to be a doctor, before switching to working as a Science teacher. She has since taught for over ten years, and found time to complete a PhD in English along the way. She currently teaches and tutors in between her own writing.

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