What are grade boundaries?
In their simplest terms, grade boundaries are the number of marks needed for each grade in a certain paper of a specific year. They are used to adjust the marks of papers of different difficulties so the same proportion of people across the country taking the exam get the same grade (relative to the ability of the cohort), known as "comparable outcomes". They also ensure that results are similar to the old specification when a new specification such as the A level mathematics one comes out. That way candidates taking a new and unfamiliar specification are not penalised.
You can read more about grade boundaries here: https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/results/what-are-grade-boundaries-and-should-i-care-about-them
How are grade boundaries worked out?
At A level, the grades A and E are worked out first. These are called "judgemental" grade boundaries, and are set on the basis of all the information exam boards have available to them from the mark distributions of the current year and previous years to the KS2 SATs performance of the cohort and performance in similar subjects if relevant.
The remaining grade boundaries are set arithmetically, meaning they are set at even points between the judgemental grade boundaries (eg. if A was set at 60 and E at 20, then B would be at 50, C at 40 and D at 30).
What were the Maths grade boundaries in 2018?
The cohort in 2018 was very different to what the 2019 equivalent. The grade boundaries were set based on the expected outcome for 17 year olds (rather than 18yos as is usual for A level) since most the cohort were sitting it in year 12, and were of very high ability (expecting to take further mathematics in 2019), hence the proportions of those who attain each grade is very likely to be different in future years.
You can read more about the adaptations for the 2018 year here: https://ofqual.blog.gov.uk/2018/03/16/setting-standards-in-the-new-a-level-maths-qualifications/
What do we know about the Maths grade boundaries in 2019?
- The boundaries will depend on the difficulty of the paper. Like any other year, if the paper is extremely difficult, they will be adapted downwards accordingly and upwards if the exam is easier than expected.
- The outcomes will be comparable to a usual year for A level maths. Exam boards will be using their usual comparison methods across specifications to ensure the results are fair to those sitting the new specification (although since the resits are still on old specification, the percentages may not match up as well as you'd expect)!
- The A* may be more achievable than on the old specification. On the old specification, you had to achieve 180 between C3 and C4 in order to get the A*. In the new specification, a mark will be set for the A* and you can achieve this from across all of the papers. This could have the opposite effect however and drive up the A* boundary since the marks don't have to be attained in one specific discipline of maths.
- The raw marks percentage for each grade is likely to be lower than the old specification. Previous to the new spec, teachers were extremely familiar with the specification. They had a very large number of past papers for each module and there was more walking you through the question to guide you to the answer. Teachers are still adapting their teaching to the new specification with a limited number of resources and more application questions, plus you have to work out exactly what is being asked rather than being guided through the steps. All of these make the new specification more difficult than the old specification, therefore the grade boundaries are likely to be lower than the old specification which at times got extremely high.
- The grade boundaries may be higher or lower than the 2018 grade boundaries. While the cohort last year were high ability, this doesn't necessarily mean the grade boundaries will go down. In 2018 the exam boards aimed to make sure those that those who would have got a certain grade should they have been sitting the exam in a "normal" year got the same grade in 2018, hence the grade boundaries could increase for 2019 despite the high ability cohort, since a higher proportion will have achieved the highest grades compared to the 2019 cohort.
Here is an Ofqual blog on the setting of the 2019 maths grade boundaries: https://ofqual.blog.gov.uk/2019/02/08/new-a-level-maths-in-2019/
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