How exams are changing header graphicHow exams are changing header graphicIn association with WJEC, Pearson Edexcel, AQA and OCRIn association with WJEC, Pearson Edexcel, AQA and OCR
We have worked with UK exam boards and the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) to produce this guide. The JCQ represents the UK's six largest exam boards.
The way your work is assessed is changing for the new GCSEs.

Most courses will be assessed by exams taken at the end of the course, but that doesn't mean coursework is entirely extinct. Not yet, anyway.

There are lots of changes to how new GCSEs are assessed and it's important to understand how these changes will affect you. We put questions from the TSR community to Michael Turner, director general at JCQ. Here's what you need to know.

Is there coursework in the new GCSEs?

In a way, there isn't. That's because the word 'coursework' isn’t used any more when talking about the reformed GCSEs. It's been replaced by the term 'non-examination assessment'.

"The term 'coursework' only applies to legacy (unreformed) qualifications," says Michael Turner, JCQ. "Non-examination assessments apply to the new GCSE specifications."

In most cases the new GCSEs are assessed by exams taken at the end of the course. But in some subjects there are important skills that it’s impossible to assess in an exam. This is where non-examination assessment comes in.

Non-examination assessment still exists in a range of subjects. You can check your own subjects by taking a look at the relevant exam board website.

In English you will need to do a short oral presentation. This will not count towards your overall grade but will be marked separately as distinction, merit, pass or unclassified.

How are science practicals changing?

For anyone sitting their exams from 2018 there will be no more science controlled assessments. But practical work will still be important. You’ll be expected to complete at least 12 pieces of practical work and in the exams you'll be asked questions about your experiences.

Exam regulator Ofqual explains the new process like this:

For the new GCSEs in biology, chemistry, physics and combined science, each exam board will specify a minimum number of practical activities that students must complete, set no lower than eight for individual sciences and 16 for combined science.

Each school will be required to confirm that they enabled their students to do the full range of practical work. Each student will be required to keep a record of their work.

Students’ knowledge of the practical work carried out will be assessed in exam questions at the end of the course. At least 15% of the total marks for each GCSE science qualification will be allocated to questions that draw on students’ practical experiences.

How can private candidates do coursework or science practicals?

Private candidates will need to find a school or college that is willing to host their practical work. Alternatively some private colleges will be able to support them.

"Practical assessments must be conducted by a registered examination centre, such as a school or college, and an external monitoring visit is required," says Turner.

"Private candidates will need to find an examination centre willing to support them not only through the final examination, but also through any coursework or practical non-examination assessments."

More on GCSE exam changes:

How GCSE course changes will affect you

From A* to 9: how GCSE grades are changing

How GCSE resits and reviews are changing

Back to exam reform home page

Will examiners be stricter marking the new courses?

No, they have to follow the agreed mark scheme.

"Examiners must mark according to the mark scheme they are given by the exam board for the qualification they are examining at that time. It is not a question of strictness," says Turner.

"Teachers will also be working to the new specification standards, so students will be prepared for their exams."

Are there still foundation and higher tiers?

Yes, but only in certain subjects like science and maths.

"Foundation and higher tiers will still be available for some specifications, including the new GCSE Maths and Science qualifications, but not for all subjects," says Turner.

"Ask your school or college to confirm which specification they will be offering at GCSE."

Do I get marks for spelling, grammar and punctuation?

Yes, in some subjects.

"Some subjects do include marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar (known as SPaG marks)," says Turner.

"If you are not sure how much these marks are worth for a particular qualification or exam, ask your teacher for a copy of the mark scheme for that subject.

"This information is also available to download from the exam boards’ websites."

What can I use for exam practice when there are no or few past papers?

You can use the specimen papers and mark schemes from the exam board websites.

Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the specimen questions on the websites of other boards. Your teachers might also have access to other questions – ask them.

"Some of the questions from the old spec will still be relevant but do be careful as the styles of questioning will change," says Turner.

"There are specimen papers and mark schemes available on the exam board websites."

How will examiners be able to set grades when there are no scripts from previous years to use for comparison?

In 2017 English and maths will be graded for the first time using the new system. As the new 9-1 GCSE grading doesn’t directly link to the old A*-G system, exam boards will set grades in the first year of the new grading by referring to the proportions of students who achieved particular grades the previous year.

Exam regulator Ofqual explains the new process like this:
  • Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above
  • Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 7 and above as currently achieve an A and above
  • For each examination, the top 20 per cent of those who get grade 7 or above will get a grade 9 – the very highest performers
  • The bottom of grade 1 will be aligned with the bottom of grade G
  • Grade 5 will be positioned in the top third of the marks for a current Grade C and bottom third of the marks for a current Grade B. This will mean it will be of greater demand than the present grade C, and broadly in line with what the best available evidence tells us is the average PISA performance in countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland
  • The new maths GCSE will be tiered, with grades 4 and 5 available through both tiers