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.
It's the biggest change to GCSE grading since the exams were introduced in 1988: letters are out and numbers are in.


Forget about grades A*-G; reformed GCSEs are graded from 9-1, starting with English and maths in 2017.

So what does it mean for you when you sit your GCSE exams? We spoke to Michael Turner, director general at JCQ, to get all the detail on how the new grades will affect you.

What are the new GCSE grades?

The new GCSE grades are numbered 9-1 – with 9 the highest and 1 the lowest.


You can't directly compare them to old GCSE grades from the A*-G scale; there are nine new grades versus eight under the old system.

Under the old system a grade C was considered a 'good pass'. This has changed a bit now we've got a number system: a grade 4 will be considered a 'standard pass' and a grade 5 a 'strong pass'.

Take a look at our infographic below to see how the new system translates.

Changes to GCSE grades

More on GCSE exam changes:

How GCSE course changes will affect you

How GCSE exam assessment is changing

How GCSE resits and reviews are changing

Back to exam reform home page

How do I get a grade 9 in the new GCSEs? How high a mark will I need?

There is no defined mark you need to achieve for a grade 9. The grade boundary for 9 and all other grades will be set once all the papers have been marked.


However, what has been announced is that the number of students earning a grade 9 will be around a fifth of all those who achieve at least a grade 7. That’s a lot less than achieved an A* in the old system.

"Grade 9 is aimed at the highest levels of performance in GCSE," says Turner. "It is there for the students that are performing the best across the country. Exam boards will use a formula to calculate where that grade boundary should be.

"The idea is that roughly the top 20% of students achieving a grade 7 or above will achieve the grade 9.

"Everyone wants to do well. If you feel you are not achieving the marks you want, ask your teachers what you can do to improve. Your subject teacher may have more information to help you achieve top marks in their subject and should be able to help you interpret the exam board’s mark scheme for the GCSEs you will be sitting.

"The exam boards also produce lots of helpful material to help you prepare including practice papers."



What grades do I need to go on to study A-levels?

In many cases, GCSE grade 4s will be enough to start A-level courses. But some schools and colleges might ask for 5s and for some subjects (such as A-level Maths) entry requirements may be even higher.


The situation will vary, so you must check with the school or college you want to attend.

"Some sixth form colleges have already announced they intend to set a minimum entry requirement as a grade 4 at GCSE (for example in English and maths), others would prefer a grade 5 or above," says Turner.

"GCSE grade and subject requirements may vary depending on the subjects you wish to study at A level, so it is best to check - first that the A level qualification subjects you wish to study are offered by your local school or college, and then to contact the school or college directly to confirm which GCSE subjects and grades they want to see."

Will my A* be devalued compared to someone with a grade 9?

No. A* was the highest grade possible under the old system – nobody could have done better. You can be proud of achieving the top grade.


"Students who sat GCSEs under the previous system were awarded a grade according to the qualification structure that was in place at the time. That grade still stands," says Turner.

"Students who will be sitting GCSEs under the new system will be awarded a grade in line with the new rules.

"Employers, FE and HE providers are aware of the changes and will make their own requirements clear under both grading systems.

"Exam boards are keen to underline that students will not suffer or lose out as a result of these government reforms."

Will unis and employers understand the new grading?

Everyone involved is doing their best to explain the exam reforms. But realistically it will take a while for awareness of key aspects like the new GCSE grading system to filter down to some organisations such as smaller employers.


"Exam boards, the JCQ, the UK government, the national regulators and UCAS are explaining the reforms to FE colleges, higher education institutions (universities) and to employers, so that they understand what is happening and how to interpret students’ results," says Turner.