Why are the grade thresholds so low in the UK? Watch

HarvestingSeason
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I should preface this by saying I'm a foreigner with no in-depth knowledge of how A levels work. That said:

How is it that you need 14% for a pass at A-level and 56% for an A? Why is the required percentage so damn low? Are A levels made in such a way that certain sections are just unsolvable or something? To get what is considered a very good grade you can get almost half of everything wrong. To pass, you can get 86% wrong.

This can't be right...
This isn't right...
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ltsmith
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because lots a-levels are 100% exams and people find exams hard
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999tigger
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(Original post by HarvestingSeason)
I should preface this by saying I'm a foreigner with no in-depth knowledge of how A levels work. That said:

How is it that you need 14% for a pass at A-level and 56% for an A? Why is the required percentage so damn low? Are A levels made in such a way that certain sections are just unsolvable or something? To get what is considered a very good grade you can get almost half of everything wrong. To pass, you can get 86% wrong.

This can't be right...
This isn't right...
Care to give us the examples?
Are you using your one example and applying it across the board to all subjects and all exams in all years?
What nationality are you and what sort of exams do you take?
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K.C.
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(Original post by HarvestingSeason)
I should preface this by saying I'm a foreigner with no in-depth knowledge of how A levels work. That said:

How is it that you need 14% for a pass at A-level and 56% for an A? Why is the required percentage so damn low? Are A levels made in such a way that certain sections are just unsolvable or something? To get what is considered a very good grade you can get almost half of everything wrong. To pass, you can get 86% wrong.

This can't be right...
This isn't right...
These figures vary annually; dependent on exam difficulty.
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sknudson
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A question I've wondered myself. What's more is how kids can't muster the discipline to score 15-20% on a foundation level GCSE exam to have a level 1 pass is beyond me.
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riekeleah
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I’m assuming this is about the Maths A-Level this year. The reason these grade boundaries are so low is because the exam was disproportionately hard compared to previous years.

The way grade boundaries work in the UK is that the allocation of grades should have a normal distribution, e.g on a scale that goes U F E D C B A A*, the majority of people will get a D/C, with increasingly less getting E/B to A/F to A*/U.

Grade boundaries are calculated after students have finished exams and they’ve been marked, so if the majority get 50%, that will be the threshold for D or C. It works so that, say, the top 5% of students get an A*, the next 10% get an A, the next 15% get a B, and so on, with C/D being the most common.

As the grade boundaries are based on how well students perform, if all students perform badly, the grade boundaries are lower. This works the same if all students do really well, the grade boundaries are higher.
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darcydavis18
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The specific statistics you are quoting are brand new and completely unprecedented. They are from a "new" A-Level (Edexcel Maths I believe) which was fraught with difficulties, such as leaked papers and papers being considerably harder than anybody (teachers, students etc) had expected or prepared for. For the absolute vast majority of A-Levels, it can still be considered that (roughly) 55% is a C, with the trend processing up to 80-85% being A-A* etc, but naturally this changes with exam boards. In short, it's a outsider - definitely not the norm.
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Anonymous5483902
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(Original post by HarvestingSeason)
I should preface this by saying I'm a foreigner with no in-depth knowledge of how A levels work. That said:

How is it that you need 14% for a pass at A-level and 56% for an A? Why is the required percentage so damn low? Are A levels made in such a way that certain sections are just unsolvable or something? To get what is considered a very good grade you can get almost half of everything wrong. To pass, you can get 86% wrong.

This can't be right...
This isn't right...
The UK has a poor education system. Every year the proportion of people getting A*s increases - that's why they reduce the grade boundaries. It's to make people think they are clever when they aren't.

And the numbers you are quoting... I took those exams - found them reasonable and believe I don't deserve an A* (if that's what I get) because I have no talent for maths and think the grade boundaries are far too low.
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Bradford-123
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It's because the threshold depends on the difficulty of the paper. If the papers are harder the threshold will be lower. It differs every year.
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JohanGRK
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Because the English system is very easy compared to others
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CrusaderKing666
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Leaked grade boundaries seen ahead of A Level results day this Thursday, 15 August, reveal that students who sat the Edexcel A Level Maths papers will only need to achieve a mark of 165 out of 300 (55 percent) to get an A grade overall. (I just read through the news today)
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Jamie_1712
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(Original post by HarvestingSeason)
I should preface this by saying I'm a foreigner with no in-depth knowledge of how A levels work. That said:

How is it that you need 14% for a pass at A-level and 56% for an A? Why is the required percentage so damn low? Are A levels made in such a way that certain sections are just unsolvable or something? To get what is considered a very good grade you can get almost half of everything wrong. To pass, you can get 86% wrong.

This can't be right...
This isn't right...
I assume you’re talking about maths. It’s because most of the questions are nothing like the ones we’re taught how to do in the classroom. They even throw further maths questions in there for a laugh. The exams are far harder than anything in the textbook and stretch the boundaries of a level beyond what should be allowed.
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HarvestingSeason
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F*ck me this thread exploded after a literal minute. Jeez.

(Original post by JohanGRK)
Because the English system is very easy compared to others
That's the most perplexing part to me. How do the UK and the US have such easy secondary education systems but consistently dominate the higher education scene?
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Professional G
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(Original post by HarvestingSeason)
F*ck me this thread exploded after a literal minute. Jeez.

That's the most perplexing part to me. How do the UK and the US have such easy secondary education systems but consistently dominate the higher education scene?
People only look at the grade boundaries but not the reason why they are low. The exams were notoriously difficult. Many of these questions were not mentioned in the text books so most went in those exams unprepared
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BasicMistake
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(Original post by Anonymous5483902)
The UK has a poor education system. Every year the proportion of people getting A*s increases - that's why they reduce the grade boundaries. It's to make people think they are clever when they aren't.

And the numbers you are quoting... I took those exams - found them reasonable and believe I don't deserve an A* (if that's what I get) because I have no talent for maths and think the grade boundaries are far too low.


A* grades have been fairly constant ever since they were introduced.

Also your causality doesn't make sense. The proportion of A*s increasing reduces grade boundaries?
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SarcAndSpark
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(Original post by HarvestingSeason)
I should preface this by saying I'm a foreigner with no in-depth knowledge of how A levels work. That said:

How is it that you need 14% for a pass at A-level and 56% for an A? Why is the required percentage so damn low? Are A levels made in such a way that certain sections are just unsolvable or something? To get what is considered a very good grade you can get almost half of everything wrong. To pass, you can get 86% wrong.

This can't be right...
This isn't right...
This particular exam was especially hard and there were problems surrounding it including leaks of the questions. These grade boundaries are unusually low, but they are set in context of how students across the country performed on the exam.

Most grade boundaries will be higher than this.
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_gcx
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(Original post by Anonymous5483902)
The UK has a poor education system. Every year the proportion of people getting A*s increases - that's why they reduce the grade boundaries. It's to make people think they are clever when they aren't.

And the numbers you are quoting... I took those exams - found them reasonable and believe I don't deserve an A* (if that's what I get) because I have no talent for maths and think the grade boundaries are far too low.
If you get an A* then the quality of your work is comparable to an A* candidate a few years ago. They keep standards roughly consistent year on year. (sometimes this means small changes in the proportion awarded each grade as well as the grade boundaries changing)
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HarvestingSeason
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(Original post by 999tigger)
Care to give us the examples?
Are you using your one example and applying it across the board to all subjects and all exams in all years?
What nationality are you and what sort of exams do you take?
Maths, 2019. The fact that it's the case for any subject is very telling on its own and can be applicable across the board (though not to such a degree).

I'm Slovenian. We take fairly similar qualifications with the addendum that instead of (usually) 3 subjects, we take 5 (again, usually; some take more). Three of those are not optional. You have to take English (which is a combo of lit and language), you have to take maths and you have to take your mother language (for most people that's Slovene), two are optional. The qualifications are entirely exam based. Coursework has no impact for the vast majority of subjects (it has a 10% impact for sociology, where you have to do a 20 page assignment).
The way grade distribution works is similar, it depends on the performance of the cohort. Typically, the range of a pass is 40-50% for each subject (no subject has ever had it below 40%), with the best possible grade requiring 90% or more.
We're not some backwater with low standards either, by the way, so it's not like we're inflating our grades. We outperformed the UK in all three categories according to PISA research.

That's why it's so confusing to see how such low percentages can actually lead to passes/good scores. I get that it depends on general distribution and all, but still.
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Anonymous5483902
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(Original post by _gcx)
If you get an A* then the quality of your work is comparable to an A* candidate a few years ago. They keep standards roughly consistent year on year. (sometimes this means small changes in the proportion awarded each grade as well as the grade boundaries changing)
Well I do think the new A Level is easier because there's no year 12 exam (and less actual content).

(Original post by HarvestingSeason)
Maths, 2019. The fact that it's the case for any subject is very telling on its own and can be applicable across the board (though not to such a degree).

I'm Slovenian. We take fairly similar qualifications with the addendum that instead of (usually) 3 subjects, we take 5 (again, usually; some take more). Three of those are not optional. You have to take English (which is a combo of lit and language), you have to take maths and you have to take your mother language (for most people that's Slovene), two are optional. The qualifications are entirely exam based. Coursework has no impact for the vast majority of subjects (it has a 10% impact for sociology, where you have to do a 20 page assignment).
The way grade distribution works is similar, it depends on the performance of the cohort. Typically, the range of a pass is 40-50% for each subject (no subject has ever had it below 40%), with the best possible grade requiring 90% or more.
We're not some backwater with low standards either, by the way, so it's not like we're inflating our grades. We outperformed the UK in all three categories according to PISA research.

That's why it's so confusing to see how such low percentages can actually lead to passes/good scores. I get that it depends on general distribution and all, but still.
I think it's also somewhat cultural. People don't work hard enough here because we're always told we don't have to; we can succeed even if we fail. This translates to people performing worse, so the grade boundaries have to be low compared to countries with a hard working culture.
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BasicMistake
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It's odd that people are taking low grade boundaries to mean an easy education system.

By all means, that might be true but the inference isn't obvious.

Low grade boundaries => easier secondary education if:
1. Exams are of equal difficulty across countries, or at the very least English exams are not harder than other countries
2. English students are ill-prepared for exams due to the relative ease of their schooling
3. English students score lower
4. Grade boundaries fall to accommodate

If someone can come up with another mechanism, that would be useful since the above doesn't seem too likely (though I have no data).
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