A-levels and GCSEs: Which Covid measures are still in place and how is exam marking different?

Exam marking will return to the pre-pandemic levels. Credit: PA

Thousands of students across England and Wales will begin taking their AS, A-Levels and GCSEs on Monday.

For the first time in three years exam results will take a “step back to normal”, after special measures were brought in during the pandemic.

Covid led to an increase in top grades in 2020 and 2021 but it is expected results this year will fall back in line with those before lockdown, according to England’s exams regulator Ofqual.

Dr Jo Saxton, head of Ofqual, said some of the support measures and adjustments introduced during the disruption of Covid would be removed and scaled back this year.

According to Dr Saxton, examiners will use data to set grade thresholds that are “fair to students”.

“There’s no doubt that the pandemic has cast a long shadow, and that’s partly why we’ve put some protections in place,” she told the BBC.

Dr Jo Saxton the head of Ofqual in England. Credit: PA

But as exams start in England, what measures are currently in place and what changes can parents and children expect?

Why had measures been brought in?

During the pandemic, children were sent home from school due to lockdown restrictions, but this meant they missed vital teaching time in the years and months leading up to their exams.

Even when pupils were allowed back into their lessons, if anyone caught the virus, whole classrooms of children would be sent home.

In 2020 and 2021, the GCSEs, AS and A-Levels (and their equivalents in Scotland) were cancelled and instead, students received grades based on teacher or lecturer assessment.

Last summer saw the return of a full exam series in all four UK nations.

But the grade boundaries were lower - meaning pupils needed less marks to get the top grades.

This year the 'grade inflation' is being reduced.

What measures remain?Though the measures are being scaled back, there are still packages to help students ease back into exams this year.

  • Support materials - In GCSE maths, physics, and combined science exams a sheet with equations and formulas will be included in the exam paper.

  • Spaced-out timetable - There will be bigger gaps between each exam so pupils have more time to revise. This will make it less likely you will miss all exams in a subject if you are too ill to take one of your exams.

  • Help with languages - In GCSE modern foreign languages, the exams do not have to test unfamiliar vocabulary. Exams may contain unfamiliar vocabulary, but exam boards can give meanings for words that are not on their vocabulary lists.

A letter was sent to the schools and parents by Ofqual to explain this, according to the regulator.

How will they be marked?While exams will be marked in the same way as before the pandemic, there is still some 'grading protection' in place.

The grade boundaries will be 'slightly lenient,' according to Ofqual to allow for the disruption students faced during the last two years.

This means a student who would have achieved a certain grade before the pandemic, should be just as likely to achieve that grade in 2023, even if their performance is a little weaker than that needed to secure the grade in 2019. Markers for the equivalent vocational and technical qualifications will be asked to model their results on the approach taken at GCSE and A-levels.

What's happening in Scotland and Wales?

In Scotland, the modifications to the exams remain the same as they were during the pandemic.

Depending on the course students take, the number of or parts of exams, coursework and topics that could be tested have been reduced.

There's also more time and students are freer to chose which topics they work on.

This covers National 4, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, as well as some National 3 courses and freestanding units. In Wales, the regulatory body WJEC say grades will be awarded generously in 2023, broadly midway between the 2019 and 2022 outcomes.Students are given advance information on some of the questions in the exam; for example, it may outline some of the content, texts, themes, and skills that will be assessed in summer 2023 exams.

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