Understanding marks and grades
This page explains how Edexcel exams and assessments are marked and graded to maintain standards year on year.
At Pearson we believe that learning is a life-changing opportunity and take pride that employers, training providers and educational institutions around the world recognise our qualifications.
To ensure that our qualifications continue to receive this recognition, we have to demonstrate that learners of the same ability are awarded the same grade, regardless of when they completed their course.
When a learner completes one of our Edexcel exams, their answers will be sent to our examiners for marking. Our examiners are experts in their subject area and are usually qualified teachers. Highly experienced senior examiners are responsible for writing our exams and providing the answers in a ‘mark scheme’.
How is work marked?
Shortly after an exam has been sat, our examiners will be trained on how to mark the work. Our senior examiners will review responses given to each question during the exam and pick examples they think highlight particular details of the mark scheme. These examples are used to demonstrate the standard our examiners should be looking for when awarding marks and where answers needed to go further to get credit.
Once an examiner has been trained on how to apply the mark scheme, they will mark a small number of actual learner responses. Their work will be checked by a senior examiner to ensure that the marks given are accurate, consistent and meet the required standard. If the senior examiner is confident that the examiner is marking correctly, the examiner will ‘qualify’ and will be allowed to continue marking.
Throughout the marking period, senior examiners continuously review samples of our examiners' work to ensure that the required standard is still being met. If a senior examiner feels that an examiner isn’t giving students the right marks, we’ll stop the examiner from marking and the work they have already completed will be corrected.
How do you take into account the difficulty of an exam or assessment when issuing a grade?
We set new grade boundaries each time a new exam or assessment is completed. They're published the day before students get their results.
When our senior examiners write an exam or assessment, they try to make sure it’s of a similar difficulty to exams or assessments we’ve set in the past. However, they can’t know before it’s completed how students will do, or which questions they'll find easy or hard in comparison to previous versions.
So, once all the work has been marked, our senior examiners decide grade boundaries – the minimum mark you need to get a certain grade. This helps maintain standards from year to year, as it takes into account differences in the difficulty of the exam or assessments.
How do you determine the grade boundaries?
Our senior examiners review all available evidence to ensure that learners demonstrating the same level of ability are awarded the same grade, regardless of when they completed the exam or assessment.
The course specification often includes grade or performance descriptions stating what a learner needs to demonstrate in order to achieve a particular grade. Once all of the work has been marked, our senior examiners meet to look at a range of learner work and compare the standard to that outlined in the specification and to that of learners who’ve completed a similar exam or assessment in the past.
This helps our senior examiners get a rounded picture of how learners have performed and, after careful consideration, they use their professional judgement to decide the minimum number of marks required for each grade.
What are ‘raw’ and ‘UMS’ marks?
Your raw mark is the number of marks you achieved on an exam or assessment.
UMS (Uniform Mark Scale) marks aren’t available for all qualifications but are a conversion of your raw mark.
Your results slip will show your UMS mark or no mark at all if the qualification doesn’t use UMS marks.
For some of our qualifications, you can take components at different times throughout the course. For example, our Edexcel International Advanced Level exams can be taken in January or June exam sessions.
To make sure that any differences in the difficulty of exams or assessments are taken into account when adding up your marks to give an overall grade, we convert your ‘raw’ or exam paper mark into a UMS (Uniform Mark Scale) mark.
UMS grade boundaries are fixed so they are the same for each exam session.
Raw mark grade boundaries may change for each exam session. If you request a copy of your marked paper, your raw mark will be on the front. You can also ask your exams officer for your raw marks for each exam.
Let’s say a student took an exam in January and was given a mark of 43/50. Then another student took the same paper in June and got the same mark of 43/50.
If the paper in January was slightly harder, then the mark of 43/50 in the June exam series wouldn't reflect the same level of achievement as the mark of 43/50 in the January exam series. We need a way of comparing the same mark (in this case 43/50) that reflects the slight differences in the difficulty of question papers. Therefore, we convert the ‘raw’ exam paper mark into a UMS (Uniform Mark Scale) mark.
In this example, the mark of 43/50 on the June paper would convert to fewer UMS marks than the mark of 43/50 on the January paper, because the January paper was shown to be more difficult. This mark conversion makes sure that your final marks reflect the standard needed to achieve a particular grade.
Our senior examiners determine the grade boundaries using raw marks, which are then mapped to the UMS grade boundaries published in the specification.
In some cases, converting two consecutive raw marks will give non-consecutive UMS marks. This means that it won't always be possible to achieve all UMS marks on a particular exam or assessment.
Example: A level Biology Unit 1 (6BI01/01) taken in summer 2013
|Raw mark||UMS mark|
For this exam paper there is no raw mark which converts to a UMS mark of 37 or 38 - so it wouldn’t be possible to obtain a UMS mark of 37 or 38 in this exam.
When taking one of our Edexcel GCSE foundation tier papers, the highest grade you can achieve is a C. This is because foundation tier papers don’t assess the skills or knowledge required for a grade B.
To ensure that the UMS mark you’re awarded doesn’t contribute more to your overall grade than the difficulty of your paper permits, the maximum number of UMS marks you can achieve is capped.
Convert your marks
When you get your results slip, you may find that your ‘final mark’ is different from the score on your exam paper – the so-called ‘raw mark’. This is because the majority of our results are all published in UMS marks.
We've developed a mark converter to help you calculate your raw mark from the UMS mark published on your results slip. This will help you to see how far away you were from a particular grade.
Download our UMS mark converter
You'll need to have the full version of Microsoft Excel 2007 or above in order to use the mark converter. Then it can calculate raw marks from UMS marks for the following qualifications:
- A level
- International A level
- CiDA from 2012.
If you don't have Excel 2007 or above, or require a raw mark for a different qualification, the exams officer at your school or college will be able to provide this information.