Changes to GCSE Religious Studies (d) level descriptors: How will this affect grade boundaries in summer 2024?

Tue Nov 28 11:25:00 UTC 2023

This update provides some clarification on grade boundaries for summer 2024 in light of the amends to our GCSE Religious Studies level descriptors in (d) evaluation questions.  

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Following my recent update about GCSE Religious Studies level descriptor amends in (d) evaluation questions, we wanted to follow up and share some information about grade boundaries to help guide and reassure centres. The level descriptors have been adapted to ensure the best student exam experience, but our assessment processes will ensure that all students get the GCSE grades that they deserve.

How are Grade boundaries set?

Grade boundaries are set for each exam series based on the performance of individual papers and qualifications within that series. These vary year-on-year due to a range of factors including the challenge and performance of the individual questions on the paper and the cohort ability. As a result, there is variation of grade boundaries across different GCSE Religious Studies papers. This is expected as each paper is looked at individually based on its questions and associated answers, and the cohort sitting the paper during that series. This is the same for all subjects.

The following video explains how grade boundaries are set each year:

Link to grade boundaries video


How are Grade Boundaries set?
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Why do grade boundaries change?

Where grade boundaries require adjustment each year, it is to ensure fairness across exam series and ensure that grades are of the same quality year-on-year. This means a grade in one subject in one year can meaningfully be compared to other years and grades from other exam boards. All exam boards use data as a starting point for grading. Using data is important to support alignment between exam boards, so that it is no easier to get a grade with one exam board than another.

This is also overseen by senior examiners who review the quality of student work and recommend grade boundaries based on all the available evidence to ensure that these boundaries reflect the same standard of work across exam series. This ensures that the standard expected for a particular grade is consistent across exam series.

What will grade boundaries look like in summer 2024 for GCSE Religious Studies?

We are unable to predict grade boundaries in advance of summer 2024 following the changes made to our (d) level descriptors, as the factors mentioned above vary every year, and grade boundaries cannot be set until after all student scripts have been marked. We expect that the changes to our level descriptors will have an impact on the marks achieved within (d) questions but are unable to predict how the whole cohort will perform across (a), (b), (c) and (d) questions on each section of each paper. Due to all these factors, there is no formula that can be used to accurately predict grade boundaries for summer 2024.

Part of the rationale for amending our level descriptors is to ensure a more even distribution of marks across (d) questions. Therefore, the new level descriptors may affect the marks that students achieve in 12-mark (d) evaluation questions, particularly in Levels 2-4. It is likely that there will be an increase of marks that candidates achieved across these levels, although we cannot guarantee student performance.

Although the marks achieved in (d) evaluation questions may change, these amends to level descriptors should not affect the grades that students achieve. We have systems in place to ensure standards are maintained across exam series and our senior examining team will look to ensure that a Grade 7 quality exam script (as with other grades) will achieve Grade 7 regardless of the exam series sat.

What should we use when marking our mock exams?

To support accuracy of marking using the new level descriptors, we will be providing a range of support:

  1. Live training on the new level descriptors using exemplar answers (14th December)
  2. Interactive marking activity
  3. Q&A Event
  4. A range of exemplar answers
  5. Mock marking and moderation service

These should provide teachers with the tools needed to fully understand the new level descriptors and how they will be applied.

Do join us at these online events. You can book your place online and also submit questions in advance for the Q&A event.

We understand the desire as teachers to have grade boundaries that you can use for mock exams to support accurate predictions. As with any significant changes to qualification assessments such as with new assessments, there is unfortunately, no way to predict these.

If predicting grades is of concern at your centre, teachers can use the question papers and mark schemes from previous series, alongside the grade boundaries for that series, (as grade boundaries should be used in conjunction with the exam series they represent) to support the prediction of grades. Using past mark schemes and grade boundaries will not disadvantage candidates or the predictions that you make for them, due to the systems in place to maintain standards year on year.

The level descriptors amends may impact the marks students achieve in their (d) evaluation questions at GCSE Religious Studies but rest assured that the systems that we have in place as part of the assessment awarding process will ensure that students will be awarded the grades that they deserve.


If you have any outstanding questions that you would like to submit in advance of the Q&A event, please submit these using the form provided: 

Link to form


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