Understanding A level marks and grades
You can now view, download and print the below PDF which is the DfE 16-19 Performance Table Points Scores for Level 3 Qualifications. This includes A levels and AS Levels and Core Maths qualifications.
Linear qualifications are designed so that candidates are assessed at the end of the course (usually two years for A level, or one year for AS), after all of the teaching and learning for the subject has taken place.
To receive a result for a linear qualification, all of the marks achieved on different question papers are added together and the candidate receives a grade for the qualification. There is no need for a uniform mark scale - a single grade is issued to each candidate.
Modular qualifications, on the other hand, are designed so that they are taught in ‘units’ throughout the course, with assessments taken at the end of each unit. Candidates receive a grade for each unit and are then able to ‘cash in’ for a qualification grade.
Because some question papers may be slightly easier or more difficult than others, a Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) is used for modular qualifications.
The move to linear will mean there is no need for UMS for reformed GCSE, AS and A Level.
The current modular A levels are made up of AS and A2 units and the A* grade is awarded to those students who achieve a grade A on the A level overall and also achieve 90 per cent or more of the maximum uniform mark on their A2 units.
The decoupling of AS and A level qualifications means that AS results no longer contribute to a linear A level qualification. As such, there is no need for a uniform mark scale, or for a complex rule for calculating the A* grade for reformed A levels. A* will be a key grade boundary that will be set during the awarding process at subject level, using statistical and technical evidence.
Detail about the nature of the statistical evidence that will be used to set the A* grade in reformed A level qualifications will be published by Ofqual before the first awards in the form of the Data Exchange Procedures, which awarding organisations are required to adhere to when they set grade boundaries.
AS, A Level and GCSE qualifications in the UK are awarded using the ‘comparable outcomes’ approach to setting and maintaining standards.
The basic principle of this approach is that if the group of students (the cohort) taking a qualification in one year is of similar ability to the cohort in the previous year, then the overall results (outcomes) at national level, should be comparable.
Statistics play an important role in the comparable outcomes approach. Awarding bodies work with Ofqual to create a reference matrix for each subject, on which to base predictions of AS or A Level performance. This prediction matrix applies to the cohort taking the assessments in the current year, and is based on those candidates’ prior attainment data, taken from their GCSE performance.
In addition to statistics, senior examiners play a crucial role in providing their expert judgments about the quality of work and this insight also helps ensure that the grade boundaries are set in the right place.
Our subject experts are trained thoroughly in the process of writing question papers and assessments that are consistent in difficulty year on year. It is also important to ensure that assessments are valid and that they are not predictable for learners. Because of this, question papers can be slightly more or less difficult than in previous years because of the content being tested and the questions that are asked. In order to ensure fairness to all candidates and comparability of standards over time, grade boundaries may shift to ensure that variation in difficulty is taken into account.
This is particularly important during transition to new or changed qualifications, such as the new AS and A Levels.
Download our short PDF 'Comparable outcomes approach: A Guide', below.
We set new grade boundaries each time a new exam or assessment is completed. They indicate the minimum number of marks students need to achieve to get a particular grade.
The video below explains how we set grade boundaries to ensure that students are awarded grades that fairly reflect their performance.