Grade boundaries and the Uniform Mark Scale (UMS)
Grade boundaries show the minimum number of marks you need for each grade.
We always aim to make sure exam papers have the same level of difficulty from year to year. But in practice, papers do vary slightly. Setting grade boundaries to allow for this makes sure that students who perform at the same level get the same grade, no matter when they do the exam.
How we set grade boundaries
Our awarding committees set grade boundaries after the exams have been marked. This is so we can see whether students found the papers easier or harder than expected. This process is called awarding.
For more information, watch our video on Making the grade: a guide to awarding.
Getting the right result also has more about this.
For qualifications that use uniform marks, we convert your exam mark to a UMS mark, which then determines the grade. The UMS converter shows where your exam mark sits on the uniform mark scale. See our UMS guide.
You can't use this tool for the reformed AS qualifications, nor GCSE Mathematics (Linear) B.
- UMS mark grade boundary tables – these stay the same each year
- Raw mark grade boundary tables – they can change each year.
Subjects that don't use the UMS
Linear qualifications – currently only the reformed AS specifications plus GCSE Mathematics (Linear) B – are assessed at the end of the course, so all students take the exam at the same time. This means that, unlike in modular qualifications, there’s no need to combine marks from different series, so we don’t need to use the UMS for linear exams.
UMS marks won’t be used for the new GCSE, AS and A-level specifications for first teaching from September 2015, because they’re all linear. As the new qualifications are being introduced gradually, we'll be offering unitised and linear qualifications at the same time for an interim period.
Grade boundaries for linear qualifications
In modular qualifications, grade boundaries are set for each individual component, as they can be taken at different times during the course. This isn’t necessary for linear qualifications, where a single grade is given for the overall subject.
It can be useful to see how the overall subject grade was achieved. However, it’s important to note that the grade boundaries given for each component in linear qualifications are purely notional, and do not always add up to the equivalent subject grade.
Our Guide to notional component grade boundaries has more information on this.