Summer 2022: ensuring fair grades for students
Published 18 Oct 2022
Will Pointer, AQA’s Head of Standards and Awarding, reflects on student outcomes and the grading process in summer 2022.
As we all know, summer 2022 saw the first exams since 2019. In 2020 and 2021, schools and colleges decided students’ grades.
This year’s results days were a big achievement for our students, who did fantastically well.
The pandemic disrupted teaching and learning for these students and, for most of them, summer 2022 was the first time they had sat a formal exam. To recognise this, the Department for Education and Ofqual agreed to provide additional support, and to adopt a more lenient approach to grading, with a plan for a fair and gradual return to pre-pandemic grading standards.
The policy aim in England is to return to results that are in line with those in pre-pandemic years by 2023.
Outcomes in summer 2022: highlights
The main takeaway for 2022 is that results were higher than in 2019 but lower than in 2021, which was in line with the planned outcome. For example, in 2019, 22% of A-level students achieved a grade A* or A in AQA qualifications, which increased to 42% in 2021. This year, it was 33%.
The results show higher achievement for female students than male students at all grades, but we have seen that the gap between female and male students at the top grades has narrowed, which is in line with the national picture.
AS-level outcomes in 2022 were also between those of 2019 and 2021.
As with A-levels, the intention was to apply a more lenient approach to grading, so results were higher than in 2019.
A few outcomes to highlight include:
- the percentage of students achieving a grade 4 (equivalent to grade C) increased to 73.5% this year in contrast to 67.8% in 2019
- an adjustment was applied across all exam boards for French and German to achieve greater alignment with Spanish (based on research by Ofqual)
- overall outcomes for female students were higher than outcomes for male students at all grades, reflecting the national picture. More on this can be found in the GCSE press notice issued by the Joint Council for Qualifications.
What role does research play in setting grade boundaries?
Setting and maintaining exam standards is a core part of AQA’s work. Typically, two sources of evidence are used to decide the position of grade boundaries: statistical data and examiner judgement. Both play a very important role.
The process of setting grade boundaries requires a great deal of teamwork right across AQA. Once the marks have been received for each specification (or subject), meetings take place where senior examiners come together to review student work and recommend grade boundaries, eg what warrants an A or an E, or a 9 or a 4. This process is supported by some of our researchers, who play a key role in carrying out statistical analysis of how the components have performed, as well as statistical predictions to help ensure there’s alignment across exam boards.
This year, AQA delivered over three million GCSE results and almost 400,000 A-level results, a fantastic achievement that represents the contributions of so many people, including students, teachers, exams officers, examiners and moderators. It’s been challenging, but everyone has been committed to ensuring that these students get the results they deserve.
Head of Standards and Awarding
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