Students can choose A-Level and GCSE exam topics next year - Ofqual and education minister confirm

Pupils taking GCSE and A-level exams in England next year will be given advance notice on the focus of exam papers and more lenient grading than before the pandemic to make up for Covid disruption.

Students will also be offered exam aids and a choice of topics in some exams during the 2022 summer series, the Government has confirmed.

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'Exams fairest way to assess'

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “We’ve put fairness at the heart of our approach and listened to pupils, teachers and parents.

“The measures we’re putting in place will help reduce the impact of the significant disruption this group of young people have had to face – allowing them to move on to the next stage of their lives.

“We are committed to rigorous standards being fairly applied, and exams are the fairest way to assess students, which is why they will take place next year.”

More pupils are set to be given higher grades next year than before the pandemic to provide a “safety net” for the cohort of students who have missed out on learning during school and college closures.

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'Results back to normal in 2023'

But results are expected to return to normal standards by 2023, according to the Department for Education (DfE) and exams regulator Ofqual.

It comes after the proportion of GCSE and A-level entries awarded the top grades surged to a record high this year after results were determined by teachers amid cancelled exams due to Covid-19.

The DfE and Ofqual have confirmed a choice of topics in some GCSE exams, such as English literature and history, will be offered, and support materials in exams, such as formulae and equation sheets in maths and physics, will be provided.

For subjects where a choice of topics are not provided, advance information on the focus of exam content will be given in early February to help students with their revision.

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The final decisions come after a joint consultation launched in July.

'Students needed information sooner'

But education unions say giving advanced information about exam content in the spring will be too late for teachers to prepare their pupils for the exams.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, was concerned that schools and colleges will not be given advance information on exam content to help with revision until February 7.

He said: “Providing this information sooner would help to reduce the differential impact of the pandemic on students so far.”

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Grade boundaries will be set by exam boards reflecting a midway point between 2021 and 2019 results – so more students get higher grades in 2022 than before the pandemic – to reflect the recovery period.

It is understood that overall next summer’s results are likely to be higher than in 2019, but not as high as in 2020.

But the grading standards for students who are due to sit their exams in summer 2023 are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels.

This year, 44.8% of UK A-level entries were awarded an A or A* grade, compared with 38.5% entries which achieved the top grades in 2020.

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In 2019, when exams were last run before the pandemic, 25.5% of entries achieved the top grades.

Students will receive their AS and A-level results on August 18 and their GCSE results on August 25 – a week apart.

It comes after A-level and GCSE results day were both held in the same week last summer.

Teacher-assessed grades back-up plan

It is the Government’s intention that exams will take place next year, but the Government and Ofqual have also published proposals for using teacher-assessed grades as a contingency measure if exams cannot run.

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A consultation on proposed contingency plans will run until October 13.

Dr Jo Saxton, Ofqual’s chief regulator, said: “Our grading approach will recognise the disruption experienced by students taking exams in 2022.

“It will provide a safety net for those who might otherwise just miss out on a higher grade, while taking a step back to normal.

“Exams and other formal assessments are the best and fairest means of assessing students’ achievements.

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“Choice in some subjects and advance information to support revision are intended to provide support for all as we emerge from the pandemic.”

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