How 2020 exam grades will be calculated

Exam cancellations and automated downgrades have led to fears of injustice

Students sit university exams in Hong Kong
Students in Hong Kong sitting exams earlier this year. In the UK, GCSEs and A-levels were cancelled
(Image credit: 2020 Getty Images)

The cancellation of exams due to the coronavirus lockdown has led to a makeshift system of exam grading for A-level and GCSE students.

Although final marks will be based on teachers’ predictions, “exam boards are expected to lower nearly 40% of grades using a computerised marking scheme”, says the Daily Mail.

For A-level students, that could mean missing out on a place at university.

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How does the system work?

In the absence of test scores, “teachers were asked to supply predicted grades and pupil rankings”, says The Guardian.

These marks, based on mock exams and coursework, were then “moderated using a statistical model designed to ensure consistency” and prevent teachers inflating predicted grades.

“If the evidence suggests a school has been a little too generous in how it thinks pupils would have performed,” says the BBC, “the school’s results will be adjusted downwards.”

What is the problem?

Since the number of top grades awarded will depend on schools’ track records, critics of the system have said it will fail to reward exceptional performance and entrench inequality.

“Ofqual has admitted that ‘high ability’ students at poor schools stand to get worse-than-deserved results this year because ‘they fall outside the pattern of results’ the computer model relies on,” says the Mail.

Can you appeal against a downgrade?

Individual pupils cannot challenge their grades. “If students believe their grades are too low and that they could have done better, then the only option is to take a new set of exams this autumn,” says The Telegraph.

Schools, however, “can appeal if they can show this year’s GCSE and A-level results do not reflect recent improvements”, the BBC reports.

However, since exam boards “have given themselves 42 days to resolve complaints”, says the Mail, revised grades would come too late for university admissions offices.

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