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GCSE changes explained

Get to grips with the new '9-1' GCSE grading structure and find out how GCSE curriculum changes will affect you - and your future university prospects.

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GCSE reforms: what's changed?

Exams and assessment

  • Most exams will be taken at the end of the two-year course rather than on completion of modules.
  • There will be fewer ‘bite-sized’ questions and more essay-style questions.
  • The content will be more challenging, with more substantial texts in English literature and a number of new topics in maths.
  • ​Everyone will have to do at least two science GCSEs (single science options have been dropped as of 2016).
  • Coursework and controlled assessment will disappear from most subjects, apart from practical ones such as art, dance and drama.
The changes to GCSEs are designed to make subject content and exams more challenging. New style GCSEs have been slowly introduced in England and Wales over the last two years (you can see the full timeline for changes to GCSEs here).

New GCSE grades explained

Grading will move to a 9-1 scale instead of the A*-G scaling.

In the new grading system:
  • 9 is higher than a current A*
  • 8 is between and A* and A.
  • 7 is are equal to an A
  • 6 is equivalent to a high B  
  • 5 is between a B and C (strong pass)
  • 4 is equal to a grade C (standard pass)
  • 3 is in between a D and E
  • 2 is between an E and F
  • 1 is a G
  • U refers to an ungraded paper
The table below compares the new grades 9-1 to the A*-G grading structure:

Wales and Northern Ireland

There are some differences to how GCSEs have changed in Wales and Northern Ireland:

  • Wales and Scotland will keep the A*-G grading scale, although Northern Irish students may end up with a mix of numerical and alphabetical grading (depending on the exam board).
  • In Wales, two maths GCSE qualifications will be taken by students, as well as new-style Welsh language qualifications.
GCSEs aren't taken in Scotland, so these reforms won't have an impact there.

What do I need to know this GCSE results day?

If you're picking up exam results on Thursday 24 August, your grades for English literature, English language and maths will look a little different to the rest of your results, with numerical 9-1 grades awarded rather than the alphabetical A*-G grades in those subjects.

As you can see in the table above, old and new grades don't match up like-for-like. However, a 4 is being classified as a standard pass, which can be broadly compared to a grade C, while a 5 is a strong pass.

Grades 9-7 are roughly equivalent to the old top grades of A* and A.

If you're unclear what your grades mean or how they compare, speak to a teacher.
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    How will this affect my future university application?

    University might seem a long way off when you’re deciding on your GCSEs or picking up your results, but your GCSE choices and your grades can directly impact your later options at sixth form or college - and ultimately, your university choices.

    Most universities look for at least Cs in GCSE English, maths and perhaps science - which means a grade 5 or 4 is likely to be required in future applications. Some university courses go further and list specific subjects and grades they expect you to have - so make sure you check directly with universities to find out their requirements. 

    If you've got an idea of the degree subject you want to study, take a look at the entry requirements for specific courses at universities and work back from there (i.e. 'This university course requires these A-levels; and to get on to this A-level course, I need these GCSEs...'.

    If you haven't got a clue about what you want to study at university just yet, then having a good mix of subjects – including both the traditional academic subjects featuring in the English Baccalaureate model and creative subjects you're interested in will help keep your options open.

    Our A-level Explorer tool can help with some early ideas.

    How A-level reforms change things

    Due to the changes to A-levels, GCSE grades are likely to play a more imporant role in university admissions. Because AS-levels will no longer count towards your final A-level grade, admissions staff are more likely to look further afield when considering your application; this may well include your GCSE grades.


    Waiting for GCSE results? See what to expect from results day, including how to prepare.
     

    Where could your A-levels take you?

    Enter your A-level choices below to find out

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