This article on the new A-level and GCSE exams includes the latest information up to 30 July 2016
A level and GCSE are changing over the next few years. Each A level’s content is being revised but the major change comes with the exams, which will all be ‘linear’ ie taken at the end of the course. AS, while it survives, will not count towards the A-level grade and resitting will involve redoing all the exams. The new A-level and GCSE exams are being phased in. First teaching started in September 2015. GCSE has already become linear, and GCSE subjects will become ‘more challenging’. Coping with the changes will pose new problems for students and their teachers. Expect some shifts in national results statistics as change is introduced.
An overview of the new A-level and GCSE exams
The Department for Education is pushing through big changes to GCSE, AS and A-level exams, aimed at making them more ‘fit for purpose’. In practice most of the changes will make exams tougher. From a student’s perspective the most challenging reform is the abolition of modular examining. All exams will be done at the end of the course, and retaking bits of the exam to improve overall grades won’t be possible.
AS exams will continue but will not count towards A-level marks. Some schools will continue to use the exam as a useful target for students (in the ‘old days’ when A level was linear, students often took it pretty easy in lower sixth).
Will universites be interested in the new AS? Cambridge say 'yes' but many haven't decided. Will able students still be encouraged to do 4 subjects in lower sixth? This may become the exception as schools watch costs and worry about difficulty levels.
The new A and AS ‘specifications’ will be brought in over the next four years, key subjects first. Teaching started in September 2015, and first new-style A-level exams will take place in June 2017.
A and AS will keep the same A*-E pass marks, but exams will include a wider range of question types, and coursework will be examined only if it is essential to assessing the subject.
A levels not deemed to be ‘key subjects’ are undergoing a ratification process which will see most of them survive albeit often in a ‘tougher’ form. Some such as Environmental Studies and Human Biology will be dropped. You can find full details on the OFQUAL website.
GCSE exams have already gone linear, and further changes lie ahead, with revised and often harder content and exam questions, and a new 9 (best) to 1 grading system. Coursework will be cut back (for instance GCSE Maths now doesn't involve any) and fewer subjects will offer ‘tiered’ exams (different exam papers aimed at higher / lower achievers). Time scales and review of ‘minority’ subjects will be along the same lines as A level.
It will be more difficult for OFQUAL and the exam boards to keep year-on-year results to the same standard over the next few years as content, exams and candidature change. Fluctuations are inevitable.
For more background see our news article from 2012, No January A level and other changes.
The sections which follow describe the changes in detail. Just click on the + sign to expand the section you want to read.