GCSE and A-Level Exams

12 May 2017
Students begin GCSE and A-Level exams.

Today marks the start of Year 11 pupils and A-Level student’s exam period. This year there have been significant changes to the GCSE grading, AS/A level assessment and Performance Table Measures (Progress 8).

Progress 8

In previous years all schools’ and academies’ examination results were measured on how many pupils achieved five GCSEs at grades A*-C including English and mathematics.

From 2016 all pupils, schools and academies are measured on how much progress their pupils make from their achievement at Key Stage 2 in Year 6 to when they complete their exams at the end of Year 11. This is known as ‘Progress 8’ and was designed to encourage all pupils to study a broad and balanced curriculum. The Progress 8 measure is based on pupils’ progress measured across eight subjects and is a comparison of their progress against the progress of all other students nationally. Progress 8 should be a fairer way for schools and academies to demonstrate their impact and will stop them prioritising students who are on the borderline of achieving a pass (Grade C). This is because targets will be set for each and every student, based on their Key Stage 2 examination results, which they then have five years (Year 7 to 11) to achieve.

GCSE 9 to 1

This year students will receive a mixture of number and letter grades. GCSEs in English language, English literature and mathematics will be graded 9–1, rather than A*–G. Most other subjects will adopt the numbers system by 2019. The new system has been brought in to signal that GCSEs have been reformed and to better differentiate between students of different abilities. To find out more, click here.


Students may study traditional A-levels (academic) or equivalent courses of study (vocational). New AS and A level qualifications were being introduced in England from September 2015 and so this summer will be the first set of results for the new A-level courses. This mean that results for some subjects will be completely incomparable to last year’s. To find out more about which what subjects will be affected by changes, click here.

Under the old system being phased out, AS-levels were studied in Year 12, with exams taken in May-June that were worth 50% of an overall A-level qualification. Under the new system being introduced, all A-level exams will take place at the end of Year 13, with no marks from AS-levels contributing to the overall final grade. Across the board, there will also be less coursework and fewer practical assessments under the new system - making that exam revision all the more important. Grades will continue to be awarded on an A*-E scale.

We understand that exam season can be a stressful period of time so here are some top tips we recommend for optimising productivity and keeping calm;

1. Starting the day right – On the day of an exam it is normal to feel anxious/nervous but it’s important to remain calm and mental prepare yourself. Make sure you don’t hit the snooze button as being late could have big consequences. Try to wake up a little extra early so that you have plenty of time to get organised. You can also open a window to get some fresh air whilst eating a healthy breakfast that will keep you fuelled during an exam.

2. Taking it easy on the caffeine – During exam periods a lot of people reach for coffee and energy drinks right before an exam and whist studying. But facts show that caffeinated drinks do give you a short term buzz of energy, they also come with a sugar crush that can slow productivity for the brain and increase tiredness. We recommend drinking plenty of water instead as this has a proven production enhancer for the brain.

3. Staying active and healthy – When study for long periods of time your bod will naturally begin to stiffen as you’re not moving most of your muscle so why not take a 30 minutes stroll during a break. The fresh air will also boost brain power.

4. Having the right amount of sleep – Sometimes taking a quick 5 minutes nap or evening just resting your eyes can help productivity as resting your brain for a short period of time can encourage fresh thinking and reduce headaches. Also studies suggest that teenagers aged 13 – 19 need roughly 11 hours of sleep everyday so make sure you go to bed on times and don’t spend all night on your phone.

5. Taking time to relax – It’s important to take time to chill out and let you brain wind down in the evening so why not have a pamper session before bed or relax in a hot bath. Having time to relax is so important for remaining stress free.

6. Treating yourself – Once exams are over you can finally relax and enjoy the summer so why not treat yourself for working so hard. Maybe it’s a pair of trainers you’ve wanted or a fun day out. Now it the perfect time to chill out and take it easy ready for moving on to the next chapter in your life.

We would like to wish all students the very best of luck with their exam - you are all #GATchampions to us!