Here’s why A Level students in the UK will be graded more ‘generously’ in 2022

a level exams in wales
Students sitting for the GCSE and A Level exams in Wales and the UK this year will be graded more generously than in pre-pandemic years. Source: Frederick Florin/AFP

Exam season is upon us, and A Levels are in full swing. Students sitting for the A Level exams in Wales and the UK, however, can expect to be graded more “generously” this year.

According to Wales Online, the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) came under fire this week after an English A Level paper contained an error, while there were also complaints that some maths papers have been “ridiculously hard”.

WJEC apologised after four pages were left out of an A Level exam leaving candidates without questions about texts they had studied. 

When students opened the papers for their English language and literature A Level on June 7, 2022, they were shocked to find expected questions on three Shakespeare plays weren’t there. Students thought they were taught the wrong texts. 

WJEC said affected students will receive grades based on other questions they had answered on the paper, course work and other papers sat for the exam.

There were also complaints that the WJEC AS maths exam included questions that were not on the exam content specification. 

Ofqual has also previously said that students studying for their GCSEs and A Level exams this year across the UK will be graded more generously than in pre-pandemic years to make up for the effects COVID-19 has had on learning.

In 2020 and 2021, students were given marks based on assessments by their teachers, instead of sitting exams, to reduce the spread of the virus.

A Level exams in Wales

The A Level exams in Wales have been nothing short of controversy. Source: Martin Bureau/AFP

A Level exams in Wales: What to know about grade boundaries

Quoting the WJEC, Wales Online reported that grading will be lower than for the last two years of assessed grades, exam content has been cut by as much as 40% in summer 2022 and “grading will be more generous than in a normal year”.

While some grade boundaries are expected to be lowered this summer, that doesn’t mean all will be, said Elaine Carlile, the WJEC’s Director of qualifications and assessment and responsible officer (CORR).

Grade boundaries are the minimum number of marks needed to achieve each grade. While exam boards strive to ensure that exam papers are written to the same level of difficulty, small variations are inevitable each year. 

Grade boundaries help ensure that students are not disadvantaged by papers varying from one year to the next. Once all the marking has been completed this summer, the WJEC’s awarding committee will decide where to set this year’s grade boundaries. 

Before COVID-19, they would have considered the previous summer’s results. With no sat exams since 2019, they will look at a “midway point” between those results and assessed grades in 2021, said the report.

In setting grade boundaries, principal examiners look at how all students performed on each question. If most found a question hard or easy, boundaries can go up or down accordingly. 

“We are not comparing grade boundaries this year to a normal year. We are looking at a mid-way point between 2019 and 2021. The regulator Qualifications Wales will provide methodology on that soon,” Carlile was quoted saying.

“There may be some situations where grade boundaries are lowered, or, where adaptations are in place, grade boundaries may be adjusted. That’s on a qualification-by-qualification basis. We have to make sure we meet the policy that people expect generous grading this year (to take account of varied COVID-19 disruption to teaching and learning).”

Carlile also denied that any questions were made harder to balance out lowering grade boundaries. “We would never go out to make an exam harder than it should be. We don’t ask the same questions every year but we always make sure questions are comparable in standard,” she said.

She added that Qualifications Wales has announced a policy for more generous grading this year. “We have not done anything this year to compensate against that,” she said. “Questions on papers this year are not harder than pre-pandemic. With maths (AS and A level) there was a reformed specification in 2018 and 2019.

“I have looked at some of the comments on social media where people say they have done lots of papers going back, but those pre-2018 would have been a different specification. Schools should be aware of this and it is clear on our website.”

She also said that “no content that should not be there is there” and that they are doing “everything we can to make sure this summer’s grades are fair”.

In the UK, A Level Results Day will fall on Aug. 18, 2022.