GCSEs can be difficult to understand. Whether it’s the content you don’t quite understand or the GCSE exams themselves, students can often anxious or overwhelmed by big exams like these. However, another thing that can be worrying for both students and their parents/ guardians is how the GCSEs are actually graded. Despite no longer being that “new”, the 9- 1 GCSE grading system can often leave students and their caregivers alike feeling a bit stumped.
Continue reading to have your boring questions about the 9- 1 GCSE grading system answered. This article will explain what this system really is, when it was introduced, what the grades actually mean and how it compares to the more familiar letter grades.
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What is the 9- 1 GCSE grading system?
The 9- 1 GCSE grading system is very simply one of the ways that GCSEs are graded. This grading system uses the number from 9 to 1 to represent different levels of grades that students can get in their GCSEs.
In this system, a grade 9 is the highest grade that students can get. On the other end, a grade 1 is the lowest grade that they can get with a U grade being below this but not quite counting as a grade. To learn more about this, check out this guide over at gov.uk, which will give you more information about the 9- 1 GCSE grading system.
In order to properly understand the 9- 1 GCSE grading system and what it is, it is also important to understand what these different grades mean. While this can be looked at by comparing them to the old A*- G grading system, which will be done later on in the article, it can be more useful to get a better understanding of these grades in themselves, based on how they compare to each other and what they allow you to be able to do. To learn more about this, check out the following section.
What do the 9- 1 GCSE grades mean?
A grade 9 is the highest grade that students can get and show that a student has performed excellently, especially as they were designed to be difficult to achieve.
A grade 8 is another one of the top grades and is once again an excellent achievement. Although not the highest grade, a grade 8 is still highly respected even by the top universities, such as Oxbridge.
A grade 7 is once again one of the top grades that you can get in your GCSEs. This makes it a great achievement, especially as a grade 7 is still very respected.
A grade 6 is a really good grade to get, especially as it shows that you’ve done more than just pass. A grade 6 is rather interesting grade as it is in-between the excellent top grades and the good passing grades and so how it is viewed can be a little bit more mixed.
A grade 5 is what is considered a “strong pass”. From even my own experience, I’ve found while they often still accept grade 4s, sixth forms and colleges sometimes require grade 5s instead, especially if you want to study that specific subject if it is a humanities or social science subject.
A grade 4 is the first passing grade in the 9- 1 GCSE grading system, so students will need to get at least a grade 4 to actually get the GCSE. In this system, it is considered a “standard pass”.
A grade 3 is just below a passing grade, meaning that if you get a grade 3 it will be a fail.
A grade 2 is the next grade down and is once again a failing grade.
A grade 1 is the lowest actual grade that you can get in the 9- 1 GCSE grading system.
A U grade is less of an actual grade as it stands for “ungraded” or “unclassified”. This means that the student got very few marks on the paper.
To learn more about these grades, check out this guide by Genie Tutors.
What is a pass in the 9- 1 GCSE grades?
Another way of understanding what the 9- 1 GCSE grades mean is to think about them in terms of pass and fail. In this system, students will need to get a grade 4 or above in order to pass, meaning that the passing grades are grades 9- 4. Due to this, entry requirements for sixth forms or colleges will often say that you need a certain number of GCSEs at grades 9- 4 in order to get in.
As previously mentioned, the minimum passing grade in the 9- 1 GCSE grading system is a grade 4. A grade 4 is considered a “standard pass”. This means that it is a technical pass, despite the fact that some entry requirements will be for slightly higher grades.
A grade 5 is also considered a pass. However, instead of a “standard pass” a grade 5 is considered a “strong pass”. This means that it is slightly more respected, as even government-produced school league tables use data from students getting grade 5 or above in core subjects, such as GCSE Maths or one of the GCSE English qualifications, rather than grade 4.
To learn more about this and what is considered a pass at GCSE, check out this article by the BBC.
What is a fail in the 9- 1 GCSE grades?
If a student gets less than a grade 4, this will mean that they have failed their GCSE course. This means that the student would have got a grade 3, 2, 1 or U.
The grades 1, 2 and 3 are at level 1 in the national qualification levels. As GCSEs are level 2 qualifications themselves, this is why these grades aren’t passing grades. To learn more about this, check out this page on the government website.
Unlike these, as mentioned above, a U grade isn’t quite a grade at all as it means “ungraded” or “unclassified. To learn more about this, check out this guide by Genie Tutors.
Is it hard to get a grade 9?
In the 9- 1 GCSE grading system, a grade 9 is the highest grade that you will be able to get. This may make you wonder how hard it is to achieve this top grade.
As the highest grade you can get, a grade 9 was designed to be difficult to achieve. In fact, part of it being created was so that less students would achieve a grade 9 compared to the number of students that achieved a grade A* in the lettered A*- G grading system. To learn more about this, check out this page on the government website.
This means that yes, it is hard to get a grade 9 in your GCSEs. This is especially as students who do get a grade 9 are considered to be the “best of the best” and so in order to get these grades, you’ll need to perform very well in your exams. To learn more about this, check out this article by Owl Tutors.
What is a good grade in the 9- 1 GCSE grading system?
The idea of a “good” grade is incredibly subjective as what each person will consider “good” depends on what they are able to achieve, what they’re aiming for and simply how they view these grades.
Typically, a “good” grade in the 9- 1 GCSE gaming system will often be a grade 5 or above. A grade 4 is still a pass, which is still something students should be proud of. However, a grade 5 is considered a “strong pass”, which is why I feel that it’s safe to say that it’s what is considered a “good” GCSE grade in this grading system.
However, as previously mentioned, it will depend on what you’re aiming for and what you can achieve. For example, if you are aiming to get into a prestigious sixth form or college or one of the top universities later on, then a “good” grade would be one of the top grades, such as grade 7s, grade 8s or grade 9s.
To learn more about what might be considered a “good” grade in the 9- 1 GCSE grading system, check out this Think Student article.
When was the 9- 1 GCSE grading system introduced?
The 9- 1 GCSE grading system was introduced in 2017. The first GCSE subjects to use these grades being GCSE English Language, GCSE English Literature and GCSE Maths.
Later on in 2018, more GCSE subjects began to use the 9- 1 GCSE grading system. For example, subjects such as GCSE History, GCSE Geography, GCSE Modern Languages (French, Spanish and German), GCSE Drama, GCSE Combined Science, GCSE Religious Studies and GCSE Computer Science.
Then in 2019, the 9- 1 GCSE grading system was later introduced to more subjects. For example, subjects such as GCSE Business, GCSE Electronics, GCSE Psychology, other GCSE Modern Languages (e.g., Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Polish, etc.), GCSE Media Studies, GCSE Sociology and GCSE Economics.
The final group of reformed GCSEs to have the 9- 1 GCSE grading system introduced to them were GCSE Ancient Languages (Biblical Hebrew) and more GCSE Modern Languages (e.g., Turkish, Gujarati and Portuguese).
To learn more about when these reformed GCSE were introduced with the 9- 1 GCSE grading system, check out this guide by the government.
Where is the 9- 1 GCSE grading system used?
Despite being considered the “new” GCSE grading system, the 9- 1 GCSE grading system isn’t actually used universally for GCSEs. In fact, it’s not even used throughout the whole of the UK for GCSEs.
The 9- 1 GCSE grading system is only actually used in England and for schools that use an English exam board.
In Wales, the traditional A*- G GCSE grading system is still used in largely the same way as before, so if you live in Wales and use the Welsh exam board, WJEC, the grades you receive for your GCSEs will be in the lettered grading system. This also means that if you live in Wales but have some of your GCSEs from an English exam board, such as AQA or OCR, you will be graded using the 9- 1 grading system.
In Northern Ireland, the A*- G grading system is also still used but it is slightly different to the traditional system. As part of the GCSE reformation process, the C* grade was added to the Northern Irish GCSE grading system.
This C* grade is roughly equivalent to a grade 5 and it means that this grading system also has 9 different grades like the 9- 1 grading system. To learn more about this, check out this article by the BBC.
Also, in other countries, where the IGCSE may be taken, whether the A*- G grading system or the 9- 1 grading system is used may depend on the exam board. For example, Cambridge International, which offers IGCSE and O-Level qualifications internationally, still uses the A*- G grading system due to it being more familiar. To learn more about this, check out this guide by Cambridge International.
9-1 GCSE grading system vs A*- G GCSE grading system
As mentioned above, one of the other ways to properly understand what the different 9- 1 grades actually are and what they mean is to compare them to the traditional and more familiar A*- G grading system.
While the 9- 1 GCSE grading system does appear to have been created in consideration of the A*- G grading system, these two systems still don’t quite match up. In fact, they don’t even have the same number of grades as the 9- 1 GCSE grading system has 9 separate grades, whereas the A*- G GCSE grading system only has 8 different grades.
A grade 9 in the numbered grading system is the equivalent to being slightly above the A* of the lettered grading system. This is why it was designed to be given out less frequently than the A* and so is arguably a more difficult grade to get.
For the most part, both a grade 8 and an A* grade are considered to be on about the same level. However, a grade 8 when considering how they exactly match up, a grade 8 is more of a low A*.
In the same way, a grade 7 is mostly equivalent to a grade A but it is once again more of a lower grade A. However, a grade 6 is considered a high grade B.
A grade 5 is a high grade C or sometimes you may hear it being referred to as a low grade B. A grade 4 is also equivalent to a grade C but this is equivalent to a low grade C.
A grade 3 is roughly equivalent to something in between the grade D and E. However, a grade 1 is still equivalent to a G grade.
Look at the following table to see how these grades roughly match up more clearly.
|9- 1 GCSE grading system||A*- G GCSE grading system|
To learn more about how these grades match up, check out this guide by Ofqual.
9- 1 GCSE grading system vs Pass, Merit and Distinction
Vocational qualifications, such as BTECs and CTECs, will typically use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system, rather than the lettered A*- G grading system or even the 9- 1 GCSE grading system. Due to this, if you study a BTEC First qualification, a CTEC or another vocational qualification as part of your GCSE options, it can be difficult to understand how these compare to the 9- 1 GCSE grades. Knowing how they compare can also help you to better understand how you are performing in your different subjects in comparison to each other.
When at “GCSE” level, these qualifications will often be at level 1/ level 2. This means that you can get each of the Pass, Merit and Distinction grades at two different levels.
A level 2 Distinction* grade is the highest grade that students can get in these types of qualifications. It is roughly equivalent to being slightly higher than a grade 8 but still below a grade 9. Then there is the normal Distinction grade, which is roughly equivalent to a grade 7.
Once again, not all the grades match up evenly. A Merit at level 2 is roughly equivalent to a grade 5.5, so it is pretty much in between a grade 5 and a grade 6. However, a level 2 Pass does match up quite well with a grade 4.
As mentioned above, GCSEs are level 2 qualifications and so the Pass, Merit and Distinction grades at level 1 aren’t equivalent to passing GCSE grades.
To see how the 9- 1 GCSE grades match up with the Pass, Merit and Distinction grades, including at level 1, check out the following table.
|9- 1 GCSE grading system||Level 1/ level 2 vocational qualifications|
|D* (level 2)|
|7||D (level 2)|
|M (level 2)|
|4||P (level 2)|
|3||D* (level 1)|
|2||D (level 1)|
|M (level 1)|
|1||P (level 1)|
For more information about all of this, check out this Think Student article.