What Are “Good” GCSE Grades?

In GCSE by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

The word “good” is one of the most subjective words in the world because it means a lot of different things to many different people. This is similar to the way that GCSEs have varying levels of importance in the different people’s lives and careers. By knowing what kind of GCSE grades are deemed good, you can then consider the choices you have, and tailor your own academic pathway accordingly.  

In essence, a grade 4 or 5 would be considered “good” because the government has outlined the passing grade to be a 4 – a 4 is a standard pass and a grade 5 is considered a strong pass. Therefore, anything above this standard would technically be deemed good. For others, a grade 6, 7 or even an 8 would be considered good. This depends on the expectations that each individual student has about their own abilities. Essentially, any grade that you feel you are happy with above the standard pass grades of 4 or 5 can be labelled as ‘good’. As long as you try your best, you should be proud of the GCSE results that you achieve! 

Although the short answer can be found above, it is important to consider all of the factors that go into deciding what a ‘good’ GCSE grade looks like. I would recommend that you read the rest of this article to gain a deeper understanding of what pass grades, top grades, how GCSE grading works, and what GSCE grades are used for. 

What Are the GCSE Passing Grades? 

According to the official AQA website, the Government has said that a grade 4 is a ‘standard pass’. Grade 5 is a ‘strong pass’ and is equivalent to a high C and low B on the old grading system. 

The numerical system has relatively easy to read off relations to the old alphabetical grading, and so it is not too difficult to understand.  

Through secondary schooling, some schools might split up each grade into thirds, to signify student progress within each grade boundary. For example, a grade 4 could be split into 4.0, 4.3 and 4.7 or a 4-, 4, and 4+. Your own school will tell you about how their grading works, but it is just about showing progress in assessed work.  

On your official GCSE grades report you will only be given one number grade for each subject taken. You want these to be above a grade 4 for a pass.  

How Does the GCSE Grading System Work? 

Okay, now for the boring stuff: the grading system has recently changed from traditional letter grades to the new number system.  

The new number system was introduced in 2017, and since then students have been studying for the reformed GCSEs and in return receiving numerical grades, 9-1. The top grade is a 9, which is awarded to the top 2% of the country in each subject.  

Ofqual were in charge of deciding this new grading system, whereas the government is (and always has been) responsible for the curriculum being taught. 

Given that grades are a reflection of how well a student has done in absorbing the curriculum, as well as how well students have learnt to produce the answers that get the highest marks in their exams, Ofqual had to come up with a way to measure the new-found intensity of the GCSEs. 

Rewinding back to 2013, the government felt that our young people were not being stretched to their full capacity when compared to the rest of the world. Michael Gove, the then secretary of state for education, proposed the idea “to ensure that young people have access to qualifications that set expectations that match and exceed those in the highest performing jurisdictions.” (The full letter to Ofqual can be read here). 

Basically, this was to make sure that students here in the UK are being trained to become the fittest of the fit in an increasingly competitive world; to be ready to compete with – and exceed- everybody else. 

What Is The Top Grade You Can Get In Your GCSEs? 

Objectively speaking, if you were exceptionally studious, there was nothing stopping you from achieving a top grade: an A, an A*, an A**. Currently, the highest grade that you can achieve is a grade 9, and this can be equated to an A** in the old system. As I said before, this top grade is reserved for the top 2% of students in each subject across the entire country.   

As if the top grade A was not enough in the years 1988-1993, the “A” grade was placed second class behind a new A*, (1994-2019), with only the most ambitious and academically studious pupils striving after these top grades.  

Now, as I have said, the letter grading system has been replaced with numbers, and the grade 9 is a step up from an A*. Achieving this top grade is a huge achievement and requires a great deal of work.  

The politics of it all, I think I can safely say, is not the primary interest of the students that have been sitting these GCSEs. Howeverhere is a further elaboration to explain the comparisons between the old and new system to better aid our understanding of the pros and cons of the numbers when compared to their letter comparisons.  

Although the new grading system might make you feel anxious, there is nothing to worry about! Whether you are in primary or secondary school, the grading system is not something that massively affects your academic experience. Although there have been some changes to the exams that you take compared to years before you, you will be well prepared by your school experience! 

What Are GCSE Grades Used For? 

Your GCSE grades will be part of what decides your sixth form courses (without them, you’ll have a hard time doing your A-levels). Your grades will also eventually end up on your UCAS application – the most common route to applying for university.  

And if you’ve simply had enough of the classroom and so the sixth form and university path is not for you, these 10 or so grades will even go to your employer if you want to do an apprenticeship after completing Year 11 (again, UCAS have specific procedures and help on how to navigate potential apprenticeships as well). 

Progressing on to further education or employment is a lengthy process for a reason: it is to make sure that they have an idea of you, the person as a whole, rather than just 10 or so grades achieved whilst you were still a budding adolescent. 

Therefore, your GCSE grades should not technically have to be ultimatum if the rest of your application expresses your ability and passion in the best way possible, given of course, that such application is laid out in a way that will accommodate for this to happen.  

If you are at all worried about what your GCSE results will be, and how you will be able to progress into sixth form, apprenticeships or further education, I would recommend reading this helpful article.  

If you would like to read more about how important your GCSEs are and what they can be used for, you may want to have a read of this useful article.  

How Are GCSE Grades Assigned? 

Once you have completed your GCSE exams, they are sent off to be marked by examiners for each board. You will be given a mark by these examiners based on the work that you have done in the exam.  

Your paper will then usually be moderated by another examiner marking your paper. This is to ensure that there is no bias which has an effect on the grade that you receive overall (this is especially important for more subjective, essay-based subjects, such as English).  

After your exam papers have been marked and moderated, they are compared with everyone else’s papers and marks across the country. This is how the actual number grades that you will receive on results day are formulated.  

Grade boundaries are therefore not based on the percentage mark that you achieve across your exam (and so aren’t constant) but instead focus on your overall performance compared to the rest of the year 11s all across the country. This means that if the exams are particularly challenging one year, the same number of students will still be able to achieve those top grades.  

What Do Good GCSE Grades Depend On? 

What your good grades depend on are the obvious work ethic needed and the motivation. If you would like to find out more about the revision techniques that you can use to be successful in your GCSE exams, this useful article is something I would recommend reading. Motivation is key for success, and having the tools to make your revision that little bit easier and more effective is something that will be invaluable.  

There are, however, some other important things to consider when you are thinking about what your good grades depend on. As I have said throughout this article, good grades depend on who you are as an individual, and the expectations that you have of yourself.  

One of the ways that you can make the process of taking GCSEs much less stressful is by managing your expectations. Try not to put extra pressure on yourself based on how other people think you should perform in your exams – it can be very easy to allow other people’s judgements to cloud your own, and this is something that you should be trying to avoid at all costs! 

You should also try to identify exactly what the things are that are stressing you out about exams.  This could be potentially very beneficial in the long term, as it will enable you work on the issues that you specifically have, and minimising the effect of these problems could just improve your exams by making you feel more comfortable.  

If you don’t get the grades that you are hoping for in the end, remember that this is not the end of the world. Although it can be disappointing, this is not something that you should use to define yourself. As long as you have done your best, you should be proud of the achievements that you have made.  

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