What are the Hardest & Easiest Exam Boards at GCSE?

In GCSE by Think Student Editor7 Comments

GCSEs are the most important exams in any student’s life. They have a huge impact in determining your education and employment trajectory! This means that you want to have the best experience and achieve the best grades – but you can only do that if you have the easiest exam board, right? However, there are 4 different UK exam boards, so how do you decide which are the hardest and easiest?

This article will be discussing the grade boundaries and attainment rate for the UK GCSE exam boards and showing you the easiest and hardest exam boards for the compulsory GCSEs.

Disclaimer: All the UK exam boards are regulated by Ofqual, meaning that they are not designed to be easier or harder than each other. Which exam board you find the easiest or hardest is up to your personal abilities and experiences.

What are the exam boards for GCSEs in the UK?

There are four exam boards that mark GCSEs in the UK: AQA, OCR, Pearson Edexcel and WJEC Eduqas. These are all regulated by Ofqual. As stated by the government website, exam boards “develop, mark, and award GCSEs”.

You can read more about this on this page of the government website.

What exam board a student sits an exam under for their GCSEs depends on their school. Exam boards are not necessarily “easier” or “harder” than others, because they are all regulated by Ofqual, but students may find different exam boards easier or harder to work with, depending on their capabilities as a student.

For example, some exam boards have “foundation” and “higher” papers for some GCSEs. If you want to know which GCSEs have foundation and higher papers, check out this Think Student article. Similarly, this Think Student article can tell you all about the differences between foundation and higher tier GCSEs.

I’ll be taking you through the structures of each exam board and comparing them later in this article, so keep reading!

What is the hardest exam board for GCSE Maths?

We are going to look at lots of data to help us determine which exam board is the hardest, but before we do please take the time to vote in our poll, letting us know what you think.

Which exam board do you think is hardest for GCSE Maths?

* This poll is anonymous. Only your vote and the time it was submitted will be sent to Think Student Ltd.

Below is a table of the grade boundaries for GCSE Maths in 2022. The grade boundaries for GCSE Maths under WJEC Eduqas are from 2019 as these are the latest provided. The total possible marks for GCSE Maths is 240 for AQA, Eduqas and Edexcel, and 300 for OCR.

 

Foundation

Higher

Grade AQA OCR Edexcel Eduqas AQA OCR Edexcel Eduqas
1 33 19 32 22
2 67 52 66 51
3 101 85 100 80 33 26 21 22
4 135 119 135 110 51 45 38 36
5 172 170 173 140 86 82 71 64
6 121 120 104 93
7 156 158 137 122
8 185 200 165 158
9 214 242 194 195

Grade 4 is the minimum mark required to pass GCSE Maths. Based on the pass mark, AQA and Edexcel, and AQA are the hardest exam boards for foundation and higher GCSE Maths respectively. WJEC Eduqas is the easiest exam board for both foundation and higher GCSE Maths.

Looking at the minimum mark required to achieve a grade 9 in GCSE Maths, it is easiest to achieve a grade 9 under Pearson Edexcel, and hardest to achieve a grade 9 under OCR. This Think Student article has a really helpful students guide for the best revision websites for Maths GCSE.

Here is another table, which shows the percentage of grades achieved for GCSE Maths under each exam board, in 2022.

Grade attainment rate (%)

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
AQA 0.1 0.2 0.6 1.2 3.6 22.4 63.5 85.1 95.6
OCR 4.72 11.35 19.8 28.27 48.3 67.68 79.5 90.14 98.33
Edexcel 4.5 11.7 20.5 31.9 48.6 65.8 79 90.2 97.5
Eduqas 0.9 1.8 3.0 4.4 14.8 27.9 48.0 69.5 90.1

Based on the percentage of students that achieved a passing grade (Grade 4), AQA is the hardest exam board and OCR is the easiest exam board for GCSE Maths.

However, based on the percentage of students that achieved a Grade 7 (grade A equivalent) or higher, AQA is the hardest exam board and Edexcel is the easiest exam board for GCSE Maths.

How do the UK exam boards structure GCSE Maths?

Below is a table that breaks down the structure for GCSE Maths exams under each UK exam board.

Exam board Total number of papers Total length of exams Content distribution Marks by paper Total marks
AQA 3 4 hours, 30 minutes Paper 1: Non-calculator

Paper 2: Calculator

Paper 3: Calculator

80 240
OCR 3 4 hours, 30 minutes Paper 1: Calculator

Paper 2: Non-calculator

Paper 3: Calculator

100 300
Edexcel 3 4 hours, 30 minutes Paper 1: Non-calculator

Paper 2: Calculator

Paper 3: Calculator

80 240
Eduqas 2 4 hours, 30 minutes Paper 1: Non-calculator

Paper 2: Calculator

120 240

Which exam board structure you find the easiest or hardest depends on how you work. As you can see from the table, exam boards are almost equally as difficult – for example, even though Eduqas has 1 less exam paper, they are 45 minutes longer than the other exam board papers.

Overall, based on the data above, AQA is the hardest exam board for GCSE Maths, and Edexcel is the easiest exam board for GCSE Maths. However, which exam board you find the most difficult depends on your personal experience.

What is the hardest exam board for GCSE English?

Before we delve into the data, please take the time to vote in our poll to let us know which exam board you think is the hardest.

Which exam board do you think is the hardest for GCSE English?
Different students have different opinion on exam boards. Let us know what your opinion is below.

* This poll is anonymous. Only your vote and the time it was submitted will be sent to Think Student Ltd.

Below is a table of the grade boundaries for GCSE English in 2022; again, the most recent data provided by WJEC Eduqas is from 2019.

The total marks for GCSE English is 200 for Eduqas, 260 (Literature) and 160 (Language) for AQA, and 120 (Literature) and 160 (Language) for Edexcel and OCR. AQA English Literature is split into 3 option papers, so an average across 3 papers was taken for the grade boundaries.

English Literature

English Language

Grade AQA OCR Edexcel Eduqas AQA OCR Edexcel Eduqas
1 10 8 11 28 16 25 19 20
2 23 18 24 47 34 39 38 37
3 36 28 37 66 52 53 57 54
4 49 39 51 85 70 67 77 72
5 62 52 61 98 80 78 87 86
6 74 65 72 111 90 90 97 100
7 87 78 83 125 100 102 108 114
8 99 89 92 137 109 114 117 127
9 111 100 101 150 119 126 127 141

Grade 4 is the minimum mark required to pass GCSE English. Based on the pass mark, WJEC Edquas and Pearson Edexcel are the hardest exam boards for GCSE English Literature and English Language respectively. OCR is the easiest exam board for both GCSE English Literature and English Language.

Looking at the minimum mark required to achieve a grade 9 in GCSE English Literature, it is easiest to achieve a grade 9 under OCR, and hardest to achieve a grade 9 under WJEC Eduqas. For GCSE English Language, it is easiest to achieve a grade 9 under AQA, and hardest to achieve a grade 9 under WJEC Eduqas.

For revision tips for GCSE English Literature, this Think Student article has some helpful advice. Alternatively, this Think Student article is really helpful if you want advice on how to do well in GCSE English Language.

Below is the data for grade attainment in GCSE English in 2022. The data is shown for GCSE English Language, because this is compulsory across all schools, which you can read more about in this Think Student article. For statistics for GCSE English Literature, see the sources at the end of this article.

Grade attainment rate (%)

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
AQA 3.6 10.2 20.3 36.4 54.3 70.5 88.5 95.7 98.9
OCR 9.43 22.08 38.49 54.9 70.86 82.18 91.7 96.59 98.86
Edexcel 4.2 10.6 20.5 36.9 52.7 67 86.1 94 98.4
Eduqas 3.9 9.7 19.6 35.9 53.1 69.2 83.8 92.9 97.6

Based on the percentage of students that achieved a passing grade (Grade 4), OCR is the hardest exam board and Edexcel is the easiest exam board for GCSE English.

However, based on the percentage of students that achieved a Grade 7 (grade A equivalent) or higher, WJEC Eduqas is the hardest exam board and OCR is the easiest exam board for GCSE English.

How do the UK exam boards structure GCSE English?

Below is a table that breaks down the structure for GCSE English exams under each UK exam board.

Exam board Total number of papers Total length of exams Content distribution Marks by paper Total marks
AQA 4 7 hours 30 mins Paper 1: Explorations in Creative Reading and Writing / Shakespeare and the 19th-century novel

Paper 2: Writers’ viewpoints and perspectives / Modern texts and poetry

80 (Language)

64 and 96 (Literature)

320
OCR 4 8 hours Paper 1: Communicating information and ideas / Exploring modern and literary heritage texts

Paper 2: Exploring effects and impact / Exploring poetry and Shakespeare

80 320
Edexcel 4 7 hours 50 mins Paper 1: Fiction and imaginative writing / Shakespeare and post-1914 literature

Paper 2: Non-fiction and transactional writing / 19th-century novel and poetry since 1789

80 (Language)

64 and 96 (Literature)

320
Eduqas 4 7 hours 15 mins Paper 1: 20th century reading and creative prose writing / Shakespeare and poetry

Paper 2: 19th and 21st century non-fiction study and transactional writing / post-1914 prose/drama, 19th century prose and unseen poetry

80 (Language)

80 and 120 (Literature)

280

As the table shows, GCSE English across all exam boards is relatively balanced. Most exam boards have the same total marks, and all boards have 4 papers.

Overall, based on the data above, WJEC Eduqas is the hardest exam board for GCSE English, and OCR is the easiest exam board for GCSE English. However, which exam board you find the most difficult depends on your personal experience.

If you are interested in comparing GCSE English Language and Literature check out this Think Student article.

What is the hardest exam board for GCSE Science?

Before we get into the data why don’t you let us know what you think the hardest exam board is by voting in our poll.

Which exam board do you think is the hardest for GCSE Combined Science?
Different students have different opinion on exam boards. We'd love to hear what you think for GCSE Combined Science.

If you took triple science at GCSE please vote in the poll below.

Which exam board do you think is hardest for GCSE Triple Science?

Below is a table of the grade boundaries for GCSE Science in 2022 (2019 for WJEC Eduqas).

Combined and Triple Science are split into higher and foundation tiers, but only data for higher tier is shown in this table. The data for foundation tier Combined and Triple Science can be found in the sources at the end of this article. It is important to note that combined science offers a double grade. So the data in the table below can’t be directly compared to triple science. This Think Student article explains the differences between Combined and Triple Science if you want more information.

For the Triple Science GCSE papers, an average was taken across the 3 sciences.

Combined

Triple

Grade AQA OCR Edexcel Eduqas AQA OCR Edexcel Eduqas
1
2
3 80 89 81 54 38 32 43 39
4 89 96 90 62 48 41 54 50
5 126 124 126 94 68 57 75 76
6 164 152 162 126 88 74 97 96
7 202 181 198 158 109 92 119 120
8 238 209 232 188 125 107 137 140
9 276 237 266 219 142 123 156 160

Grade 4 is the minimum mark required to pass GCSE Science. Based on the pass mark, OCR and Pearson Edexcel are the hardest exam boards for GCSE Combined and Triple Science respectively. WJEC Eduqas and OCR are the easiest exam boards for GCSE Combined and Triple Science.

Looking at the minimum mark required to achieve a grade 9 in GCSE Science, it is easiest to achieve a grade 9 under WJEC Eduqas and OCR for Combined Science, and hardest to achieve a grade 9 under AQA and WJEC Eduqas for Triple Science.

If you’re unsure whether to take Combined or Triple Science, this Think Student article discusses the pros and cons of GCSE Triple Science.

Below is another table, which shows the percentage of grades achieved for GCSE Science under each exam board in 2022 (and 2019 for Eduqas). These statistics are for Combined Science, as 69% of UK students entered for GCSE Science sit Combined Science, as reported by STEM Learning.

 

Grade attainment rate (%)

99 88 77 66 55 44 33 22 11
AQA 1.3 4.4 10.4 20.7 39.4 60.8 83.2 94 98.2
OCR 1.31 4.01 9.86 19.1 37.92 59.2 80.78 92.24 97.7
Edexcel 1.4 4.5 10.7 20.7 39.8 60.9 79.8 91.7 97.8
Eduqas 0.5 1.6 4.7 16.3 34.7 55.3 78.4 88.9 96.8

Based on the percentage of students that achieved a passing grade (Grade 44), Pearson Edexcel is the hardest exam board and WJEC Eduqas is the easiest exam board for GCSE Science.

However, based on the percentage of students that achieved a Grade 77 (grade A equivalent) or higher, WJEC Eduqas is the hardest exam board and Pearson Edexcel is the easiest exam board for GCSE Science.

Overall, based on the data above, Pearson Edexcel is the hardest exam board for GCSE Science, and WJEC Eduqas is the easiest exam board for GCSE Science.

As mentioned throughout the article, the exam boards that you find the hardest and easiest depend on your skillset as a student. What you find difficult or easy may not be the same as other students, so it’s up to you on which exam board you think is the easiest and hardest!

Sources

Throughout this article many statistics have been used. Linked below are all the sources for the statistics and data used in this article.

Grade boundaries and results

The grade boundaries for GCSEs (linked here) and grades achieved (linked here for GCSE Maths and here for GCSE English and Science) under AQA in 2022.

The grade boundaries for GCSEs (linked here) and grades achieved (linked here) under OCR in 2022.

The grade boundaries for GCSEs (linked here) and grades achieved (linked here) under Pearson Edexcel in 2022.

The grade boundaries for GCSEs (linked here) and grades achieved (linked here) under WJEC Eduqas in 2019.

Specifications

AQA GCSE Maths specification, linked here.

OCR GCSE Maths specification linked here.

Pearson Edexcel GCSE Maths specification, linked here.

WJEC Eduqas GCSE Maths specification, linked here.

AQA GCSE English Literature specification, linked here, and English Language specification, linked here.

OCR GCSE English Literature specification, linked here, and English Language specification, linked here.

Pearson Edexcel GCSE English Literature specification, linked here, and English Language specification, linked here.

WJEC Eduqas GCSE English Literature specification, linked here, and English Language specification, linked here.

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jerome
jerome
1 year ago

OCR ON TOP

Zayaan Ali
Zayaan Ali
Reply to  jerome
1 year ago

You are objectively wrong due to OCR’s overall difficulty in various subjects. While they are the front runners in the subject of Computer Science, they are known for their overall difficulty and hatred. Therefore, AQA is the best!

Lucy Wratten
Lucy Wratten
1 year ago

lol, no for humanities subject edexcel is the most popular

kjfh
kjfh
1 year ago

my school does ocr for sciences – no wonder everyone’s failing!

Zayaan Ali
Zayaan Ali
1 year ago

Personally, I believe that AQA is the most well-rounded exam board, while Edexcel does have some strong points – AQA does seem to be the best all across the board. However, Edexcel does come in front in the subject of Maths due to its widespread use and popularity, a very important metric to consider when making these important descisions. Eduqas and OCR are not good due to their difficulty and lower overall grades. Therefore, AQA is the best!

jasmine
7 months ago

aqa ontopppppppp

jjjjjjij
jjjjjjij
1 month ago

Maths AQA LMAO