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A Level Grades

A Level Grades

If you thought A Level Grades were the same as your GCSEs – think again! The grading system works very differently, and it’s all down to recent reforms of the education system. But there is no need to panic! Knowledge is power, so make sure you read on below to find out how the A Level grading system works, and what this all means for you.

GCSE vs A Level Grades

If you have taken them recently in England, your GCSE grades were most likely awarded a grade of somewhere between 1-9 (hopefully more towards the higher numbers, of course!). But that’s now how A Levels are graded, but until recently the grading systems were more similar. In the past, GCSEs were graded between A* and G, with A* being the highest score you can be awarded  – and this can still be seen in Northern Ireland and Wales. This grading structure, using letters, is what is still used in A Level grades.

What might be helpful is to compare the new and the old GCSE grading structure, as this will help you see, by comparison, how A Levels grades work.

To illustrate this, below is a handy comparison of the current GCSE grading structure, as opposed to the previous system.

Body with open book reading about A Level Grades.

GCSE Grading System

Current: Past

Highest marks: 9-8-7: A*/A

Average marks: 6-5-4: B/C

Lowest marks: 3-2-1: D/E/F/G

U: U  (Not passed)

At A Level, the grading structure still uses the A*-G grading above.

Benchmark for A Level Grades

So now you know what grades could be awarded to you at A Level. But what do you need to do to achieve a grade? What are the benchmarks? Well, they are based on percentages. For an A* grade, you need to have marks of 90% or above. This means, if you are sitting an exam where number of the total available marks to gain is 100, you will have had to get 90 marks to get an A*. So that means almost all your responses in the exam would have had to be correct according to the mark scheme, for you to get that mark. This can be illustrated as below:

A Level Grades – Percentage

A*        90–100

A          80–89

B          70–79

C         60–69

D         50–59

E          40–49

Not classified

What A Level grades are a pass?

At A Level, anything above an E counts as a pass. However, if you are planning on going to university, many have entry requirements requiring much higher grades than that. So, as you plan your A Level journey, it is worth noting which university and course you may want to study and checking out the entry requirements, which are usually available on the respective websites. It will give you an indication of what you might want to aim for, and therefore plan your A Level journey accordingly with your tutor.

How do A Levels translate to UCAS points?

Speaking of university applications, you may be aware that you will be asked to submit an application form called UCAS. Here, your A Level Grades really come into play, as they each translate into ‘points’. The more points you have, the more attractive an applicant you will be to your chosen universities, as it simply easily tells a university that you have higher grades and allows them to compare you to other applicants. Some universities explicitly state on their sites how many UCAS points they require as a condition of entry, and the UCAS website has a Tariff calculator to help you work out how many you might get based on your predicted grades.

What if the exam is really hard one year, how do they grade it?

There is actually a process that A Level exam boards use to make sure the results reflect how hard the exams are in any given year. That means your grade might be adjusted up or down, depending on how tough the exam was in comparison with previous years. This process happens automatically, so there’s nothing for you to do here!

Teacher and female student smiling at the whiteboard doing maths equations

What happens if the grade I get is below what I think it should be? Can I do anything about that to get that grade higher?

It’s worth noting that in arts subjects, which can be more subjective to mark, the interpretation of the mark scheme plays a crucial part in awarding marks. Appealing A Level grades for such subjects is therefore increasingly common, if the student strongly feels that the examiners have made a mistake. The first step would be to ask your school or 6th form college to review your grade, and then ask them to appeal to the exam board which set and examined your exam, if you are all on the same page that the grade you’ve got is not quite right.

For more information about exam boards, check out our article which covers the ins and outs of exam boards and how they work.

A Level Grades – not just a bunch of letters

Knowing how your A Levels will be graded can provide some much-needed clarity as you embark on the next stage of your journey in education. There are plenty of resources available to help you with achieving those top A*/A grades – and sometimes just speaking to your teacher or tutor can help set you on the right path, so speak up!

For further reading, you can find on How to pass A Levels and What to do if I fail my A Levels.