You’ve probably heard a lot about the new GCSEs being designed to be more difficult. And it’s true that the questions are harder and that their purpose is to push talented students further.
However, contrary to common opinion – and, you might think, common sense - this doesn’t make it harder to get a good grade.
How, you might ask? How can an exam which is deliberately more difficult not make it – well – more difficult?
Say hello to your new best friend: grade boundaries.
Grade boundaries are the marks you need to achieve a certain grade. The boundaries change slightly every year so that no year group is disadvantaged by an unusually easy or difficult exam. For example, if the average mark needed for a C is 30%, you might need 28% to get a C in a more difficult year, while 32% will get you a C for an easier paper.
When the government decided to introduce these significantly harder GCSEs in order to stretch advanced students, they wanted to make sure everyone else wasn’t disadvantaged. To achieve this, they lowered the grade boundaries considerably across the board.
To achieve a grade C pass on the old-style GCSE Maths Foundation tier exam, you would have typically needed around 70%. To get the equivalent grade 4 pass on the new (9-1) GCSE Maths Foundation tier exam in summer 2017, you only needed 51%.
To achieve a C pass on the Maths Higher tier exam, you would have typically needed 30% in previous years. To get a grade 4 in summer 2017, you only needed 17%.