GCSEs and A-levels: What you need to know about how exams are changing in 2022

A-level and GCSE students will be given more “generous” marks this summer, the exam watchdog has said, as it confirmed that students will be given a “safety net” to make up for the disruption they have faced. 

For almost all GCSE and A-level subjects, pupils have been told which topics they will be examined on during the summer.

On February 7, exam boards published information for schools detailing which topics will appear on exam papers to help students focus their revision. 

Pupils should not be given so much information that they are able to memorise answers to write in exams, since this would give some an unfair advantage over their peers, Ofqual said. 

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said that he “firmly intends” for exams to go ahead as normal and insisted that the plans are “fair.” It comes despite a drive to get education back to normal after nearly two years of disruption.

Education unions have backed the move, but claimed it does not go far enough, and that similar contingency measures should be enforced in the coming years.

The grading arrangements for this year will see pupils marked somewhere between the 2021 and 2019 levels to help mitigate the impact of Covid on children’s education. 

Dr Jo Saxton, chief regulator of Ofqual, the exams watchdog, said there will be additional contingency measures.

She said: “We are also ensuring there is a safety-net for students with a generous approach to grading.”

Dr Saxton added: “It is likely to mean grade boundaries will be a little lower than they might have been in a normal year, but grade boundaries are never set in advance, and so we cannot be precise at this point in the year.”

The sweeping changes proposed for this summer’s exams come after two years of exams being cancelled due to the pandemic.

In 2020, a controversial algorithm was initially used to calculate students’ grades, but this was eventually dropped following an outcry.

How GCSE and A-level exams are changing

History, ancient history and English literature GCSEs

Ordinarily, pupils would have to revise the full syllabus just in case a question came up on a particular topic. But this year, students will be given a degree of choice as to which questions they answer.

In order to “free up teaching time” and “reduce pressure” on students, the exam regulator has recommended that students would not need to answer the full suite of exam questions for GCSEs in history, ancient history and English literature.

This means that students will not need to revise the entire syllabus, but rather will be able to miss our entire topics in the knowledge that they will not be examined on them.

Geography

Field trips for geography GCSE and A-level, as well as other subjects such as geology and environmental sciences, will all be removed from the course requirements. Questions relating to field trips will be stripped from exam papers.

The regulator explained during their consultation that fieldwork might be “difficult to arrange due to public health restrictions”.

They said: “We recognise that fieldwork is an important feature of these qualifications and we encourage centres to engage with fieldwork wherever possible. However, we do not believe it is appropriate to retain mandatory requirements in the current circumstances.”

Some questions on geography GCSE exam papers will be made optional, meaning students would not need to revise the entire syllabus.

Maths GCSE

Students will be given advance notice of which topics will appear on the exam script, and they will also be allowed to bring a formula sheet with them to the exam hall.

Biology, chemistry, physics and combined science GCSEs

The requirement for students to carry out practical experiments in science GCSEs and A-levels will be dropped, and instead they would merely need to watch a demonstration by teachers. They would also be given advance notice of topics.

Ofqual says it still encourages schools to give students experience of “hands-on” practical activities, even if they will not be examined on it at the end of their course. 

For physics and combined science exams, students will be allowed to bring with them an expanded equation sheet which covers all equations they would need to use in the paper. 

English language GCSE

Ofqual has confirmed plans to drop the requirement for students taking English language GCSE to record a sample of pupils’ spoken language. These are usually required by exam boards to monitor teachers’ assessments, but this year they will not be necessary. The regulator also says that students will be given advance information about which topics will appear on the exam.

French, German and Spanish GCSEs

Students taking French, Spanish and German GCSEs will be required to learn less vocabulary than in a normal year, according to the regulator’s proposals. Ofqual will remove the requirement that students use vocabulary that is not already on vocabulary lists.

Pupils may also be able to get the qualification without being tested on their ability to speak the language, with the regulator saying it might scrap the oral component of the exam. Students should “prepare on the basis” that they will need to do oral exams in April or May 2022. 

But should the “public health situation deteriorate” to such an extent that the oral exams cannot take place, the “endorsement approach” will be used. This means that teachers will have to give students a predicted grade – either pass, merit or distinction- based on their performance throughout the course for their ability to speak the language. This would appear on their exam certificate alongside their grade. 

The regulator has also confirmed that students will be given advance information about which topics will appear on the exam.

Design and technology

Rather than using machinery and tools themselves, design and technology students at both GCSE and A-level could watch teachers demonstrate how to use them. Exam boards should accept “mock-ups” and detailed intentions of how prototypes would be built. The regulator has also said that students will be given advance information about which topics will appear on the exam.

Art and design

Students will be awarded a grade based solely on their portfolio and the requirement to carry out a task under timed and exam conditions will be scrapped for both GCSE and A-level.

Dance

Performances for both GCSEs and A-levels will be shorter, and there will be no requirement for GCSE students to perform as part of a group. The regulator has also said that students will be given advance information about which topics will appear on the exam.

Music

Examined performances will be shorter, and pupils will not be required to perform as part of an ensemble. The regulator has also said that students will be given advance information about which topics will appear on the exam.

Drama

Students will be able to watch a streamed or recorded live performance rather than seeing a live performance in a theatre. Performances will also be shorter, to free up lesson time. The regulator has also proposed that students will be given advance information about which topics will appear on the exam.

All A-levels except art and design

Students will be given advance information about which topics will appear on the exam by February 7, 2022 at the latest

All GCSEs except art and design, history, ancient history, English literature and geography

Students will be given advance information about which topics will appear on the exam  by February 7, 2022 at the latest.

What do you think about the new changes to GCSE and A-level exams? Let us know in the comments section below

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