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How to get good GCSE and A-level teacher-assessed grades: guidance from teachers

Teachers explain how to get good assessed grades at GCSE and A-level

In a normal year, GCSE and A-level study is all about building up to those important exams in year 11 and year 13. But this hasn’t been a normal year. With exams cancelled and a new system in place, it feels like the goal posts have been moved. 

You want to get good grades to move on to the next part of your education or your career but you’ve had less contact with your teachers and there are gaps in your learning. For a lot of students the prospect of sitting short assessments doesn’t feel that different from the exams they’ve replaced. It’s still a test and there’s still pressure to do well but there is plenty you can do to ensure you're well prepared.

We spoke to teachers to find out what students can do to get the best possible teacher-assessed grades. Here’s what they had to say.

Talk to your teacher

This year’s teacher-assessed grading system is designed to be flexible. You’ll be graded on the topics you've managed to cover without being penalised for any teaching you’ve missed out on in lockdown. Your teacher will decide what work will count as evidence towards your final grade and whether that will include short assessments.

To make sure you're focusing on the right things, "you have to ask your teacher", says Mrs Kent, a year 13 psychology teacher. It's those teachers who will be able to explain the specifics of how assessment will work at your school - unfortunately you can't assume that's going to be the same as other schools. 

A year 11 English teacher we spoke to also suggests talking to your parents and form tutors - they can all help support you in different ways and answer different questions. If you're working towards GCSEs, "it might also be worth clarifying with sixth forms and colleges what entry requirements will look like,” says this teacher.

Work as if you do have exams

Where there is at least some common ground across schools and colleges, it's in keeping up your revision.  A year 11 English teacher we spoke to emphasised that 'there will be no 'new' learning'. So, revise everything you have already been taught and you will be well prepared for any assessment.

Of the teachers we spoke to, answering questions from past papers was the most highly recommended revision method. A year 11 English teacher we spoke to suggested that you “ask teachers if they have any past papers similar to the ones you might be sitting.” Focus on “solving past paper questions and checking your mistakes” adds Mr Sharaf, who teaches year 11 physics.

If you're looking to get your hands on some past exam papers then head over to our sister site Get Revising where we have a wide selection available.

The exam boards have released the additional assessment material for GCSE and A-levels which can be used by teachers so you might also want to look at these to get an idea of the sorts of questions you might be asked. 
  • AQA (All Levels) - Scroll down to 'Get Assessment and Support Materials' select your level and the subject you are looking for and select 'see materials'
  • OCR (All Levels) - Select your level and subject and download the ZIP file provided.
  • Pearson Edexcel (All levels) - Select your level and then subject underneath the header "Summer 2021 assessment materials for students" Then simply open up the tab called 'Summer 2021 assessment materials for students'
  • Eduqas (All levels) - Select your subject, then click the tab resources and finally the Summer 21 Assessment Materials tab that will appear below.

Focus on what you can still do

When it comes to catching up on lost learning, “try not to worry,” says a year 11 English teacher. “Colleges are going to be very understanding,” they added, because “everyone’s in the same boat.” 

Another year 11 English teacher we spoke to said that there’s “no need to catch up” and to try to  “really know the stuff you’ve been taught already.” Mrs Kent echoes this sentiment. “As hard as it is, do not waste your energy stressing. Focus on what you are doing right now in class.”

If you’ve got assessments coming up, Mrs Kent’s advice is to “make sure you prepare for it and you listen to your teacher’s information about it.” In your preparation, a year 11 music teacher suggests you take it one step at a time and “focus on a small and specific area in each revision session.” 

Keeping things in perspective is key, as lots of the teachers we spoke to were keen to reassure students. “It’s a holistic grade over the two years,” says a year 13 psychology teacher, “one assessment failure isn’t everything.”

Trust the system

Without the exam boards and external moderators to mark papers this year, students have been worried about fairness when it comes to grades. All of the teachers that we spoke to will be following internal moderation processes, with some even joining up with other schools in their area to make sure that grades are comparable and fair. “This is work in progress,” says Mrs Kent, “but something schools want to get right.” 

For more info on how grading and assessment will work this year check out our article on what’s happening with GCSE, A-level and Btec exams.

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