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What’s happening with GCSE, A-level and Btec exams in 2022?

What to expect from the summer exam season in 2022 - including what will happen if exams are cancelled once again

GCSE and A-level exams are planned to take place in the summer of 2022, but they will be a little different from usual.

Among the planned changes will be the release of advance information on the topics covered within exams, and the option to take supporting materials into the exam hall for certain subjects.

Once the exam season is complete, grade boundaries - and the resulting grades that everyone gets - will be set higher than they were in 2019, before the pandemic. But grades won’t be as high as they were last summer, in 2021. 

And everyone can expect to sit more mock exams than in an normal year, as teachers have been advised to have a back-up plan for issuing grades in case things change and exams get cancelled again.

In this article we'll guide you through how exams will work in the summer of 2022.

How will GCSE and A-level exams be different in 2022?

GCSE and A-level exams were cancelled in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, the government decided exams could not take place safely. In 2021, it was decided that students had missed so much learning that it would not be fair to run exams.

In 2022, GCSE and A-level exams will run, but they will be slightly different from normal.
 
  • Advance information for exams
For most GCSE, AS and A-level exams, students will get advance information on the exams' area of focus. 

The exceptions are English literature, history, ancient history and geography, which will have a choice of topics (see below).

This advance information won’t be detailed enough to give you answers to the exams or specify which questions you’ll be asked, but it will cover topics that will be in the exam so you’ll know what you need to revise.

You'll receive this information no later than 7 February 2022. It’s possible it could be issued earlier than that if the pandemic causes further significant disruption to education.
 
  • Choice of topics
For GCSEs taken in English literature, history, ancient history and geography, schools and colleges will be able to choose the topics their students will do in the exams. 

This means that teachers can ensure their students will be tested on the modules they have completed.
 
  • Access to support materials for exams
For GCSE Maths, students will have access to a formulae sheet in the exam room.

For GCSEs in physics and combined science, students will have access to a sheet showing all of the relevant equations. 
 
  • Changes to practicals
For GCSE, AS and A-level science subjects, practical work will be adjusted. Teachers can demonstrate practicals in class, or remotely if there are any restrictions in place. Students won't be required to complete these practicals themselves.

For art and design at GCSE, AS and A-level, students will be assessed on their portfolio of work only - there will be no timed practical exam. 

What will happen with grades?

Many more students achieved top grades in the last two years where exams did not go ahead. In 2019, the proportion of A-A*s awarded at A-level in England was 25.2%; in 2021 it was 44.3%. 

There was a similar shift at GCSE. In 2019, the proportion of grade 7s awarded in England was 21.8%, in 2021 it had risen to 30%.

It’s this ‘grade inflation’ that exam regulator Ofqual wants to reverse. It is aiming to get grades back to 2019 levels but not in one jump. Instead this transition will take place over two years - and so 2022, Ofqual says, is "a midway point".

So, results in 2022 will be higher than in 2019, but not as high as in 2021.

Effectively, the government's plan is based on providing more help to students with exams. Then, when it's time for marking, the grade boundaries will be more lenient than in a 'normal' year.

Ofqual head Jo Saxton says this is "a safety net for those who might otherwise just miss out on a higher grade".

How will grades be decided?

"In 2022, exam boards will set the grade boundaries based on a profile that reflects a midpoint between 2021 and pre-pandemic grading," says Saxton.

Exam boards will set their initial grade boundaries based on an average of 2019 and 2021 results for each subject. 

The final grade boundaries for each specification will then be set by the senior examiners, after they’ve seen students’ exams.

What about Btecs and other vocational qualifications?

Although Ofqual has not announced specific measures for Btecs and other vocational qualifications, it has outlined that a similar approach to GCSEs and A-levels should be taken. 

“We expect [awarding organisations] to take account of the approach for GCSEs and A levels when setting standards in their own qualifications,” says Ofqual.

What about my predicted grades?

Teachers are being encouraged to be generous with predicted grades.

"For 2022, we recommend that teachers use the familiar 2019 standard as the basis for predicting their students’ grades, giving borderline students the benefit of any doubt,” Ofqual says. 

“So if a teacher believes a student is likely to be on the borderline between two grades, they predict the higher one."

Could exams be cancelled in 2022?

Exams and assessments for GCSEs, AS and A-levels, as well as vocational and technical qualifications, are set to go ahead in summer 2022. 

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said: "Exams are the best and fairest form of assessment, and we fully intend for them to take place next summer. Planning is underway for exams to go ahead with adaptations to recognise the impact of the pandemic.

"But it’s right, and I know schools and families would expect, that we have contingency plans in place so there is a safety net for students to gain their qualifications and progress to their next stage of education or employment, whatever the course of the pandemic."

Will mock exams go ahead in 2021 and 2022? 

Yes, mock exams are happening this year. 

Exactly when they happen will vary depending on your school or college, but Ofqual has suggested that they should roughly run in November-December 2021, February-March 2022 and April-May 2022. 

So what happens if exams are cancelled in 2022?

In November 2021, the Department for Education and Ofqual issued guidance that explained how this safety net should work and how schools and colleges should prepare for any potential cancellation of exams. [external link: Contigency plans confirmed for GCSEs, AS and A levels]

This back-up plan is a system that's similar to how grades were issued last summer, in 2021. 

In the case of exams being cancelled, your teachers would be asked to provide you with a grade for each of your exam subjects. 

These grades are known as teacher-assessed grades (TAGs). These would not be subject to the grade boundaries system otherwise planned for 2022. 

How teachers would work out your TAGs

Throughout the rest of this academic year, teachers are expected to collect all the information they need to decide on TAGs, should they be needed to. 

This means they're going to be setting assessments throughout the year. Those assessment will most likely be mock exams and you might have to do more of these than usual. 

This is because Ofqual has advised schools and colleges to assess their students "under exam-like conditions wherever possible".

The regulator describes some of the expected exam-like conditions as:
  • [Students] should not know the questions in the assessment beforehand
  • [Students] should work independently and without assistance (other than as required for a reasonable adjustment)
  • [Students] should not have access to books or revision notes and the assessment should be timed and supervised
You will get told which topics you're going to be tested on, but you won't be told specifics about the questions.

Teachers must tell you in advance if a piece of work would be used for TAGs. So you should know, before you sit any assessment, whether the result might be used for your eventual exam grade. If you have not been told whether an assessment might be used for TAGs, or you are not sure if it will, you can ask your teacher.

But although teachers will be keeping a record of how you did in assessments, they will not be working out a TAG for you unless exams were officially cancelled.

In it's guidance, Ofqual makes this very clear: "If exams are cancelled, Ofqual and the exam boards will set out how teachers should use the evidence to determine TAGs. 

"Teachers must not attempt to determine TAGs before any such guidance is published."

When is results day 2022?

AS and A-level results will be published on 18 August 2022. 

GCSE results will be published on 25 August 2022.

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