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Ofqual - Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation

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A* at A level FAQs

The introduction of the A* at A level

For the first time this summer, A level candidates who do exceptionally well will receive an A* grade. Here, we answer some of the key questions about the new grade.

Why is the A* grade being introduced?
The A* recognises and rewards exceptional performance at A level, especially in the harder A2 papers.
How will a candidate get an A*?
In order to get an A*, candidates have to get an A overall for their A level, and score 90 per cent or more of the total A2 marks available. It is being awarded for full A levels only, not for AS levels or for individual units.
Is it true that a candidate can miss out on an A* grade, even if they get more marks than someone who does get one?
Yes. To get an A*, candidates have to get an A overall and score 90 per cent or more of the total marks available in the more challenging A2 papers. This means that it is not just the number of marks that count, but also which part of the qualification they are scored in.

For example, Student X achieves a grade B at AS level, scoring 145 out of a possible 200 marks, and then does very well at A2, achieving 180 marks out of 200. She has therefore passed the A grade threshold at A level with a total of 325 out of a possible 400 marks.

Student Y achieves a grade A at AS, getting 190 out of 200 marks, but does less well at A2, achieving 140 marks out of 200. He has therefore also passed the threshold for an A grade overall at A level with a total of 330 marks out of a possible 400.

Both students have made the 320 marks threshold for an A grade for this A level. However, only Student X would receive an A* grade even though her overall score is lower – she achieved 90 per cent or more of the available marks at A2, while Student Y did not.

NB: The marks referred to in these examples are from the Uniform Mark Scale. This is explained later on.
Are there any circumstances in which the arithmetical basis for calculating the A* grade can be varied?
In order to ensure fairness for candidates across awarding bodies, there is an agreed approach that allows awarding bodies to make adjustments to the proportion of A*s awarded in either direction in a particular specification. This is designed for use in exceptional circumstances where outcomes are significantly different from expectations and there is no satisfactory explanation. No changes can be made that would impact on the A grade standard.

This rule was agreed with the awarding organisations to ensure candidates were not disadvantaged, or advantaged, by technical issues with the awarding and to ensure fairness across awarding organisations.

More information can be found at http://www.ofqual.gov.uk/files/2010-08-04-awarding-the-a-star-at-a-level-grade.pdf
How can it be fair to alter the number of marks that will merit an A*?
Fairness to all is our key priority. The approach agreed with the awarding bodies aims to ensure that no candidate is advantaged or disadvantaged simply because of the awarding body they sat their exam with. It will only be used in exceptional circumstances and never when doing so would affect the standard required for an A grade.
Are more candidates expected to get A*s in some subjects than others?
Yes. It is to be expected that there will be differences from subject to subject. You can already see differences in the percentages of A grades awarded in different subjects, and it should be similar for the A* grade.

As part of its preparations for this summer, Ofqual has modelled possible outcomes for the awarding of the A* grade, based on last year’s results. This information can be found at http://ofqual.gov.uk/news-and-announcements/83-news-and-announcements-news/294-ofqual-hosts-a-level-briefing-for-teachers-associations

As regulator, Ofqual is committed, along with the awarding bodies, to making sure that the awarding of all grades for the new A levels, including the A* grade, is fair to all learners and that standards are maintained.
Is it possible for teachers to judge which pieces of work will be of A* standard?
No, it doesn't work like that. There is not an A* standard for individual pieces of work or assessments, as the grade is awarded for the qualification as a whole and not at individual unit or assessment level.

In order to achieve an A*, a candidate has to gain an A grade overall at A level and 90 per cent or more of the available marks on their A2 units. This means that the A* grade recognises exceptional performance in the more challenging A2 units.
What should a candidate do if they think they should have got an A* but didn’t?
There is no separate arrangement for appealing specifically about the A* grade. If a candidate feels that their A level results are incorrect there are a number of options, the main one being to ask their centre (usually a school or college) to request an Enquiry About Result (EAR).

This can cover a range of options: Service 1 – Clerical re-check that all procedures leading up to the awarding of a grade e.g. totalling and recording of marks have been carried out correctly; Service 2 – Clerical re-check and review of marking; Service 3 -review of moderation.

Schools / centres should discuss which option is appropriate for their candidate’s concern. They can seek advice from the Ofqual helpdesk 0300 303 3346.

The outcome of an EAR may lead to the overall grade being confirmed, raised or lowered. If a re-moderation request is made, a grade may only be confirmed or raised.

If the candidate is unhappy with the outcome of the EAR, there is a further appeal process with the awarding bodies, and after that the case can be taken to the independent Examinations Appeals Board (EAB) if they are still not satisfied.
Is Ofqual making sure that universities will recognise the A* grade?
Universities set their own admissions criteria and, as Ofqual has no remit over higher education, we would advise candidates to speak directly to the higher education institutions where they a seeking places to find out their views and requirements.

We can say, though, that the way in which in the A* grade is being awarded does recognise exceptional performance at A level.
What is the Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) and how does it work?
Because exam papers are different each year, the level of difficulty can vary slightly from year to year. The awarding process has to take this into account to ensure that grades are fair from year to year.

Senior examiners judge the difficulty of each paper by looking at samples of candidates' work from the current year and previous years, as well as statistical data about candidates' performance. They then decide on where the grade boundaries should be, using the 'raw marks' – the marks the candidates scored on the exam paper. For example, a candidate might need 40 raw marks out of 50 for an A grade one year, but 42 out of 50 the next, depending on the level of demand of the paper.

In order to make sure the results for that unit are comparable with other units and can be added together to get a final grade, the raw marks are converted to points on the UMS.

On the UMS, the range of points for each grade is the same each year, unlike the raw marks, and the raw mark grade boundaries are translated into fixed points on the UMS.

For a unit mark out of a 100, the ranges of UMS marks for each grade are:

  • E: 40 – 49
  • D: 50 – 59
  • C: 60 – 69
  • B: 70 – 79
  • A: 80 – 100
For example, if examiners decided that a raw mark of 90 out of 120 on a unit was the lowest mark for an A grade, then that 90 raw mark would become 80 when translated into the UMS mark out of 100. If the raw mark lies between the A and B grade boundaries, the proportion of marks you get within the range for that grade is calculated.

If the raw mark needed for a B this year was between 80 and 90 and you got 85 marks, you are halfway up that range. Your UMS mark is then halfway up the 70-80 UMS range, which equals 75 marks.

UMS marks for individual units are then added together to give an overall UMS mark for the subject as a whole.

Ofqual wrote to schools and colleges about the A* grade in February. That letter can be found at http://ofqual.gov.uk/news-and-announcements/127/217

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