Both Ofqual, the Exams Regulator for A Level and BTEC examinations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and UCAS, the university admissions service, have indicated that they expect to see a fall in A-level and BTEC grades when results are announced on Thursday.
With many UAE students having taken examinations administered by the UK Exam Boards, how is this likely to impact them?
Despite widespread expectation that grades will be lower than in 2022, following two years of the cancellation of examinations and grades issued being based on Teacher Assessed Grades, a letter has been sent to students from Ofqual and UCAS, saying the grades should not be compared with those from 2021.
Although A-level results and BTEC results are expected to be lower than in the last two years, when record numbers of students secured top grades, they are predicted to be higher than in 2019, the last year before the pandemic.
The A Level grade boundaries, the number of marks needed for each grade, have been set to be more lenient this year. Students may need fewer marks to reach a particular grade, or if they are very close to the boundary for a higher grade, they may be looked at more favourably than in previous years. This will also apply to BTECs, both for units taken in school or college and for final exams.
Grades are expected to roughly halfway between those of 2021 and 2019.
Dr Jo Saxton of Ofqual, whose role is to ensure that overall exam results are fair and consistent in England, said she had met universities in recent days to make sure they understood how students’ grades were being awarded this year. She said:
“Tempting as it is to compare grades with 2021, the meaningful [comparison year] is 2019 when exams were last sat.”
It is already evident that the Exam regulators in Scotland have applied the same principle. Students in Scotland received their results for the Scottish equivalent of A Levels a week ago. Whilst they were awarded record results during the pandemic, the pass rate for 2022 has dropped, but is still up on 2019. At Higher level, the number of students getting an A to C pass was 78.9%, down from 87.3% last year. The results in 2020 saw the pass rate for Highers jump from 74.8% in 2019 to 89%. So predictions of grades being set between those of 2019 and 2021 appear to be pretty accurate.
For England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for students who have applied to UK universities from the UAE, Ofqual says universities are fully aware of how grades have been awarded. However, competition for some courses and universities has been expected to be tougher, although UCAS says that students will have lots of options for further study.
Medicine is one of a handful of courses in England where numbers are limited by the government, because the cost is heavily subsidised. In 2020 and 2021 the government lifted the cap on numbers, which led in 2021 to 10,460 medical school places being accepted across the UK. This year, however, the cap is returning in England, which means that only around 7,500 places will be available.
To apply for medical school there is a separate test called the University Clinical Aptitude Test (Ucat). In 2019, 29,446 students across the UK took the test, but by 2021 this figure had grown to 37,397 – an increase of 27% – because the pandemic had led to an increased interest in training as a doctor.
Competition for places at the most academically selective universities could also seem greater this year, although, in common with all universities, the Russell Group universities will only know how many places they are putting into clearing on results day.
In a joint letter to students from Dr Saxton and the chief executive of UCAS, Clare Marchant, tells students not to worry that lower grades this year will put them at a disadvantage.
“In 2019, when exams last went ahead, around three-quarters of UK 18-year-old applicants were placed at their first choice. Come results day this year, UCAS again expects most students will secure their place at their first choice,” they wrote. In 2019, only 21% got the grades predicted by their teachers, but 86% ended up with a university place through UCAS.
UCAS said there are about 30,000 places overall in clearing, and students could put themselves in the “strongest possible position” by thinking ahead and having a plan B.
For further information about preparing for your results, and what to do next once you receive them, read our article: A Level Results Imminent. What’s Your Plan?