Popular Science News | How GCE/GCSE Grades are Determined

Popular Science News – I’ve asked a friendly examiner to explain how GCE/GCSE Grades are determined.

“One of my duties as a Principal Examiner for an Exam Board, after all the marks were in, was to help determine the Grade Boundaries for the exam I wrote and ran. At a meeting along with several Principal Examiners responsible for a similar exam, plus the ‘Chair’ of the subject, I went through a process to determine the Grade Boundaries. Without giving too much away, by looking at marked Scripts we had to decide the mark which represented a Grade C, for example. Based on the marked Scripts, the Chair determines whether the number of Candidates passing would be higher than previous years. If this is so, then the ‘Chair’ would suggest a higher mark for the C Grade boundary that would bring the pass mark in line, and I would then be asked if I agreed with it.

Here is a theoretical example:

2011 – C Grade = 50 marks and 60% received a C grade or better

2012 – IF C Grade = 50 marks 64% WOULD received a C grade or better SO

2012 – C Grade = 52 marks and 60% received a C grade or better

What has happened is that although 50 marks has been determined by the Examiners to be a C Grade standard in 2011 and 2012, because teachers have become better at preparing for an exam, making the exam ‘easier’, more Candidates have achieved last year’s standard and so the Exam Board has had to raise the mark needed to achieve a C Grade. This has been done in order to keep the percentage of Candidates passing roughly the same each year.

Teachers are arguing that it is their job to achieve a standard, whereas the Exam Boards and the Government are arguing that only a fixed number of Candidates can pass. This debate is a long one and is about Criterion versus Norm testing. You pass a driving test by achieving a particular standard or Criteria, however GCSE and GCE exams are Norm-referenced. This isĀ  probably so that only a certain percentage of Candidates can pass onto the next stage of education or to stop voters complaining that a higher number of passes means a dropping of standards.”

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