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GCSE Grades and Grade Boundaries Explained

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GCSE grades are a vital component of the UK education system. They can determine a student’s future educational and career prospects, so it’s essential to understand what they are and where grade boundaries come from.

The introduction of the new 9-1 grading system has added an extra layer of complexity, leaving many students and parents feeling uncertain about what grades to expect and what they mean.

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide to GCSE grades and grade boundaries, explaining what they are, how they work, and how to interpret your results. We will also cover some additional considerations, such as how grading varies between subjects and exam boards, and what the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on GCSE grades.

GCSE Grade Boundaries Throughout the Years

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The New GCSE Grading System

In 2017, the GCSE grading system in England began to change from the traditional A*-G to a numerical system of 9-1.

This change was implemented to bring the English standards up to par with other high-performing countries and reflect the new and more demanding content of the courses and the linear assessment of courses.

GCSE Grades - Old VS New
  1. 📌 Grades 7-9 are equivalent to the old grades A and A*.
  2. 📌 The bottom of grade 7 aligns with the bottom of grade A.
  3. 📌 Grades 4-6 are equivalent to the old grades B and C.
  4. 📌 The bottom of grade 4 aligns with the bottom of grade C
  5. 📌 The system has been designed so that the bottom of grade 1 aligns with the bottom of grade G.

The new grading system allows for more differentiation among the higher grades, with a grade 9 being higher than an A*. Roughly the top 20% of students who achieve a grade 7 or above will achieve a grade 9. Grade 5 is considered a ‘good pass’, while grade 4 is a ‘standard pass’.

How GCSE Grade Boundaries Work

GCSE grade boundaries are the minimum marks required to achieve a particular grade in a subject. These boundaries are set by the exam boards after each exam series and are based on the performance of the students who took the exam.

The grade boundaries are not fixed, and they can vary from one exam series to another, depending on the difficulty of the exam and the performance of the students. In general, the grade boundaries are higher for more difficult exams and lower for easier exams.

It’s worth noting that the grade boundaries are not arbitrary and are based on statistical data from the exam results. The exam boards use statistical methods to determine the grade boundaries, which ensures that the grades are awarded fairly and accurately.

Who Sets GCSE Grade Boundaries?

Each year, the GCSE grade boundaries are set by senior examiners and vary slightly for each subject to ensure the system is fair for students. The new grading system is intended to give sixth forms, colleges, universities, and employers a better idea of a student’s level of achievement and allows for micro-distinguishing between the various grades, such as 7, 8, and 9.

Let’s take the GCSE maths grade boundaries of the Pearson Edexcel exam board.

GCSE Maths Grade Boundaries 2023 - Pearson Edexcel

What Data Do Senior Examiners Use to Determine Grade Boundaries?

In addition to the general principles of how GCSE grade boundaries work, there are some other factors that may affect the grade boundaries for a particular subject or exam series. These include:

📌 Difficulty of the exam

If an exam is considered to be more difficult than previous years, the grade boundaries may be lowered to ensure that students are not unfairly penalized for a more challenging test.

📌 Scaling and moderation

To ensure that grades are consistent across different exam boards and subjects, a process of scaling and moderation is used. This involves adjusting the raw marks to account for differences in difficulty between different exams or subjects.

📌 Tiered exams

Some GCSEs are offered as tiered exams, where students can choose to take either a foundation or higher tier paper. The grade boundaries for these exams may differ depending on the tier chosen, with higher boundaries for the higher tier and lower boundaries for the foundation tier.

📌 Coursework and controlled assessment

Some GCSEs include coursework or controlled assessment as part of the final grade. The grade boundaries for these components may be set separately from the exam component, and may vary depending on the year and the subject.

When are GCSE Grade Boundaries Published?

The grade boundaries are usually published on the exam board’s website a few days after the results are released. This allows students to see how close they were to achieve a higher grade and provides transparency in the marking process.

Why is it Important to Understand GCSE Grade Boundaries?

Understanding GCSE grade boundaries is crucial for students and teachers to assess performance and determine grades. These boundaries are set by exam boards and represent the minimum mark needed to achieve a particular grade. For example, if the grade boundary for a grade 7 in a particular GCSE exam is 70 marks, any student who scores 70 marks or above will receive a grade 7.

Grade boundaries can change from year to year. Therefore, it’s essential to review the grade boundaries for the specific exam and exam board that you are taking to ensure a clear understanding of what marks are required to achieve a particular grade.


In conclusion, understanding the GCSE grading system and grade boundaries is crucial for students, parents, and educators. The grading system has undergone significant changes in recent years, with the new numerical scale replacing the traditional letter grades.

It’s essential to understand that grade boundaries can vary between subjects and exam boards, and they can also change each year. Students should aim to perform to the best of their abilities, rather than focusing solely on achieving a specific grade. Teachers and schools play an important role in supporting students and providing accurate information about grading systems and grade boundaries. By having a clear understanding of the grading system and grade boundaries, students can make informed decisions and take steps towards achieving their academic goals.

If you just learned something new, feel free to share this article with your fellow GCSE students so they can benefit too. And if you’re looking for help with grade boundaries or need insider tips from someone who’s already aced their GCSEs, you can schedule a free meeting with expert GCSE tutors.


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