The Awarding Process
After the marking has finished, awarding is the process of deciding each student’s level of attainment.
Some qualifications just have a pass grade and here the awarding process makes sure that students have reached the required standard to achieve the qualification. Qualifications like GCSE and A levels have a number of different grades which indicate a student’s level of attainment.
Having different grades means deciding about where the boundaries between each grade should lie. We always aim to create assessments with the same level of demand, but as the exam papers and mark schemes are different each year, it is possible that an assessment might be a little more or less challenging than previous ones. So that students are not disadvantaged by this, separate grade boundaries are set for each exam paper and for any non-examination assessment.
The awarding meeting
Establishing the grade boundaries for each assessment takes place at an awarding meeting where, for each ‘key’ grade boundary, the qualification’s Chair of Examiners and other senior examiners review students work in the current examination series against work from previous series, to determine the marks at which performance is of a similar quality to that seen on the grade boundary in previous exam series. Other grade boundaries are calculated arithmetically, based on the position of the key grade boundaries.
Maintaining standards across examination series
To make a fair comparison with previous exam series, statistics are also used to see if this year's group of students are different from those in the previous year, and to get an initial idea of expected outcomes. These statistics compare factors such as age, gender, type of school, and student performance in previous exams. Where this evidence forms the starting point for an award, this is known as the ‘comparable outcomes’ approach – but there is never a quota at each grade.
Setting the grade boundaries
After careful consideration of all the evidence, the Chair of Examiners decides what the minimum mark for each grade should be to ensure the grade boundaries for the current year represent the same standard of attainment as in the previous exam series. In making this final judgement, the Chair must account for the demands and difficulty of the assessment, and changes to the marking standard applied by markers, and centres and students’ familiarity with the assessments. The Chair’s recommendations are recorded and submitted for approval to senior managers responsible for standards, and eventually the Responsible Officer. Regulators will also sign off grade boundaries and outcomes before results are issued to candidates.
We then apply these grade boundaries and calculates the grade each student has achieved. This process ensures that a student who has reached the same level of attainment should get the same grade, regardless of when they completed the qualification.
To ensure that we can have confidence in the standard of qualifications, this process is overseen by the qualifications regulators (Ofqual in England, Qualifications Wales in Wales and CCEA in Northern Ireland).