A-levels day questions: What you need to know

Fewer top grades awarded after adjustments to marking system

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Pupils found out their A-level exam results on Thursday with a drop in the number of pupils receiving the highest grades.

There were fewer higher grades, setting off a scramble for university places with thousands possibly losing out on their first-choice university.

Government ministers in England wants to restore grades to pre-coronavirus levels, which means the target is fewer top grades.

When were exam results released?

A-level results in the UK were out on Thursday, August 17, while GCSE results will come a week later on August 24.

The results of T-levels, a qualification helping people into skilled employment, university or apprenticeships, will also be published on Thursday.

What happened with grades?

The proportion of A-level entries awarded top grades was down from last year but still remains above pre-pandemic levels.

In the UK, 27.2 per cent of entries were awarded an A or A* grade, down by 9.2 percentage points on last year when 36.4 per cent achieved the top grades.

That was still higher than in 2019 – the last year that summer exams were taken before the pandemic – when 25.4 per cent of entries were awarded A or A* grades.

The overall pass rate – the proportion of entries graded A* to E – has fallen to 97.3 per cent this year, which is lower than 2022’s 98.4 per cent and the pre-pandemic year of 2019 at 97.6 per cent.

The A*to E pass rate is at its lowest level since 2008, when it stood at 97.2 per cent.

In England, 3,820 students scored three A* grades, down from 8,570 last year, but up from 2,785 in 2019.

Boys have pulled ahead of girls at the top grade this year after female entries were in front for the last three years, with A* grades at 9.1 per cent for the former compared with 8.8 per cent for the latter.

Girls continued to outperform boys at A* and A but the gender gap has narrowed again this year.

Pupils accepted onto places

The number of pupils accepted on to UK degree courses fell this year, figures from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) show.

A total of 414,940 all applicants, which includes international pupils and those of non-school age, gained a place at university or college – down 2.6 per cent on the same point last year, Ucas said.

For 18-year-olds in the UK, 230,600 applicants have been accepted – down 3.1 per cent on last year.

Overall, 19,010 UK 18-year-old applicants have missed the conditions of their university offer and are now eligible to find places in clearing, compared with 15,090 last year and 17,270 in 2019.

Regional differences

Exam regulators in Wales and Northern Ireland do not expect to return to pre-pandemic grading standards until 2024.

In Scotland, which has a different exam system, the Scottish Qualifications Authority has taken what it calls a sensitive approach to grading this year.

Figures released last week showed the pass rate for exams in Scotland was down from last year, but still above 2019 levels

During the Covid-19 pandemic, marking was adapted for Covid-19 learning and lockdown testing, and the number of top grades went up.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb has said exam results in England need to return to pre-pandemic levels to ensure A-levels carry “weight and credibility” with employers and universities.

In England 26.5 per cent of pupils were awarded top grades, Wales was at 34.0 per cent and Northern Ireland 37.5 per cent.

For all A-level grades, England had 97.2 per cent, Wales 97.5 per cent and Northern Ireland 98.8 per cent.

Will pupils get into their university of choice?

Figures released on Thursday showed 79 per cent of pupils secured their first choice for university and 12 per cent were placed at their insurance choice.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, said: “For me, the biggest concerns are likely to be around people who get less good results than they expected and who may then miss their firm offer and possibly also their insurance offer.

“Remember, this is the cohort that got stellar GCSE grades so more than usual will be disappointed by their deflated A-level results and they will then find there's less choice than in recent years in clearing.”

For those students who do not get their first-choice university, the option is the Ucas clearing website.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant urged students to be “quick off the mark” on A-level results day as said she believed a lot of the highly selective courses would go quickly in clearing.

What can pupils do if they do not get the grades needed?

Pupils can use the clearing process to see what courses or universities might be available to them.

The admissions service has also produced a series of podcasts to help them prepare for exam results day.

As of Wednesday morning, the day before A-level results day, a PA sample of 130 of the UK’s largest higher education providers showed there were 22,521 courses with vacancies for undergraduate students living in England on the UCAS clearing website.

A similar analysis last year carried out the day before A-level results day, showed there were 22,685 courses with vacancies on the clearing site, which is slightly more than the number available this year.

Updated: August 17, 2023, 11:39 AM