How have this year’s exam results been affected by changes to assessment?

On 10th August, students across the UK received their A level results. As exams were cancelled for a second year due to COVID-19, students were awarded teacher-assessed grades based on a range of evidence, such as coursework, past exam papers and continuous assessment.

As in 2020, it was expected that the distribution of grades awarded would look different to previous years. Grades based on teacher assessment, which reflect student performance in a variety of tasks over a period of time, typically tend to be higher than those achieved in external exams.

There was a significant increase in the proportion of entries awarded the top grades: 44.3% of entries received an A* or A grade, compared to 38.1% in 2020 and 25.1% in 2019. There was also a small increase in the percentage of entries awarded grades A*-C from 75.5% in 2019 and 87.5% in 2020 to 88.2% this year.

A similar trend of more top grades being awarded can be seen in the results for other qualifications for which assessment has been adapted due to the pandemic.

Students who sat the French Baccalauréat took fewer exams than they would have in a normal year as specialisation subjects were assessed through continuous assessment rather than final exams. In 2020, all exams were cancelled and replaced by continuous assessment.

Prior to the pandemic, reforms to the Baccalauréat were implemented which introduced continuous assessment and reduced the number of exams from 2020 onwards.

The overall pass rate for the Baccalauréat in 2021 was 93.8%. This is slightly lower than the 95.7% of candidates who passed in 2020 but higher than all other years prior to that. This year 64.2% of students achieved a mention, compared to 63.5% in 2020 and 47% in 2019.

Written exams for the Italian Esame di Stato were cancelled in 2020 and 2021. Students only took an oral exam covering the subjects studied in their final year. Grades were based on the oral exam and internal assessment. Internal school assessment usually constitutes 20% of the overall points available; this weighting was increased to 60%.

The Esame di Stato has also seen an increase in top grades. The percentage of students who achieved grades of 80 or above this year (52.9%) was higher than last year (48.9%), and much higher than previous years.

Overall, fewer national exams were cancelled this year than in 2020, but the pandemic has continued to cause disruption to education globally. For the latest updates on exams and school closures, please see Charting the impact of COVID-19 on UK admissions and recruitment.

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