GCSE grades explained – what is the 1-9 marking system and how does it work?

2020 will be the first year that GCSE students are all graded with numbers instead of letters after the new system was phased in since 2017.

Here's everything you need to know about the change, which swaps the old U-A* system with 1-9 grades.

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What do the new GCSE grades mean?

The new GCSEs have been designed to be harder, which is reflected in the way they are graded.

A nine represents the best possible performance, and will be rarer, and more impressive, than a current A* grade.

Meanwhile, an eight is somewhere between an A* and an A, and sevens are worth the same as A grades.

In comparison to letter grading, this is how all number grades stack up:

  • 9, 8 and 7 are equivalent to A* or A
  • 6, 5 and 4 are equivalent to B or C
  • 3, 2 and 1 are equivalent to D, E, F or G
  • A U is equivalent to ungraded

What further changes are being made to GCSEs this year?

The change in the grading system was designed to be gradual, with Maths, English language and English literature the first subjects to change to the new grading format in 2017.

This year will see all the remaining few subjects that hadn't yet made the switch to number grading do so.

The biggest change will be that grade boundaries won't exist this year as exams couldn't take place due to lockdown.

The chaos over how grades will be issued to students has led to Gavin Williamson reportedly offering to resign.

Why are GCSE grades changing?

The government is shaking up GCSEs to make them tougher – in the hope that they'll be taken more seriously by employers.

Part of this change involves using a new grading system, to signal that there have been reforms to the exams, and to make it easier to differentiate between results.

The shift to numbered grades also fits better with European exam results, with Germans – and most of Britain's other global competitors – using numerical exam grades.

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