A level results 2022 – getting back to normal?

Published 18/08/2022   |   Reading Time minutes

Learners in Wales received their A level results earlier today. These are the first externally marked exams sat since 2019. As expected, results are lower than last year, but higher than 2019 when last exams were sat.

The significant disruption caused by the COVID 19 pandemic meant that in 2020 and 2021, the usual, externally marked A level and GCSE examinations were cancelled. In March 2021, Qualifications Wales, the statutory body that regulates qualifications, announced that learners would once again sit exams in summer 2022, as did learners in the other UK nations.

Although students have sat exams this summer, it has been clear that the last two years have not been normal for learners. To recognise the impact of lost face-to-face teaching and learning time caused by COVID 19, it was decided by Qualifications Wales that GCSEs, AS, A levels and the Skills Challenge Certificate would be adapted to reduce what was assessed in the exam. The was intended to allow schools and colleges to focus their time on teaching the areas that are most important to a subject.

To also support learners in exam years, in December 2021, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language announced funding of £7.5m to provide extra support with additional teaching time and learning resources.

What are the results for summer 2022?

The data in the table below shows results for 2022 based on data published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ – a membership organisation comprising the eight largest providers of qualifications in the UK). Data are provisional representing the position at the time that results are issued. Data are subject to checking before final data at national (Wales), local authority and school level is published. The data refers to the number of entries into qualifications and includes learners of all ages.

Percentage of entries achieving GCE A level by grade in Wales, 2022 (provisional)
  Number of entries A* A*-A A*-C A*-E
2022 35,499 17.1 40.9 85.3 98.0
2021 35,867 21.3 48.3 89.2 99.1
2019 32,320 8.9 26.5 76.3 97.6


Source: Joint Council for Qualifications, A Level Results Summer 2022

For the reasons set out below, this year’s results are not directly comparable to 2019, 2020 and 2021.

This year, 18.1% of boys achieved grade A* compared with 16.3% of girls.

41.1% of girls achieved grades A*-A compared with 40.6% of boys.

98.3% of girls achieved A*-E compared with 97.6% of boys.

How are exam grades determined?

In general, where a cohort of learners is similar to previous years, the overall proportion of learners achieving each grade is also similar to previous years. This prevents ‘grade inflation’, where learners are unintentionally given higher grades than in the past and which leads to the general level of grades among learners increasing. It aims to ensure that all pupils, past and present, are treated fairly.

To achieve this stability, exam awarding bodies use a system of ‘grade boundaries’. A grade boundary is the minimum number of marks that a candidate needs to obtain a particular grade in a paper or in a subject. They are set after the exams have been taken. The aim in each year (or examination series) is to set each boundary in the right place to ensure that it is no more or no less difficult to obtain a particular grade than it was in the previous year.

What happened in 2020 and 2021?

Grades awarded to learners in 2020 and 2021 were far higher than those in 2019. In those two years although no exams were sat, learners were still awarded qualifications. In 2020, this was on the basis of a Centre Assessment Grade where judgements were focused on pupils’ potential, that is, what they would have achieved had they sat the examinations. A ‘centre’ is a school or college. In 2021, exams were awarded on the basis of a Centre Determined Grade model where centres used a range of evidence, including non-exam assessments, mock exams and classwork, to judge a pupil’s “demonstrated attainment” and award them an appropriate grade. You can see the differences which occurred in grading in our research article here.

We have known for some time that grade boundaries were likely to be lower than normal this summer and the approach to awarding grades would be more favourable to the learner than before the pandemic, although grades awarded would be lower than the past two years. In October 2021, Qualifications Wales announced that 2022 would be a ‘transition year’ with results reflecting broadly a midway point between 2021 and 2019. This is similar to the position being taken in England. For next year, there will be a return to results that are in line with those prior to the pandemic.

What is happening with concerns about exam papers?

During the examination period 2022, there were media reports of issues with exam papers, such as missing parts of exams or unreasonably difficult questions. The Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee has written to Qualifications Wales and WJEC, Wales’ largest exam awarding body, about these concerns, and have invited them to appear before Committee on 21 September 2022 to give evidence in public about the summer 2022 exams. Qualifications Wales has sent an interim reply to the Committee setting out how they and WJEC are responding to the concerns. You can follow what happens in Committee in September on Senedd.tv.

Article by Sian Hughes, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament