A levels 2023: what are the results for Wales?

Published 17/08/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

Most learners in Wales will receive their A level results today. This is the second year learners have sat externally marked exams since their cancelation in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19.

Overall, results are lower than last year, but still higher than the 2019 pre-pandemic results. In this article we take a look at the results in more detail, and at what’s happened with A level exams in previous years.

Summer 2023 results

The data in the table below shows results for 2023 based on data published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ is a membership organisation comprising the eight largest providers of qualifications in the UK). Data is provisional, representing the position at the time that results are issued. It is subject to checking before final data at national, local authority and school level is published. The data refers to the number of entries into qualifications and includes learners of all ages. Information is also provided for previous years.

Qualifications Wales also publishes detailed information on the results.

Percentage of entries achieving GCE A level by grade in Wales, 2023 (provisional)


Number of entries






























Source: Joint Council for Qualifications, A Level Results Summer 2023

This year:

  • The overall pass rate for boys and girls is broadly similar, 96.8% of boys achieved A*-E grades, compared to 98.0% by girls.
  • 13.9% of boys achieved grade A* compared with 13.3% of girls.
  • 35.0% of girls achieved grades A*-A compared to 32.6% of boys.

However, this year’s results are not directly comparable to previous years.

In England, the percentage of learners who received grade A* was 8.6%, which is closer to the 2019 results (7.7%), in 2022 the result was 14.5%. The percentage of learners receiving grades A*-C this year was 75.4%, again this is closer to the 2019 results (75.5%), in 2022 the percentage was 82.1%. The approach to grading in England differs from that in Wales and so the comparisons should be treated with caution. An explanation of the different approaches is set out below.

Is COVID-19 still affecting exams?

The disruption to learning caused by the pandemic meant adaptations to A level exams last year. This included reduced assessment content or optional questions for some qualifications. This year, there were no such adaptations. However, in recognition of the legacy of disruption to their education, learners were given information in advance on some of the topics, themes, texts and other content that could be expected in the exams.

Advance information was provided for A levels, GCSEs and vocational qualifications. This was not possible for Skills Challenge Certificates, and instead many of the previous adaptations for these qualifications continued.

While teaching arrangements in 2020 and 2021 meant no exams, learners were still awarded qualifications. Grades awarded to learners in those years were far higher than grades in 2019. For example at A level, in 2019, 9 % of learners achieved a grade A* but in 2021, 21 % of learners achieved that grade. You can see the differences in our research article on the 2021 exam results.

Our A level results article last year explains, generally, where a cohort of learners is similar (in terms of past performance) to previous years, the overall proportion of learners achieving each grade is also similar to previous years. This aims to ensure that all pupils, past and present, are treated fairly.

Transitional arrangements

In October 2021, Qualifications Wales announced that 2022 would be a ‘transition year’ from the higher than usual grades, with results reflecting a broadly midway point between 2021 and 2019. This meant that grades were more favourable to learners than in 2019, but less favourable than the previous two years. In 2022, 17 % of learners achieved a grade A*. This approach was similar to the position taken in England. At the time Qualifications Wales said, by 2023 there would be a return to a process, and results, in line with 2019 exams.

However, in September 2022, Qualifications Wales announced that the approach to grading for 2023 was intended to deliver exam results that would fall broadly midway between the 2019 and 2022 results. This was intended to take into account the disruption to education associated with the pandemic and avoid a “cliff edge” correction back to 2019 standards. It now intends for all results to return to pre-pandemic standards in 2024.

What’s happening in England?

A different approach has been taken in England where there has been a return to pre-pandemic grading in 2023. Learners who took exams this year are protected if the learner’s exam performance is a little lower than before the pandemic. Broadly speaking, a typical student who would have achieved an A grade in an A level subject before the pandemic would be just as likely to get an A this year, even if their performance in the assessments is slightly weaker in 2023 than it would have been before the pandemic. This is a similar type of protection that is used when new qualifications are introduced. It’s expected results in England will be much closer to pre-pandemic results and therefore lower than in 2022.

Qualifications Wales wrote to the Children, Young People and Education Committee in October 2022 setting out the reasons for why they have a differing approach to Ofqual in England this year. In coming to its decision, Qualifications Wales recognised the ongoing impact of the disruption to education because of the pandemic. They also stated that a “full correction to pre-pandemic standards in 2023 would present too much of a cliff edge”.

GCSE results day next week

With learners now in receipt of their grades, they'll be thinking about what comes next. There'll also be more results next week, with the learners receiving their GCSE results. We will be publishing an article on the GCSE results next week.

Article by Sian Hughes, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament