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A guide to how A-level grades were awarded, including information on the triple-lock, mock exams and the three-part process

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How the A-level and AS-level grades were awarded (37946348)
How the A-level and AS-level grades were awarded (37946348)

Making sense of how A-level grades have been calculated has been a difficult task.

There has been a lot of talk and discussion about centre-assessed grades, algorithms, the triple-lock and much more.

This year has been like no other after exams were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has meant that grades have had to be awarded using a three-part process, but there has been plenty of confusion and conjecture about how this worked.

At the Cambridge Independent, we hope to be able to answer some of the questions, bust some of the myths and give some clarity to how exam results were decided.

Grades were awarded using a three-part process - centre-assessed grades, rank order and standardisation

Here we describe each one...

Centre-assessed grades

Teachers used a range of evidence including mock exam results, classwork, homework and knowledge of the student to determine, in their professional opinion, the most likely grade a student would have received had they sat their exams.

Rank order

Schools were asked to rank order each student within a grade within each subject, from most secure to least secure.


The centre-assessed grades were put through a national standardisation formula to ensure they carry the same weight as previous and future grades. It adjusted for the usual expected distribution of grades, previous attainment of the cohort and the school’s most recent performance.

The combination of factors resulted in a ‘calculated grade’ which is what the students’ received.

There have been questions as it whether the process means that results have been calculated by an algorithm, which could be how it is interpreted through the standardisation formula.

But the basis of the exam results is the centre-assessed grade determined by the student’s teacher.

Also, exam results are standardised in normal years before grades are awarded, so although the process is different this year, the standardisation of raw scores into grades is not new.

Mock exam grades

There has been conjecture over whether pupils can choose their mock grade over the calculated grade they have received, which is not quite the case.

Some students may be able to use a past valid mock grade as the basis for an appeal, but it is not the same as choosing to use a mock grade given by the school.

The government and exams’ regulator Ofqual have not yet defined what will count as a valid mock grade.

It may require students to have sat an entire set of A-level papers under normal exam conditions. When the criteria is defined, only teachers will know whether the mock exam grade given would be valid.

Autumn series of exams

There will be the option for students to sit any of the A-level exams in the autumn, probably in October. They will be available in all subjects, and the results will be planned to be published before Christmas.


Another term that has been used recently in the context of the A-level results is triple-lock.

It has been adopted by the government to describe the three stages of receiving the calculated grade; a possible appeals process; and the autumn exams.

It means that if students do appeal a grade, or sit exams in the autumn, they will receive the highest of any of the grades - meaning they do not lose their calculated grade by appealing it or sitting exams.

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