9-1 GCSEs: how to prepare for 2018

The head of curriculum strategy at AQA shares three lessons learned from the first phase of new GCSEs and explains how to apply that knowledge

Dale Bassett

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Last summer saw the first 9-1 grades awarded in reformed English and maths GCSEs. This summer, the second phase of reformed GCSEs will be examined and awarded for the first time.

So, what have we seen so far, and how can you use it to help your students?

Tiering: maths teachers have the answer

The results showed that maths teachers generally got it right when deciding which tier to enter in the new GCSE. So, if you’re a science or MFL teacher needing to make similar decisions next year, it’s worth speaking to your maths colleagues to find out what strategies they used.

"Common questions" are also a really useful way to help you decide which tier is right for your students – these are questions that are common to both the foundation and higher tier and make up at least 20 per cent of the marks. Get your students to sit those common questions and see how they do. If they do well, they’re likely to be OK on the higher tier. If they struggle, they might be better on the foundation.

Also, remember that the new tiers cover a different grade range because of the new 9-1 structure. The new foundation tier goes all the way up to a grade 5 – so there’s actually a grade available above the old C grade that was the limit before – and the higher tier now goes down only to a grade 4.

And where the old C/D grade boundary might have been your focus in the past, now the old B/C grade boundary is probably closer to where the higher/foundation split might be.

Knowledge recall versus application

The reformed GCSEs put a greater emphasis on applying and using knowledge – it varies, but typically only about 15 per cent of marks test knowledge recall only, so that means 85 per cent of marks will test students actually doing something with that knowledge.

Applying knowledge is particularly important in the new GCSEs. Students need to demonstrate that they can apply their knowledge in unfamiliar contexts as that’s where a lot of the marks will come from.

In GCSE science, 40 per cent of the marks will be for applying knowledge in unfamiliar contexts, including asking students to link together ideas that aren’t linked on the specification.

We know from the Year 10 mocks that AQA ran last year that this is something students really struggle with. So make sure you’re not just teaching the content of the specification – get your students equipped to be able to apply that knowledge in unfamiliar contexts in the exam.

Across the three science GCSEs, 15 per cent of the marks will draw on students’ practical experiences, so they’ll need to have a really good understanding of the practical work they’ve done and be able to use it in the exam.

Use the assessment objectives to help you

Assessment objectives have been around a long time, but you might not know how fundamental they’ve been in the design of the new assessments.

To really understand what students have to do and what they’re going to be rewarded for in the exam, have a look in detail at those assessment objectives and how they’re reflected in the mark schemes.

Want to know more?

AQA has done a lot more analysis of last summer’s results, and come up with more tips and suggestions we hope you’ll find really helpful – so take a look at our video…and good luck! 

Dale Bassett is head of curriculum strategy at AQA. 

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Dale Bassett

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