A levels 2021: International results mix exams and TAGs

International A-level results have been released today - both as teacher-assessed grades but also those achieved under formal exams, which went ahead in many regions

Dan Worth

A level results released for international schools

International schools and their pupils have received International A-level results today from exam boards today, mixing both teacher-assessed grades (TAGs) and results achieved from formal examinations set by Cambridge International in many countries during the pandemic.

Overall, Cambridge International said some 170,000 students around the world received their AS and A-level results today and that, overall, there was a slight rise in the overall grade achieved compared with 2019 – when normal exams last took place – and 2020’s system as well.

Specifically, the exam board said the increase is between an average of half a grade to two-thirds of a grade. However, no specific data on grades achieved by subject are available as the exam board is not regulated by Ofqual.

Results day news you need to know 

Nonetheless, the fact there has been more grade uplift compared to the last two years is notable as Cambridge said almost three-quarters of students took some form of formal exams in countries ranging from Hong Kong and Egypt to Malaysia and China during the last few months.

At the time, this had caused consternation among teachers in those regions that students were subject to an unfair playing field as their students would be compared against those only receiving TAGs.

However, thus, far headteachers with pupils receiving examination-based grades from Cambridge International appear broadly satisfied with the outcome.

Matt Topliss, British School Principal at El Alsson British and American International School New Giza, Egypt said: “Exam performance with Cambridge seems to have held up in most subjects despite students enduring long periods of remote learning towards the end of their courses in the run-up to the exam season.”

Meanwhile, Mark Steed, the principal and CEO of Kellett School, the British School in Hong Kong, said that of the four subjects in which exams were sat, students achieved “good results” but they were below what would have been achieved if assessed on a TAG.

“You can have a bad day in the exam hall, but a TAG reflected a student’s full capability,” he said.

Despite this minor discrepancy, he said 61 of 62 students achieved their first choice university offer and the other their reserve, so the school was “not anticipating any complaints”.

Chief executive of Cambridge International, Christine Özden, said the results achieved had been well-earned after a year like no others for students around the world.

“Students have overcome the many challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, including school closures and learning from home, to gain their qualifications.

“This is a fantastic achievement and shows their resilience and dedication to their studies over the past year. Their families and teachers can be incredibly proud of what they have achieved.

She also thanked schools for their work in these achievements.

“I would also like to recognise the incredible work and commitment of our schools and their teachers in helping our students to achieve their qualifications.”

Meanwhile, data from Pearson by subject shows strong performances in some key subjects for its international exam series - with a select few shown below:


A and A*: 60.8%
A - C: 92.8%
Entries: 3335


A and A*: 61.7% 
A - C: 92%
: 4837

English Literature 

A and A*: 46.6%
A - C: 88.7%
Entries: 363


A and A*: 46.5%
A - C:  88.9%
Entries:  288


A and A*: 60.4%
A - C: 89.6%
Entries: 338


A and A*: 64.8%
A - C: 93.1%
Entries: 12,214

It appears the majority of these scores were taken from the TAGs, with few adjustments made by the centre, as was the case in England.

For example, Topliss said 84 per cent of its TAG submissions were unchanged and 10 per cent were actually scored up by the exam board. Just 4 per cent went down after revision.

This outcome has also made for some happy students: “It appears that students are matching their university offers and these are being confirmed by universities this morning.”

Mark Leppard, headmaster of The British School Al Khubairat in the United Arab Emirates, saw a similar positive outcome.

"We had no teacher assessed grades changed. Therefore, we were confident that we had knowledge of student achievements a while back. The vast majority of students have been delighted and we are extremely proud of their achievements," he said.

"We will find out if there are going to be appeals, but currently we have none and I think this is largely due to the thorough initial teacher assessment method and extensive review process undertaken before we submitted grades."

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Dan Worth

Find me on Twitter @danworth

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