Need to know: The exam reforms

Your guide to the new GCSE and A-level exams that will be getting their first outing this summer

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The summer exam season kicked off last week with students sitting a raft of reformed GCSEs and A-levels.

Here’s what you need to know about the qualifications being taken for the first time this year:

Which reformed qualifications are pupils sitting this year?

Pupils are sitting 20 new GCSEs and 11 new A levels this summer. The reformed GCSEs being taken for the first time include some big hitters – science, geography, history and modern foreign languages to name a few.

At A level, the reformed qualifications getting their first exam outing include geography, MFL, PE and religious studies.

Where are we in the reform process?

Rolling out the new exams is a four-year process that started last year when three reformed GCSEs (English language, English literature and maths) and 13 new A levels were launched.

In 2019, 25 new GCSEs will be sat, along with 20 new A levels.

The reform process will culminate in 2020, when five new GCSEs and 13 more A levels will get their first exam outing – mostly in MFL subjects with smaller cohorts.

How have the qualifications changed?

The reforms were set in motion when Michael Gove was education secretary, and represent the biggest shake-up of the exam system in decades.

The curriculum and structure have changed for both GCSEs and A levels. GCSEs have been reformed to be “tougher”, with a numerical 9 to 1 grade system introduced to allow greater differentiation between pupils.

Coursework and modules have largely been swept away for both sets of qualifications. To better prepare students for university, A levels are now assessed via "terminal" exams at the end of two years. 

AS and A levels have been “decoupled”, with AS results no longer counting towards A-level grades. This has led to a significant drop in entries for AS.

Are there concerns about the new qualifications?

Teachers have voiced concerns about the sheer amount of content they have to cover in the reformed GCSEs, which they claim has led to the squeezing of the curriculum at key stage 3.

The Association of School and College Leaders has also warned that more challenging GCSEs, which involve less coursework and more exam papers, has put more pressure on pupils and increased stress and anxiety.

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