Extending the number of grades on a qualification: issues to consider

The issue of the number of grades a qualification offers is currently a hot topic; University staff are complaining that they are unable to discriminate between the most able candidates when considering applicants to their courses and there are claims from some quarters that the International Baccalaureate (Diploma Programme for ages 16-19) provides better discrimination that the A level qualification because of its different grading system1. Reform to the A level qualification therefore seems likely and it may be that part of that reform will be to increase the number of grades the A level supports. This paper has been prepared to assist discussions about the implications of such a reform. The number of grades used to report examination results varies considerably. In UK qualifications covered by the examination regulators’ Code of Practice alone, GCSE examinations use nine points (A*, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, U); A levels use seven (A*, A, B, C, D, E, U); FSMQs use six (A, B, C, D, E, U); and the Principal Learning and Project qualifications use seven at Level 3 (as per A level), five at Level 2 (A*, A, B, C, U) and four at Level 1 (A*, A, B, U). Accordingly, it is clear that there is no generally accepted rationale for deciding the number of grades which should be used to report examination results. Indeed, there are various issues to consider: some of these relate to the reliability of the underlying mark scale and usually imply adopting a relatively small number of grades; others stem from the loss of information incurred when a small number of relatively coarse categories is used, justifying the use of a larger number of grades. Overall, the number of grades used to report achievement on any given examination depends on the relative importance of many different factors, which are outlined in this paper (in no particular order).

Export to citation manager (RIS File)

Share this page