GCSE 9-1 grading explained

Modern GCSEs are graded 9–1, rather than A*–G. Grade 9 is the highest grade, set above A*. The system helps provide more differentiation, especially among higher achieving students.

One of the issues with the old system was that the A* became devalued by the large number of students achieving it. Top universities and employers said that they couldn’t differentiate truly exceptional students from merely very good ones. Grade 9 is only awarded to students at the very top end of the ability range, giving genuinely outstanding students the recognition they deserve and require.

In the UK, summer 2017 saw the first 9-1 grades, for GCSE English and Maths. At the top, there are now three grades (7, 8 and 9) which cover the two old grades (A and A*). The table below shows how the new grade 9 is already differentiating the best students in the UK.

“We’re excited about the 9 grade because it will really allow our best boys to shine.”
John Maguire, Deputy Head at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, speaking to The Daily Telegraph
“The day may come when universities start looking at the grade 9 and you would be disadvantaged if you haven’t taken the exam that at least allows you access to the grade that is higher than the A*.”
Barnaby Lennon, Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, speaking to The Times

The 9–1 system is part of reforms aimed at raising attainment levels in line with the world’s top-performing countries. With the addition of an extra grade, the numerical grading system provides greater differentiation in the middle, as well as at the top. For example, grade 5 is positioned in the top third of the marks for an old grade C and the bottom third of the marks for an old grade B. A grade 5 is considered a ‘strong pass’ and is on a par with the top pass in PISA tests.

Find out more about grades 9 to 1 in this handy factsheet: 9 Things You Need to Know About 9-1 (PDF, 99 KB).

Download our Parents’ Guide (PDF, 387 KB) to help explain the benefits for their children.

Webinar: OxfordAQA’s Jamie Kirkaldy, and Alex Scharaschkin, Director of AQA’s Centre for Education Research and Practice, explain GCSE 9–1 grades
9 things you need to know about 9-1