A-level changes this summer

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With major changes to A levels this summer, research suggests that the new A* grade could go to 7% of entries.

Each year, approximately 500,000 candidates take A level exams. Students taking maths or languages are the most likely to score top marks.

Almost one in four pupils taking further maths are likely to get an A*, while about one in 10 English literature students will, according to research from exams regulator Ofqual.

The higher grade was brought in to help universities differentiate between the brightest students.

The Ofqual study found that on average, across all subjects, 7% of last year's entries would have earned an A* if marked under the new scheme.

Those who took maths were more likely to reach the top level than those taking most other subjects.

More than 72,000 took maths in 2009 and 13% of those would have got an A* under the new marking guidelines, according to Ofqual.

More than 10,000 took further maths and, of those, 23% would have got an A*.

In another popular subject - English literature - 9% of students would have got an A*.

In French - taken by more than 14,000 students - 7% of students would have been awarded an A* and in Spanish 8%.

The likelihood of getting an A* is even higher in other languages, including Arabic (13%), Bengali (10%) Japanese (45%) and Persian (29%), although these are taken by far fewer students.

The new A level specifications comprise four units rather than six in most subjects. The examinations introduce more 'stretch and challenge', which means that a broader range of question types and more questions requiring extended answers. This summer will also see the introduction of the new A* grade at A level.

Kathleen Tattersall, Chair of Ofqual, said: "This is a period of significant change to A levels. We believe that it is important to set out clearly what is being done to ensure that standards are maintained.

"Ofqual and its fellow regulators have been working for four years with the awarding bodies to make sure that the grades awarded this summer, including the new A* grade, are consistent and fair.

"This work has included detailed scrutiny of the individual specifications, agreeing the principles to be followed during the awarding process and ensuring consistency of approach across the awarding organisations.

"During the summer we will be monitoring the awarding process and the results in order to ensure that the grades candidates achieve are fair to them and are in line with those awarded in previous years.

"Work undertaken has so far included modelling A* outcomes from 2009, had the grade been awarded then. The modelling shows that there will be differences between the proportion of candidates who achieve an A* grade in different subjects.

"There are differences in the A and E grades awarded in different subjects each year and this is to be expected," said Kathleen. "It does not mean that some subjects are easier or harder than others, rather it highlights differences in the cohorts taking those subjects."

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