HE Exams Wiki

This page contains a brief summary of what has happened in previous years with regards exam cancellations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

What happened in 2021

How were grades awarded in Summer 2021

GCSEs and A Levels


The logic behind cancelling exams this year was due to the wide variations in how schools had been affected by Covid disruption and concerns over 'lost learning'. As a result schools and exam centres were given a lot of flexibility. This has meant that there has been quite a wide variation in approach across centres used by home educators.

Grades this year were based on a collection of evidence. This did not have to cover the full content - centres were supposed to assess only on content covered, but the Heads of Centre had to sign as declaration that enough content had been covered to allow onward progression. The evidence was supposed to cover all assessment objectives. The evidence was expected to as far as possible be consistent across the cohort (eg couldn't pick the best evidence for each student).

For private candidates, the guidance identified 3 types of candidates -

  • Those who had worked with a tutor/DLP affiliated to the exam centre or recognised by the LA. Exam centres were able to accept evidence/grade submitted by the tutor subject to internal quality assurance.
  • Those who had worked with a private tutor/DLP not affiliated to the centre. Exam centres were able to accept evidence submitted by the tutor but were required to collect their own evidence in order to validate.
  • Those who had not worked with a tutor. Exam centres could work with the candidate to collect the evidence. This usually took the form of assessments/exams at the centre or remotely invigilated.

Evidence set/supervised/marked by parents was inadmissible.

Centres were expected to reach a 'holistic' judgement when grading. There were no specific grade boundaries in place. Centres were told to mark to pre-Covid levels (grade boundaries for Nov 20 were seen as too generous). Grade descriptors were produced by JCQ for centres to judge against. When reaching judgements centres had to consider

  • Coverage of assessment objectives.
  • Coverage of content.
  • Authenticity – is the evidence the student’s own work?
  • Level of control – was it taken in timed conditions? Was there an opportunity for redrafting? Was it supervised?
  • Marking – how much support was available when applying the mark scheme? What internal standardisation processes have been applied?

Centres submitted a Centre Policy to JCQ by April 30th. This was reviewed and signed off by the exam boards.

Grades were submitted to the exam boards by June 18th following the evidence gathering and internal quality assurance.

Centres then had to submit samples of evidence to the exam board for review. Where there were problems identified further evidence was requested and possibly centre grades reviewed.

The processes are outlined in much more detail in the links below.

Links and Guides

Guidance for Students and Parents on Summer 2021 - JCQ

Student guide to awarding grades 2021 - Ofqual

Private Candidates - Q&A

Guidance for Centres Accepting Private Candidates

Guidance for Centres on Summer 2021

More from JCQ

Edexcel International GCSEs


Pearson produced a set of 'unseen test materials' (effectively exam papers) and a timetable.

Centres had the options to

  1. Sit the unseen materials on the test dates. The materials were treated as exam papers. If sat on the timetable date, the unseen materials were sufficient for evidence for exam centres to grade from.
  2. Use the unseen materials on a later date. If so centres were required to produce at least 3 pieces of evidence for each candidate.
  3. Not use the unseen materials at all and gather alternative evidence.

Pearson provided a marking service for the unseen materials. There were no grades provided only marks. There were no grade boundaries either. Centres were advised to grade to pre Covid levels.

Apart from the optional unseen materials, the approach for Edexcel International GCSEs ran parallel to that for GCSEs

Links and Guides

Pearson Guidance on the determination of grades for International A/AS Levels and International GCSEs for May/June 2021

Guidance for Centres Accepting Private Candidates - International Qualifications

CAIE IGCSEs and A Levels


Centres were required to produce a portfolio of exactly three substantial (at least one hour of concentrated work to complete) pieces of work for each candidate. The types of work to be included among the three pieces of work were at the centre’s discretion but it was recommended that exam papers from pre summer 2020 were used for at least one.

To ensure consistency and quality, this awarding body used a 'benchmarking process' which is explained in this guide.

Links and Guides

Cambridge information on School Assessed Grades


GCSEs, A Levels and Edexcel International GCSEs

Pearsons approach to appeals, for the purposes of IGCSEs follows the JCQ guidelines for GCSE/A levels - factsheet is here

JCQ have published a guide to appeals for students and parents - This is also helpful Guidance for Students and Parents on Summer 2021 - JCQ as is the Important information for students including form to request a centre review

Qualification Wales Guide to Students and Parents for those who have done WJEC GCSEs/A levels

OCR - Fact sheet on appeals

Pearson information on appeals

AQA appeals information

There are 3 possible outcomes to an appeal -

  • The grade goes down
  • The grade remains the same
  • The grade is raised

You can withdraw from a centre review providing no ruling has been made. Once a centre review ruling has been made or once an appeal to an awarding organisation has begun the result of the appeal will stand. Candidates need to be aware that an appeal may lower the grade.

The grounds for an appeal
  • Administrative - eg a factual error such as transposing grades for students with similar names
  • Procedural - whether an exam centre followed procedures laid out in their Centre Policy (which has already been accepted and approved by JCQ - you can not challenge the policy) properly and consistently.
  • Unreasonable exercise of academic judgement - it's important to be aware that Awarding Organisations will not remark individual assessments. Even if you sat a past paper and your mark is right by the published grade boundaries (or even, potentially, the wrong side of one), you won’t be able to ask for a review of marking in the hope of picking up one more and moving up a grade. It has to be significantly wrong, and your overall grade will have been based on the basket of evidence. If you are unsure on the process check the section on 'how grades were awarded'. The questions for this are; was the evidence used reasonable and was the grade awarded reasonable based on the evidence. One AO says this "We will ask independent reviewers to consider if the original teacher assessed grade was a reasonable exercise of academic judgement. Our independent reviewers would only decide if there had been an unreasonable exercise of judgement if the teacher assessed grade was clearly wrong, i.e. if there was no basis upon which the grade could properly have been given."
Stages of appeals

Stage 1: A centre review

A centre review is the first stage of a summer 21 appeal. Candidates can ask exam centres if an administrative or procedural error has occurred. Centres can instigate these error checks themselves before results have been issued where prompted by a school's or college's own quality assurance processes. Requests for a Centre Review post results must be made directly by students to the exam centre which submitted the grade. If a centre finds no error they will communicate this to the candidate and the grade will remain unchanged. If a centre finds an error in the grade they submitted, they need to send exam boards a correction request. If the AO agrees with the revised grade, and the reason for it, a changed grade will be issued and the candidate informed.

Important information for students including form to request a centre review

Stage 2: An appeal to an awarding organisation

Before candidates can request stage two of the appeals process, you must first have asked their centre to complete a centre review (stage 1). If the centre does not agree about the error, but you still believe there has been an administrative or procedural error, or that the centre has exercised an 'unreasonable academic judgement' in deciding a grade, you can ask the centre to submit an appeal to the exam board. You will need to explain your reason for thinking the grade is wrong when you request the appeal - worth being prepared for this. All the evidence on which the judgement was made must be submitted with the appeal. This JCQ document explains the way appeals based on 'unreasonable academic judgement' will be carried out and judged.

Following the conclusion of the awarding organisation's appeal process, a student who remains concerned their grade was incorrect may be able to apply for a procedural review to the Exam Procedures Review Service (EPRS) from the relevant regulator for GCSE/Alevel. There are EPRS processes for Ofqual (England) and Qualification Wales.

Ofqual - Exam Procedures Review Service (EPRS)

Qualification Wales

For Edexcel International GCSE the appeal should go to Pearson.

Cambridge (CAIE)

Cambridge have published a guide to appeals for students and parents

There are 3 possible outcomes to an appeal -

  • The grade goes down
  • The grade remains the same
  • The grade is raised
Stages of appeals

Stage 1: A centre review

The first stage in the appeal process is asking the Centre to check whether they made a mistake when they submitted the grade, or when they were determining the grade. This includes things such as administration errors, applying special consideration or access arrangements, disputes over evidence.

This document explains what will happen during the centre review

At the end of the review if the centre finds reason to change your grade they will submit the new grade to CAIE by 20th Sep.

If you still have concerns after stage one there are 2 options for further appeal.

Stage 2: Option A: Unreasonable exercise of academic judgement

If you believe the judgement reached based on the evidence provided is wrong you can ask the centre to submit a post results check service 2 to CAIE.

The evidence and the rational that explains the centre's grading approach will be sent to the awarding body for review.

Stage 2: Option B: A special enquiry

This is if you have concerns over the choice of the three pieces of evidence that your centre has used to determine your grade and/or how special consideration or access arrangements have been managed. You will need to submit a statement to your exam centre outlining your concerns which they will submit to CAIE.

CAIE say "We will consider whether the school has applied their approach properly and consistently, in line with our guidance for school-assessed grades. The appeals process is not a way of getting another opinion about a candidate’s work." The grounds here are that the centre hasn't followed the guidelines laid out by CAIE.

Stage 3: Further appeals

If you have further concerns regards how the appeals have been carried out you can ask the exam centre to instigate a further review from the exam board on your behalf.

What happened in 2020

On March 20th 2020 the Government announced that all exams would be cancelled this summer and students in schools would be awarded grades. To say it's been a difficult time for home educators is a bit of an understatement. Few home educators were able to meet the criteria for grading. For those who did there were often extra costs and stresses

  • The exam centre was the crucial point in being able to grade this summer. A course provider even if they provided grades/evidence for home educators this year was only able to help if the centre was willing to work with them. Do not sign up with a provider solely in the hope of a grade without engaging with your exam centre first. There is a list of centres here who supported home educators this year.

Grading in Summer 2020

Centre Assessment Grades (CAGs)

What are CAGs? These are the way grades have been awarded for summer 2020 exams. The term 'predicted grades' is often used but that is not strictly true. So how will the grade be worked out for those who were able to apply.

  1. Tutors/DLPs put forward a package of evidence to the exam centre. A predicted grade would have only been one part, there would be invigilated mocks and other evidence of work.
  2. The Centre would have reviewed the evidence, possibly adjusted the grade and then ranked alongside other candidates. This was submitted to the exam board. There is information here that explains Ofqual guidelines.
  3. The exam boards then applied 'norm referencing' or standardisation processes. This will change the CAG up or down based on statistical information about national performance (so roughly the same % get the same grades each year- this is not new - as it is how exam boards set grade boundaries) and on centre past statistics. There is evidence that submitted grades were higher than would have been expected, an average of about 12% for A Level, 9% for GCSE and half a grade for CAIE so standardisation has always been an important part. The problems for private candidates are they mostly are completely "unrelated" education wise to previous candidates at the same centre and/or were using specialist centres which don't have a 'typical' cohort. Plus students going for grades this year may be less representative of the usual spread of private candidates.

On Monday 17th August the Government announced that students would get the CAG awarded or the standardised grade - whichever was higher. CAIE and Edexcel IGCSE followed. Previously released CAIE grades were withdrawn and reissued. The decision followed pressure due to the number of CAGs that had been downgraded

Ofqual factsheet on the standardisation of grades

Ofqual powerpoint on the standardisation of grades

Cambridge CAIE factsheet on the standardisation of grades

Why wasn't my CAG what my tutor predicted?

The centre had to have absolute confidence in the grade it put forward or it risked all grades at the centre.

Things a centre may have used to determine CAG - not exhaustive!

Tutor's grade. Mock result. Where the mock came from - locked papers or SAMs with answers on line? Was any of the work verified as the student's (invigilated mock for example). If the mocks/evidence was tutor generated how closely did it tally with paper styles, did it cover balance of qs or just short answers. Qualifications of tutors. Interviews with students to verify work. The evidence will have been combed over.

They also had to standardise, so compare one tutors grade x with another's. Loads of cross-marking, discussion, justifying between parties within a centre.

Also worth considering that from April guidelines were that tutors shouldn't give marks or discuss grades with candidates. So take into consideration when and context of discussions about grades. What was said in Feb/March may not be what tutor submitted.


The appeals procedures for 2020 were different to normal and vary between JCQ boards and CAIE.

The autumn exam series are seen as an important part of the appeals process. If you don't agree - sit an exam, appears to be the line.

JCQ boards (Edexcel, AQA, OCR)

Ofqual Student Guide to Appeals and Complaints

Individuals cannot challenge your school or college under the appeals process on the centre assessment grade(s) it submitted.

If you believe there may have been an admin error you can ask the centre to review and appeal.

If you believe there was malpractice there is scope to challenge but do read the above about why your CAG may differ from predicted grades/course marks from your tutor.

Some background into the reasons behind the appeals process.

Cambridge (CAIE)

Cambridge information on appeals

Basically these are centre challenges, not individual, and will affect all in the centre's entry for that subject- so a challenge could affect all grades- by going up or down.

Autumn/Winter Exams 2020/21

In England there was a full timetable of GCSE examinations which started on Monday 2 November and finish on Monday 23 November. A Levels start on Monday 5 October and finish on Friday 23 October.

For GCSEs and A Levels the student had to have been entered for the exam in the June series by March 31st in order to be eligible for the Autumn series. They are not open to new entries just resits and deferrals.

Edexcel are offered a full timetable of IGCSEs in November 2020. The arrangements are available to all students using international qualifications, including new entries, deferrals and students wanting to re-sit from any previous exam series, including the May and June 2020 exam series and are subject to demand. This was an additional arrangement for 2020 only.

Edexcel's usual January sitting iwas much reduced in 2021 offering just Mathematics A, Mathematics B, Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

The Cambridge Autumn series was a slightly expanded version of their normal Autumn series available to new entries.

Grade boundaries were adjusted to make them inline with the summer's more generous gradings.