AS grades, marks and units – why it’s complicated

As lockdown continues, I’ve taken some time to go over the information we’ve shared so far and the enquiries we’ve handled in recent weeks.

By Philip Blaker, Chief Executive, Qualifications Wales 

We’ve made a great deal of progress, and people have thanked us for that. But there are more questions to answer to help people understand why we have made certain decisions. 

So I’m taking this opportunity to share our reasoning behind one of the most frequently asked questions on AS grades. 

Learners entered for the AS this summer will receive a calculated grade based on information provided by their school or college. However, these grades will not be used as part of the full A level award next summer and people have asked why this is the case. 

The answer is linked to the specific processes required to calculate an A Level grade. 

An A level grade is normally produced using a combination of marks from AS and A2 assessments at a unit level. 

Since units in different series might have subtly different levels of challenge, unit marks are converted into a Uniform Mark Scale (UMS). The marks achieved in each unit are combined to generate the overall A level result.  

This cannot happen in the same way next summer because this summer’s exams have been cancelled and unit-level mark data won’t be available. 

This summer, schools and colleges have been asked to provide the grade they think that their learners were most likely to have achieved had they sat the exams as normal, and to provide a rank order position for each learner within each grade. 

This centre assessment data will then be used in a statistical standardisation model, to allow for differences in severity or generosity by different centres. This will then produce ‘calculated’ grades that will be awarded to learners and used for certificates. 

The information collected from centres and the final qualification award for this summer are all at the level of grades, not marks. It would not have been reasonable to ask centres to provide actual marks for learners this summer.  

Given that this year’s calculated AS grades will not provide marks for next summer, we had to consider other ways of awarding the A level in summer 2021. The main problem we faced was that a grade can’t simply be converted into a unit mark because grades cover a range of marks within a UMS scale. 

It would be unfair to arbitrarily decide that a summer 2020 grade is converted to a UMS mark at the top, bottom or middle of the range of marks available as some learners would be advantaged or disadvantaged when A level grades are produced. 

This is why, to make the process fair for all learners, two options will be available in Summer 2021: learners can either sit their A2 units only or they sit both their AS and A2 units.  

If the first option is chosen, then statistical approaches that relate A2 unit performance to AS unit performance will be used to calculate the marks that would most likely have been achieved in the AS units. This is possible because there is a clear statistical relationship between performance in different units. This is a tried and tested method used to award a grade if a learner has been unable to sit a unit assessment due to illness.  

If the second option is chosen, then the best result from either option will be awarded. 

If an AS learner chooses not to progress further, the calculated AS grade issued this summer will enable them to progress onto other pathways such as training, employment, or to attend another school or college. It also provides a grade that can be used in UCAS applications. 

I hope this helps everyone understand why this is the fairest solution in what is a very difficult situation for everyone. 

Published 23 April 2020