GCSE grades explained

If you’re a student in the UK, you’ve likely heard of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). This qualification is typically taken by students aged 14-16, and it’s a crucial steppingstone on the path to further education and employment.  

When you take your GCSEs, you’ll receive grades that reflect your performance in each subject. But what do these grades actually mean?

GCSE grading system 

The GCSE grading system has undergone some changes in recent years, so if you’re not familiar with the new system, it’s worth taking some time to get up to speed.  

Under the old system, GCSE grades were based on letters (A* to G), with A* being the highest grade.  

Under the new system, which was introduced in 2017, grades are numbered from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest grade. 

Why did the system change? 

The latest GCSE grading system was introduced with one purpose in mind — to make it simpler to distinguish the most exceptional candidates at the top of the grading system. 

Under the old system, a large proportion of students would achieve A* or A grades. While this may seem like a positive thing, it actually presented a problem for employers and universities who found it challenging to differentiate between candidates. 

What do GCSE grades mean? 

So, what do the new GCSE grades actually mean? Here’s a brief breakdown: 

  • Grade 9: This is the highest grade and represents outstanding performance. Only a small percentage of students achieve this grade.  
  • Grade 8: This grade is also considered exceptional and is the equivalent of an A* under the old system.  
  • Grade 7-6: These grades are equivalent to A grades under the old system and represent strong performance.  
  • Grade 5-4: These grades are equivalent to C grades under the old system and represent a good standard of performance.  
  • Grades 3-2: These grades are equivalent to D-E grades under the old system, and represent a pass, but with some room for improvement.  
  • Grade 1: This is the lowest grade and represents a fail.  

 It’s worth noting that some subjects may have different grade boundaries, so it’s always a good idea to check with your school or college to see how your grades are calculated.  


Do universities look at GCSEs? 

Prospective university students often question whether their GCSE results hold any significance in the admission process. The short answer is yes, universities do consider GCSE grades as a vital part of their admissions process.  

GCSE grades usually serve as an indicator of a student’s academic potential, granting universities insight into their general academic proficiency and accomplishments.  

Although GCSE grades are not the sole determinant of admissions decisions, they can be an important consideration, particularly for highly competitive courses and universities.  

In light of this, it’s imperative for students to strive for the best possible GCSE grades, as this can help to strengthen their university application and improve their chances of being accepted onto their chosen course.


Do employers check GCSEs? 

As part of their recruitment process, employers may review GCSE results to authenticate a candidate’s educational qualifications and ascertain their suitability for the job. However, the extent to which employers check GCSEs can vary depending on the role and industry. 

Some employers may place more emphasis on higher-level qualifications that directly relate to the job role, while others may only require standard English and maths GCSE passes. 


Do universities accept GCSE equivalents? 

Many universities do accept GCSE equivalents such as Functional Skills, BTECs and Key Skills. As Level 2 qualifications, these are considered to be of a similar standard to GCSEs.  

However, the acceptance of GCSE equivalents can vary between universities and courses. Some universities may require specific GCSEs to be taken in certain subjects, while others may not accept equivalents at all. 

If you’re unsure whether a particular GCSE equivalent will be accepted by a university,. iIt’s always best to check with the university directly or consult their website for more information. 


How do employers check GCSE results? 

Employers may want to check a candidate’s GCSE results as part of their recruitment process to ensure they have the necessary qualifications for the role. There are several ways employers might do this: 

  • Requesting copies of certificates: Employers can ask candidates to provide copies of their GCSE certificates as evidence of their qualifications. Candidates can obtain copies of their certificates from the awarding bodies or exam boards that issued them. 
  • Checking with the exam boards: Employers can contact the relevant exam boards directly to verify a candidate’s GCSE results. This is typically done by providing the candidate’s name, date of birth, and the subjects they took, and requesting confirmation of their grades.  
  • Checking with the National Pupil Database: The National Pupil Database is a database maintained by the Department of Education that contains information about all pupils in England, including their exam results. Employers can request access to this database to check a candidate’s GCSE results.  

It’s worth noting that employers may also carry out other checks as part of their recruitment process, such as verifying a candidate’s identity, right to work in the UK, and criminal record. However, when it comes to verifying GCSE results, the methods outlined above are typically the most common. 


Online GCSE courses 

We offer a range of online GCSE courses that are designed to help students achieve their full potential in their exams. The courses are taught by experienced and qualified tutors and are available in a variety of subjects. Here is the full list of courses we offer: