News story: Summer 2015 AS and A level results: a brief explanation

Key points

  1. Overall results this summer for AS and A level are very stable, with only small changes in the proportions achieving each grade. These small changes are a result of normal variation.
  2. Changes in the subject choices at A level reflect an ongoing shift towards more traditional subjects.
  3. Changes made to French, German and Spanish assessments appear to have had the anticipated impact on the proportion of A* grades awarded, although in German the overall proportion is reduced due to a weaker cohort overall.

Summary

Across all UK students, the proportions achieving grades in summer 2015 are as follows.

A level

  • the proportion achieving A* is unchanged from 2014, at 8.2%
  • the proportion achieving A* and A is down 0.1 percentage points to 25.9%
  • the proportion achieving A* to E is up 0.1 percentage points to 98.1%

AS level

  • the proportion achieving A is up 0.3 percentage points to 20.2%
  • the proportion achieving A-E is up 0.6 percentage points to 89.4%

For individual subjects, the changes in the proportions of students achieving each grade are likely to be due to shifts in entry patterns between subjects as well as normal variation between years.

The trend towards more students entering ‘traditional’ subjects will affect the ability profile of the cohort entering these subjects, and is likely to be one of the reasons for the small changes in the proportion of students at each grade.

Modern foreign languages: French, German and Spanish

In recent years, teachers and other stakeholders have raised concerns about how few students achieve the top grades in the modern foreign language (MFL) A levels, compared to other A level subjects, and whether the right students were being awarded these top grades. In response to these concerns, we conducted an in-depth analysis of the design and working of the exam questions in A level French, German and Spanish.
We required exam boards to make changes to their question papers and mark schemes for the 2015 exams. In general these seem to have led to an increase in the proportion of students achieving an A* grade, with the proportion of students achieving A* increasing by 1.5 percentage points in French and by 0.4 percentage points in Spanish. In German the proportion of 18 year-old students (year 13) achieving A* increased but the overall proportion of A* grades is lower than 2014 because of changes in the profile of the cohort.

Our approach to AS and A levels in summer 2015

Our approach to summer 2015 AS and A levels has been to use predictions based on students’ prior attainment at GCSE, as was the approach in previous years. We agreed with exam boards that if the students in summer 2015 entering for a particular A level subject are similar, in terms of their GCSE attainment, to the students in 2014, then we would expect results to be similar. This approach aims to make sure that the standards between different exam boards in a subject are aligned.

This briefing is based on data published by JCQ on Thursday 13th August 2015.

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