YouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor

48% of Brits say top grades rise due to easier exams despite 2012 drop; 61% support tougher marking

Almost half of the British public believe that the numbers of students receiving top grades at A-level – a trend over the past few decades broken only this year ‒ is a result of easier exams; while just under a quarter believe it is a result of higher teaching and schooling standards, our poll shows, just under a week after A-level results were released and two days before GCSE grades come out.

On a related note, two thirds feel that it was right for a tougher marking system to be brought in this year.

  • 48% believe that top exam results for A-Levels have consistently risen over past decades because exams have got easier
  • 22% believe it is because teaching and school standards have got better
  • 12% say students are smarter or are working harder
  • 6% other

Two thirds say right to introduce tougher marking

This year marks the first time in 21 years that the number of pupils achieving 'A' grades at A-level has dropped. Following tougher marking rules introduced this year, results show that 26.6% of grades issued this year are A or A*, falling from 27% in 2011. 

However, the overall pass rate rose for the 30th successive year, to 98%. 

In light of this, three in five Britons feel it was right to introduce tougher marking rules, despite the drop in grades, while one in five thinks tougher marking puts students at a disadvantage in comparison to previous years.

  • 61% say it was right to introduce tougher marking rules despite leading to a drop in grades, believing that past exams had become too easy and the best students couldn't stand out
  • 18% say it was wrong to introduce tougher marking rules as they believe it puts current pupils at a disadvantage to previous students
  • 11% say it was neither wrong nor right to introduce tougher marking rules

It was reported that the exams regulator Ofqual has adopted a new approach which will limit grade inflation, while also making the exams more challenging. However, speaking specifically about this year, examiners have suggested that the fall in grades is actually more likely to be due to a change in the range of students taking exams rather than any pressure from Ofqual.

Rigorous, or not demanding enough?

Despite this year's slight drop in high scores, and just two days before GSCE results come out, the debate over whether exams have got easier continues.

Speaking to the Metro newspaper, Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders said that suggesting exams had got easier was "undermin[ing] confidence in the system", and "morally wrong". Students are "working really hard and taking exams that are rigorous, " he said, and "shouldn’t be told that their achievements are not good enough."

However, the new marking changes were reportedly prompted by Ofqual's own report from May this year, which found that exams had ‘got easier’ and needed updating.

At the time, a spokesman for the Department of Education told the Independent newspaper that "in recent years not enough has been demanded of students and that they aren't being asked to demonstrate real depth and breadth of knowledge."

Biology, Chemistry and Geography A-levels were among some of the more criticised subjects.

See the survey details and full results (page 7+)

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