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Notes from Ofqual’s summer report 2018 and December publications briefing

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National reference test


  • 2018 was the second year the reference test was held and the first opportunity to compare results over time; expect to see a small increase in performance due to increased familiarity with the new GCSEs. For this reason, evidence from NRT is not used in GCSE awarding.
  • Next year there will be three years worth of data and this will be considered as a source of evidence when preparing GCSE awarding and whether there is a case to adjust grade standards in English language and/or maths.
  • 2018 results:
    • No statistically significant changes from 2017 in English. 
    • In maths, at all three boundaries, the NRT 2018 results are slightly higher. This is not unexpected – generally, performance tends to increase in the second and third years of a new qualification.
    • Ofqual noted that they would probably talk to the awarding bodies about this evidence if a similar increase in maths results were seen in 2019 results.
    • The precision of the NRT is not quite as good in English as in maths – a different sample of students is more likely to yield slightly different results. This is likely to explain why maths results are higher than in 2017 but English shows no significant change (along with a number of other factors.)

Recently published


Summer report

  • Only focuses on GCSEs, AS and A levels this year.
  • There are 62 more reformed subjects this year than in previous years. 
  • Question paper errors: most appeared in standard papers and a small number in modified. Over 40% of the question paper errors were identified prior to the exam.
  • Exam administration - security breaches:
    • A reduction this year from previous years. 60% of those that occurred were due to a centre opening or handing out the incorrect paper at the time of the exam.
    • There were a small number of teacher/examiner leaks.
  • Exam administration – malpractice:
    • Ofqual engaged with schools and colleges to ensure they had the support they needed to run an exam series that limited the opportunity for malpractice.
    • A decrease was seen in malpractice notifications from 2017. 
    • Going forward, Ofqual is running a malpractice campaign and holding webinars to help share best practice.
  • Post results: incorrect results
    • There were 17 incidences of incorrect results being issued. 
    • There were significantly fewer grade changes this year than in previous years. 
    • Appeals won't be published until next year. 


Next steps

  • Ofqual feels this was a successful summer, with no issues of the same significance of last year.
  • A review of the summer 2018 assessment materials for reformed GCSE and A Level qualifications will be carried out. 
  • Ofqual will review optionality and predictability in reformed qualifications, as well as reviewing a large number of other questions.
  • Ofqual has asked exam boards to consider:
    • The use and content of erratum notices
    • Ensuring two people are present when opening papers
    • Instructions they might issue to ensure any security breach is effectively contained
    • How they might better coordinate their packaging and dispatch dates.

Official statistics

  • The number of cases of malpractice has remained stable for students for 2017.
  • There has been an increase in the number of mobile phones being brought into exam halls by students (but not necessarily being used.) 47% of all student penalties were due to this.
  • There has been a decrease in the number of instances of plagiarism by students: this is following a spike in 2017 due to an issue with some of the legacy qualifications (in particular, computer science GCSE).
  • Staff malpractice has decreased since 2017. 620 penalties were issued to 475 members of centre staff in 2018 compared to 1,030 penalties issued to 825 members of staff in 2017.
  • Penalties issued to centres have decreased this year in all categories.

Reviews of marking and moderation

  • For GCSE, the percentage of grades challenged has decreased since 2017, as has the percentage of grades changed.
  • For GCE, the percentage of grades challenged has increased since 2017, as has the percentage of grades changed.
  • 62% of all GCSE and GCE reviews resulted in no unit mark changes. This has increased from 56% in 2017.
  • The most commonly challenged grade at A*-G GCSE was grade D (25%).
  • The most commonly challenged grade at 9 to 1 GCSE was grade 3 (27%).
  • The most commonly challenged grade at GCE was B (32%).
  • In 2018, GCSE grades in performing and expressive arts, music, PE and health and social care were more likely to be challenged than in 2017. This is likely to be linked to the new NEA and Ofqual will be looking into this.


First published 02 January 2019