Results day 2022: this year’s A Level exam grades explained - how do A and A*s compare to 2021 and 2020?

This year’s students were the first to sit exams since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The proportion of students who achieved the top A-level grade of A* has doubled since before the pandemic.

Hundreds of thousands of pupils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving their results today (18 August), after they were the first cohort to physically sit exams since the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020.

Results show that the overall pass rate is lower than in 2021 and 2020, when grading systems were altered due to the pandemic, but that the proportion of students receiving top grades has soared since 2019.

This year, 14.6% of grades achieved were A*s - compared with just 7.7% in the year before the pandemic.

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In 2021, the percentage of those who received A*s sat at 19.1%, but education experts have said grades were expected to be lower than last year - when pupils were assessed by their teachers.

Overall, 36.4% of students received A or A*s this year compared with 25.4% in 2019.

Education Secretary James Cleverly told Sky News: “They were more generous, and I think that is legitimate - that they were more generous in the pandemic years.”

He said it was “always” the plan to have grades reflect pre-pandemic results.

“That is going to be seen this year,” Mr Cleverly continued, “so students might get slightly lower grades than perhaps they were expecting.”

Lila Hallam celebrates with her friends after opening her A-level results at Norwich School, Norwich.

In 2020, teachers submitted predicted results for pupils to exam boards, and students were then given grades based on a controversial formula devised by England’s exams regulator, Ofqual.

The new system received huge backlash, after around 40% of A-level results were downgraded, prompting the Government to take a U-turn on the way in which grades were decided.

This year, the overall pass rate - or, the proportion of entries graded A* to E - sits at 98.4%.

This is down from 99.5% in 2021, but up from 97.6% in 2019.

Pupils in Scotland received the results of their Highers last week, with results showing a similar trend in that the pass rate was down on last year but above pre-pandemic levels from 2019.

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When it comes to subjects specifically, the highest pass rate was in Irish - a subject only taken in Northern Ireland.

Excluding this, the subject which most students passed was German.

ICT had the lowest pass rate, while ‘other modern languages’ - which does not include Spanish, French, German, Irish or Welsh - saw the highest proportion of A*s and As.

The lowest proportion of A*s or As was in ‘health and social care - double award’.

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level results today

This subject however was only taken by 886 students, so, the next lowest proportion of top grades was seen in English Language.

Maths was once again the most popular A-level, with Psychology coming in at second place.

English Literature saw the biggest drop in candidates for a single subject, meaning it fell out of the top ten most popular subjects for the first time in history.

Kath Thomas, interim chief executive of the JCQ, said the results “represent a huge milestone” in the UK’s recovery from the pandemic.

She congratulated this year’s cohort, commenting: “Not only is it the culmination of two years of hard work, but these students are the first to have taken formal summer exams in three years, so we should all celebrate this achievement.”

Ms Thomas added that the results were a “testament to the diligence and resilience of young people and school staff across the country”.

She explained that the drop in pass grades from 2021 reflects the special arrangements that were put in place to support students through “another challenging year due to Covid”.

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Results also show that a record number of students will be taking up a place at a UK university this year - with more disadvantaged students than ever before receiving a place.

Dr Jo Saxton, chief regulator of Ofqual, said: “I felt strongly that it would not have been right to go straight back to pre-pandemic grading in one go but accept that we do need to continue to take steps back to normality.

“These results overall, coming as they do broadly midway between 2021 and 2019, represent a staging post on that journey.”