Expert Insights

A Level Grades Explained

Published 5th July 2024 by Alastair

A Level Grades Explained

A Level Grades: Explained

Understanding A Level grades is crucial for students aiming to excel academically and secure their desired university placements. The grading system not only determines immediate academic outcomes but also influences future educational and career opportunities. This guide will break down the A Level grading system, explain how grades are determined, and provide valuable tips to help you achieve top marks.

At Ivy Education, we specialise in helping students navigate their academic journeys with personalised tuition and expert guidance. Our team is dedicated to helping you achieve your highest potential.

For more information on A Levels, check out our detailed blog: What Are A Levels?

1.0 Top

The A Level Grading System


Grade Breakdown

A Levels are graded on a scale from A* to E (and U), with each grade representing a different level of student performance and understanding:

A*: Outstanding performance

Achievement: An A* is the highest grade attainable. It signifies exceptional performance, typically achieved by candidates scoring at least 90% in their overall assessments.
Implication: An A* demonstrates comprehensive understanding, mastery of subject content, and an ability to apply knowledge critically and effectively.

A: Excellent understanding

Achievement: An A Grade indicates very strong performance. It reflects a thorough grasp of the subject material, with a detailed understanding and effective application demonstrated throughout assessments.
Implication: The A grade achievers demonstrate high levels of analytical thinking, synthesis of concepts, and proficiency in subject-specific skills.

B: Good grasp of the subject

Achievement: A B denotes a solid understanding of the subject matter, with clear evidence of knowledge application and effective handling of complex tasks.
Implication: This grade reflects competence in critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to analyse and evaluate information proficiently.

C: Competent understanding

Achievement: A C represents satisfactory performance. It indicates a basic understanding of subject content and demonstrates some ability to apply knowledge in familiar contexts.
Implication: This grade reflects competence in fundamental concepts and skills, though with some limitations in depth and complexity of analysis.

D: Basic comprehension

Achievement: Grade D signifies a pass with limited achievement. It suggests a basic grasp of essential subject material but with significant gaps in understanding or application.
Implication: D reflects a threshold level of competence but may indicate weaknesses in certain areas requiring further development.

E: Minimum pass level

Achievement: Grade E is the lowest passing grade. It denotes a minimal level of understanding and competence in the subject.
Implication: E indicates that the candidate has met minimum requirements but with substantial limitations in knowledge and skills.

U: Ungraded (fail)

Achievement: Grade U signifies that the candidate has not met the minimum standards required for a pass. It reflects a lack of sufficient understanding and competence in the subject matter.
Implication: U indicates that the candidate has failed to demonstrate the basic knowledge and skills necessary to progress. It suggests a need for significant improvement and possibly a reattempt at the examination.


How Grades Are Determined

Grades are determined through a combination of three main assessments, including:

Written exams are a significant component of A Level assessments. These exams are typically held at the end of the course and assess knowledge, understanding, and application across the curriculum. Depending on the subject, exam questions can range from short-answer responses to essay-style questions.

Coursework refers to assignments, projects, or practical work completed throughout the course. It allows students to demonstrate research skills, application of knowledge, and understanding of subject-specific concepts. Coursework assessments vary by subject but may include essays, reports, experiments, or creative projects.

Practical assessments are crucial for subjects like the Sciences, where students conduct experiments or investigations. These assessments evaluate practical skills, data analysis, and the ability to apply theoretical knowledge in practical settings. Practical assessments are often conducted under controlled conditions and may involve written reports or presentations.

Each component is weighted differently, and the exact criteria can vary between exam boards.


Understanding UMS and Raw Marks

Raw Marks

These are the actual scores you receive on your exams and coursework. Each exam or coursework assignment is marked out of a set number of points; the total points you earn are your raw marks. These marks are straightforward and reflect your performance on a test or assignment. For example, if an exam is out of 100 marks and you score 85, your raw mark is 85.

UMS (Uniform Mark Scale)

The Uniform Mark Scale (UMS) is a standardised system that ensures fairness and consistency in grading across different exam sessions. Because exam papers can vary in difficulty from one year to the next, the UMS system adjusts raw marks to a common scale. This process ensures that a grade represents the same level of achievement regardless of the exam's difficulty.

Exam boards analyse the raw mark distributions for each exam session. They consider the paper's difficulty and all students' overall performance. Then, raw marks are converted to UMS using a predetermined scale. This scale ensures that the same level of performance is rewarded equally across different exam sessions. For example, a raw mark of 85 might be converted to a UMS score of 90 in one session and a UMS score of 88 in another, depending on the relative difficulty of the exams. Once converted to UMS, these scores are used to assign final grades. This helps maintain consistent standards year on year.


Grade Boundaries

Individual exam boards set grade boundaries yearly based on factors like exam difficulty and overall student performance. After students have taken their exams, and just as markers are nearly complete, collating all achieved grades, the grade boundary is set. While grade boundaries change each year to reflect any differences in the demand of the assessments, according to Ofqal, "...there is no cap on the number of students that can get a particular grade".

This means that every student who meets the required standard for a grade can achieve it, regardless of how many others reach the same level. This approach ensures fairness, allowing grades to accurately represent individual student performance without being limited by quotas.

For more information on how grade boundaries have changed year-on-year, look up the statistics of A-level grade outcomes on Ofqal's website.


Official Exam Board Websites

For the most current and official grade boundaries for A Level exams, students and educators should refer directly to the respective exam board websites:

2.0 Top

Importance of Predicted Grades

Predicted grades play a significant role in university applications. They are used by admissions officers to gauge a student's potential. Achieving realistic and strong predicted grades can enhance your university prospects.

Role of Predicted Grades in University Applications:

Early Assessment: Predicted grades provide universities with an early indication of a student's expected academic performance before final A Level results are available.

Admissions Decisions: Universities use predicted grades to make conditional offers for undergraduate courses. These offers are contingent upon students achieving specified grades in their A Level exams.

Competitive Courses: For highly competitive courses, predicted grades can influence whether a student receives an offer, especially when there are more applicants than available places.

Guidance for Students: Predicted grades also serve as a guide for students, helping them understand their current academic standing and set realistic goals for their final exams.


Tips for Strong Predicted Grades

Tips for Achieving Realistic and Strong Predicted Grades:

+ Maintain consistent academic performance throughout your A Level studies. This includes attending classes regularly, completing assignments on time, and actively participating in class discussions.

+ Build a positive relationship with your teachers and discuss your academic goals with them. They will base predicted grades on your class performance, mock exam results, and their assessment of your potential.

+ Take mock exams seriously, as they provide a benchmark for your performance and help teachers make accurate predictions. Use mock exam feedback to identify strengths and areas needing improvement.

+ Allocate sufficient time for self-study and revision outside and using varied revision techniques.

+ If you encounter challenges in any subject, seek additional support through tutoring, study groups, or online resources to strengthen your understanding and improve your grades.

+ Be realistic when setting your predicted grades. Consider your current performance, teacher feedback, and your chosen universities' requirements when setting ambitious yet achievable goals.

3.0 Top

What Happens if You Fail an Exam?

Retake the Exam
Students can usually retake the exam in the next available exam period. This allows them to improve their grade and meet the entry requirements for their desired university course or career path.

Consider Alternative Qualifications or Vocational Courses
A Levels aren't for everyone, and in some cases, students who struggle with their coursework and exams to only find out too late. Depending on their career goals, students may explore alternative qualifications or vocational courses that align with their interests and strengths. Some students opt for more specialist courses and universities or seek out apprenticeships.

Seek Advice from Teachers or Career Advisors
Students should seek advice from teachers or career advisors who can guide alternative pathways, re-sit exams, or explore different educational opportunities.

If your family requires support with unexpected grade results, our expert consultants provide tailored advice for families in unique circumstances and assist in finding alternative educational pathways. Reach out today for personalised guidance and support.

4.0 Top

What are UCAS Tariff Points?

The UCAS Tariff Point system provide a standardised way for universities to compare different qualifications and assess an applicant's eligibility for courses.

How UCAS Tariff Points Work

Each qualification and grade is assigned a specific number of UCAS Tariff Points. For example, an A* at A Level is worth more points than a B grade. Add the points from all your eligible qualifications and grades to calculate your total UCAS Tariff Points.

Universities set entry requirements for UCAS Tariff Points, meaning a course might require a certain number of points, which can be achieved through different combinations of grades and qualifications.

Points Allocation for A Levels

Here's a simplified breakdown of the UCAS Tariff Points for A Levels:

A Level Grades and Points:

  • A* = 56 points
  • A = 48 points
  • B = 40 points
  • C = 32 points
  • D = 24 points
  • E = 16 points

Use the UCAS Tariff Point Calculator to help you find out your total points. Bear in mind that not all qualifications are included on the tariff point calculator, so search for your course on the UCAS website.

5.0 Top

What Subjects Can You Study?

There is quite an extensive list of subjects to study at A Level. We've even written a guide on the 10 hardest A Level subjects according to our research.

Here are some of the most popular A Level subjects:

  • Mathematics
  • Further Mathematics
  • English Literature
  • English Language
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • History
  • Economics
  • Business Studies
  • Geography
  • Computer Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Modern Languages (e.g., French, Spanish, German)
  • Art and Design
  • Music
  • Design and Technology

For a comprehensive list of A Level subjects, you need to refer to each exam board individually and find the right subject. Equally, you will have to check with your school or local centre to ensure that they teach the subjects you want to take.

For more information, use the following resources:

Explore our blog on the "Top 10 Hardest A Level Subjects" to discover more about challenging A Level courses and tips on how to excel.

6.0 Top

Tips to Achieve Top A Levels Grades

Utilise Effective Study Techniques
A well-structured study schedule is essential for effective preparation. It helps manage time efficiently and cover all subject areas adequately. We cover this in our blog: How to Revise for A Levels.

Exam Techniques
Like practising your study techniques, effective time management practice for the actual exams is crucial; allocate time for each question based on its marks. Practice answering techniques such as structuring essays, presenting arguments logically, and demonstrating an understanding of key concepts.

Utilising Feedback
Feedback from teachers provides valuable insights into areas for improvement—act on feedback by revisiting challenging topics, practising more questions, or adjusting study methods accordingly.

Continuous Assessment
Maintain consistent effort and focus throughout the course. Regular self-assessment helps identify strengths and weaknesses early, allowing for targeted revision.

Seeking Help When Needed
Don’t hesitate to seek help from teachers, tutors, or peers when facing challenges. Ivy Education offers private tuition services for A Levels to support your academic goals.

7.0 Top

What Happens on A Levels Results Day?

On A Levels results day, students can typically collect their results online, or from their school or college in person.

If you are collecting your results online, many institutions provide secure online portals where students can access their results. Results are usually released in mid-August each year.


Tips for What to Do Immediately After Receiving the Results

1. Celebrate Achievements: Whether results are as expected or better, take time to celebrate your hard work and achievements! Receiving your A Levels is an incredibly important milestone in your educational journey, so you should take a breather and reflect on your achievements.

2. Review University Offers: If you have met the conditions of your university offers, congratulations!
Ivy Education can help you with your next steps.

3. Check UCAS Track and Accept Your Offer: Log in to UCAS Track to confirm your university place and any updates regarding your application.

Follow the instructions to accept your offer and complete any necessary administrative tasks, such as accommodation arrangements and student finance applications.

4. Prepare for University:

If University is your next step, attend any pre-university events or orientations offered by your chosen university. Start preparing mentally and practically for the transition to university life, including living independently and managing academic workload.


Next Steps if Results Are Unexpected

Clearing: If you did not meet the conditions of your offers, you can explore alternative courses through Clearing. Check UCAS for available courses and contact universities directly.

Clearing Plus: If you did better than expected, the process is similar to clearing, but you will go through Clearing Plus.

Resits: If you wish to improve your grades, you can retake exams in the next available exam series.

8.0 Top

Final Thoughts

As you embark on your A Level journey and approach results day, remember these key points to navigate this important phase:

Preparation and Results Day: Ensure you know where and how to collect your results. The moment you receive them, take time to understand and interpret your grades.

Next Steps: Whether your results meet expectations or not, there are pathways available. Confirm your university place through UCAS if you've met conditions, or explore options like Clearing and Adjustment if necessary.

Continuous Improvement: Reflect on feedback and use it to enhance your understanding and performance. Effective study techniques and seeking support when needed are vital.

Looking Ahead: Stay focused on your goals and utilize resources like Ivy Education's private tuition services for personalized support and guidance.

For further insights on A Levels and pre-University preparation, explore our other blogs:

The Ivy Education Team wishes you the very best of luck with your A Levels journey!

Need More Support?

Ivy Education offers University preparation services to help you with your applications. Contact us today to learn more.

Contact Us
10.0 Top


Each grade from A* to E reflects different levels of performance and understanding, with A* being the highest.

Grades are calculated based on a combination of exams, coursework, and practicals, with each component weighted differently.

Raw marks are the actual scores, while UMS are standardised scores that convert raw marks to a common scale.

Consistent study, effective use of feedback, and seeking help when needed can all contribute to improved grades. Also, it would be best to read our guide on how to improve your A Level grades.

Consider options like retakes, alternative qualifications, or vocational courses, and seek advice from teachers or career advisors.

A good grade is subjective but generally refers to high grades like A* and A, which open more opportunities for university admissions and future careers.

Grades are used to assess academic ability and potential, influencing university admission decisions.

Yes, retaking exams is an option for students who wish to improve their grades.

Consider retakes or exploring other pathways, and seek advice from educators and career advisors.

Yes, you can appeal grades if you believe there has been an error in the marking process. But you must understand that appealing your grade could both increase and lower your score, so it may only be worth doing so if you are on the edge of a grade boundary.

Contact your school or exam board to discuss the possibility of a re-mark or appeal.

Yes, through options like clearing or exploring alternative courses and institutions.

Exam boards adjust grade boundaries to account for the difficulty level of exams, ensuring fair grading for all students.

Alastair - Ivy Education - Author of A Level Grades Explained

BY Alastair

Alastair Delafield is the Managing Director and founder of Ivy Education.

All Author Posts