your child will face in Secondary
Examinations are rites of passage in a child's
life: defining moments by which much that happens before or after
A lot rides on them too: a coveted
University place, or the entrance
onto the training course to follow
the career the child has always
Yet for many parents and those not
directly involved in schools, the
examination system is a confusing
set of acronyms, levels and grades.
This article will help to demystify
some of the jargon and explain
exactly what goes on.
For each set of examinations
covered, it will look at what the
exams consist of and what the exam
'means' to the child and the future
of their academic career.
Key Stage Three Standard
Assessment Tests (SATs)
Tests at the end of Year 7 and 8
(ages 11 and 12 years) are now
growing in importance and are a
useful preparation for the KS3 SATs,
designed to measure a child's
progress in the first three years of
Secondary school. As well as sitting
papers in English, Maths and
Science, the child's teachers will
produce Teacher Assessment levels
which are seen to be as important as
the formal Tests.
What is covered?
Reading, writing; a scene from a
Shakespeare play prepared in
Algebra, handling data,
measuring, number, shape and
space, mental arithmetic.
Physics, Biology and Chemistry.
The SATs results
arrive in school by the end of the
year. They may be used to help set
or band students for GCSEs, but have
no more bearing than that. They are
not mandatory outside the state
sector and thus many Independent
schools do not hold the Tests.
- Most children
score between levels 3 and 7,
with 5 being the average.
- For children
who are not expected to reach
Level 3, alternative Tests are
run in the classroom with
- For higher
achievers there is the option of
sitting the extension paper in
each subject. If they do well
enough, the child is awarded
level 8 or EP - exceptional
performance. The school will
provide further information if
they recommend entering your
General Certificates of
Secondary Education (GCSEs)
At the same time as your child is
involved in the KS3 Tests, they will
need to choose their GCSE options.
These are the most important exams
that a child has yet had to face, as
the results have a real bearing on
their future. They are often the
passport to further study: if the
child is going to stay on at school
/ college for A Levels or GNVQs,
GCSE grades are an important
indicator of ability and potential;
if they are hoping to begin an
apprenticeship or other work-based
training, GCSEs are a valuable proof
subjects are Maths and English,
as well as a science, a modern
foreign language and Design and
Technology (which may be studied
as short courses).
- The student
can opt for a variety of other
- All the exams
have two or more papers and a
coursework component. Modern
Languages and English include
oral / aural assessments, while
other subjects include a
Technology, Physical Education,
Religious Education, sex
education and careers guidance
are also mandatory and run
alongside GCSE studies.
Schools usually hold
'mocks' at some time in Year 11
(often just before or after
Christmas, or around the February
half term), which give students
valuable examination practice,
enable them to see 'real' GCSE
papers and crucially allow
them to see the aspects that they
need to work hardest on before the
real exams in May and June.
- Pass Grades
are awarded from A* to G.
- A* is awarded
to the very highest band of A
- Mainly for
historical reasons, the C/D
borderline is an important one
(it is seen as the equivalent to
the old O Level pass) and
students will be pushed to gain
a C if at all possible.
- Students who
are not expected to achieve a G
grade may earn a Certificate of
Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and
A Levels are the final set of exams
that may be taken at secondary
school (if the school has a Sixth
Form), or at college. They are the
traditional entry requirements to
Recently the courses were updated.
Now students can follow a course of
study at an Advanced level for one
year only and gain a recognised
qualification (AS) at the end of it,
whilst simultaneously studying for A
Levels. This broadens the academic
range of students: for example,
someone studying three sciences to A
level can also study History for a
year. Universities welcome students
with a greater breadth of knowledge
and it also provides a more balanced
diet of study for those heading for
employment or training.
Timing of the exams:
National Vocational Qualifications
(modules) may be held at various
fixed times throughout the
two-year A Level period.
- Most students
enter for the AS modules (A1)
during the first year and the
second part of the A level (A2)
at the end of the course.
- Some students
sit both A1 and A2 at the end of
two years, like the old A
Part One GNVQ develops general
work-related knowledge and skills
for students. It is designed to be
studied alongside GCSEs or other
qualifications and is now generally
available in schools and colleges.
It is available at Foundation and
Intermediate level in various
vocational areas, including
Business, Leisure and Tourism and
manufacturing. Two thirds of the
final grade is based on a portfolio
of work built up over the course.
Part Two GNVQ runs parallel to A
Level courses along the same lines.
GNVQs at higher levels can be
studied at Further Education