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What is happening to exams this summer?

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

Summer exams for England and Abroad (as of 13th December 2020)

Our Head of Operations, James Alexander has done a round up of the current available information, so that pupils and parents can be clear about the expectations and when their summer exams are scheduled to take place.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the 2021 summer examinations, it is difficult to keep on top of all the updates regarding what is happening to the different examinations in specific locations around the world. The information varies from country to country with different regulations surrounding exam timings and protocols.

Whilst exams are still on track to take place, the fall back situation will still be centre assessed grades which means that any mock exams this year could be vital pieces of evidence for next summer’s results.


Whilst schools have largely remained open in the UK, some schools have been more affected than others depending on their location. Many pupils have suffered prolonged learning loss which will have a significant impact on their readiness exams next summer. On 3rd December, the Department for Education released a statement outlining the extra measures that will be implemented to support students ahead of next summer’s exams.

It is important to point out that there is no ‘perfect’ fits all solution to creating a fair grounding for these examinations but there are some key points to note:

1. ‘Three-week delay’

The government has agreed to a three-week delay to the start of examinations. This means that the start date for examinations in England will be pushed back to late June/July. This will provides more preparation and revision time and should give students who have fallen behind more time to catch up.

2. ‘More generous grading than usual’

Results last year for GCSEs and A Levels were eventually graded using centre assessed or teacher-predicted grades. This led to a significant inflation in the year on year grades; the 2019 results were the highest grades ever given for these exams. Therefore, in order to maintain a level playing field for this year's cohort of pupils, the GCSE and A Level grades will reflect a similar pattern, which indicates that achieving higher grades will be more likely than in previous years.

3. ‘Students will receive advance notice of some topic areas’

In order to make the exams fairer, students will be given an indication as to what they can expect to find on the exam papers next summer. Specific details will be released by the exam boards in January. Currently it is uncertain if this means that the boards will specify which topics are not in the paper, or if it means they will confirm that certain topics will be used in several questions throughout the paper.

4. ‘Exam aids, for example, formula sheets’

Depending on the exam board, this could have quite a major impact on a pupil’s revision. In subjects such as Physics, A levels will be largely unaffected as the majority of equations are already provided. However, for GCSE pupils who have previously been required to memorise large numbers of important formulae, having these provided will significantly reduce the amount of information that needs to be retained before the exam. This does not mean that exam candidates can be complacent about formula related questions as they will still be required to understand and implement the formulae.

For subjects such as languages, there are discussions which indicate that pupils may receive vocabulary sheets to take into the exams. In the case of English, they may allow pupils to take in lists of quotations.

5. ‘Additional exams to give students a second chance’

With Covid 19 still present in the population, exam boards have put plans in place for students who may experience disruptions to their exams, in case of illness or the necessity to isolate in the exam period. Provision has been made for students to be receive a grade if they have completed some of their papers for a specific exam, for example if they have sat Paper 1 but are unable to take Paper 2. If a student has to miss all of the exams, the exam boards are offering a second set of summer exams later on in the year, so that students have a second chance to sit for GCSE’s or A Levels. If for any reason a pupil is unable to take any exams in the summer then grades can still be given based on a ‘validated tutor informed assessment’ which will be similar to the 2020 grading system.

For more information about one to one tutoring, to book or meet our tutors, call us on +971 4 438 5276, email


Scotland has taken a unilateral decision to cancel all Higher and Advanced Higher for the summer of 2021. The Scottish Education Secretary commented that too much significant learning time had been lost which meant implementing a fair and just assessment system this year would be unfeasible.

The Scottish system will therefor base their awards on teacher judgement and evidence for student attainment as they did last year.


The education minister for Wales recently announced the full cancellation of all GCSE and A-Level exams in 2021. Wales will now have assessments that will take place under teacher supervision, in the second half of the spring term.

These will be externally set and marked (similar to exams), however will not follow the same structure as the GCSEs and A Levels. There will be flexible timing for teachers to set the assessments, and head teachers are working on a national approach to consistency.

However, Wales has made it quite explicit that there will be no issues with university entrance across the UK, as universities have stated that they will be accepting many types of qualifications.


1. Exam dates

The situation for international students is not quite as flexible as for those based in the UK. For example, there is not as much leeway for pushing back the examination dates as holiday dates around the world vary. Therefore the deadline for completing GCSE’s, IGCSE’s and A levels is set for Friday 18th June. However, exam boards are exploring the exams starting later in order to maximise teaching and revision time. Currently IGCSEs are scheduled to start 2 weeks later than in previous years. Further information is available on the exam websites.

2. Number of papers

There are several differences in examination procedure with the international versions of externally validated examinations. In most cases, international exams are composed of more papers than their counterparts in England. For example, A levels in England may comprise of 3 papers, but for International A levels, there are often up to 6 papers for each subject. This may increase the chances of more papers being missed and also of having to fit more exams into to limited time period.

3. Exam Aids

The expectation is that the IAL’s and IGCSEs will follow the English guidance for exam updates including providing formula sheets and announcing which topic areas will be featured on the assessments. Edexcel has already announced that they are expecting international examinations to follow the English guidance regarding updates, so it is likely other boards will follow shortly.

Struggling with exam technique? Want to boost your child's grades? Call us now on +971 4 438 5276 or email


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