FINAL: Changes to GCSE and A level exams for 2022

Everything you need to know about the confirmed planned changes for next summer's GCSE and A level exams 

After pandemic disruption and grade-prediction pandemonia, the return to exams may bring relief of normality for some students – and their parents. Plans to push ahead and return to the “precedented” have been confirmed by Ofqual, the exams regulator, and include covid-cautious conditions. While the aim to return to exams is centred around the reduction of grade inflation, the exam boards have attempted to take into account continued disruption to learning. With absences still ongoing, and news of the arrival of the new Omicron variant, the only that that is certain is that plans can't be 100% certain – yet. 

The key change will be changing boundaries to set a midway point between 2021 and 2019. This will provide a level of difficulty which theoretically will support students by balancing generousness with fairness. 

Advance notification of exam topics will be given to students ensure that all content covered will have been taught, giving a more concrete guide to how to structure revision. The more generous view of this is that the government is balancing multiple concerns about the effects of the pandemic with learning from its’ previous mistakes. The return to traditional exam rigour is, according to the government, “the fairest way to assess people”. Many argue that the system also allows children to be assessed on their ability and removes the subjectivity of teacher assessed grades. 

If exams do have to be cancelled, Plan B is that grades will be once again be determined by teachers. Specific test points have been set down running up to Easter 2022 to ensure grade evidence is collected. Currently there is a plan to not allow any resits, but reasonable adjustments are allowed on the basis of disability or situation. Currently the times are set down as a guide:

  • Second half of the autumn term 2021
  • Spring term of 2022
  • First half of the summer term 2022

Subject-specific changes have also been confirmed with advance notice of topics to be examined in key subjects. Students taking GCSEs in English, history, ancient history and geography will be provided information in advance in regards to the content of their exams, with a reduction from the usual range of content. The same applies to AS and A Level students, and GCSE Maths students will be given their exam copies of formulae, as well as the same for Physics and combined science. This will be complimented with a change to grade boundaries to allow for those who previously struggled to do better, theoretically providing a previously missed safety net. It is clear that the government is attempting to accommodate various criticisms of its’ previous exam grade handling fiasco, and that in doing this it will theoretically ensure a better chance for students overall. 

Timeline for Summer 2022 GCSE and A levels

Early February- Advance information on the summer exams for both A Level and GCSEs

May and June - A Level exams as normal

May and June - GCSE exams as normal

18th of August - A Level results day

25th of August - GCSE Results day

What are the changed to exams in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for summer 2022?


Often Wales has been subject to England-specific laws, its’ merging of legal principles predates the existence of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately the policy alignment with England, while touted as the “fairest” way, may be disproportionately affecting it. With Covid cases being particularly high, school absences may affect learning more than in  England, So, while some feel the grade inflation cheapened achievements and lessened seriousness/authenticity of results, others could point to the fact that if Wales does have a higher proportion of cases and interruptions, then this return to exams may not be as fair on some as others.



In Scotland, there is an independent move towards a reform of the exam system - not a wholesale replacement/removal, but a change which is quite different to previously. Amongst some of the more traditional views, some feel this is too much change, “radical and ill thought out”. The SQA is being broken up and replaced, with a new independent system of inspections to be set up. Plans have been kept vague on purpose by Holyrood, we won’t find out more about the new system until an update in January 2022. 


Northern Ireland

The CCEA, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment, the body responsible for previous COVID-related mitigations in Northern Ireland, will be omitting one unit of assessment in most GCSE, AS and A-Level qualifications. As well as with the other regions, providing exam aids for GCSE Maths (which have been made available early September). Furthermore, the “Engage II” program has allocated £545,000 to those going through GCSE Maths, starting this November. It seems that Northern Ireland has mitigations in place on behalf of the CCEA which are far greater than that of England and Wales. However, with the Covid-19 rate is currently higher than anywhere else in the UK, and subsequent absences rife, many will wonder if the measures are enough to accommodate to the return to exams, or whether there will be a return. 

Further Reading 

Ofqual's Letter to Students
Ofqual’s Chief Regulator, Jo Saxton, explains changes in this letter to exam year pupils. 

Official Guide from the Exam's Regulator on Contingency Plans for Summer 2022 Exams 
Breakdown of In recognition of the extra help students will be given to prepare for their exams next summer.