HE Exams Wiki

2021 has been an exam year like no other. Results are due on:

A levels and CAIE A levels: 10th August

GCSEs, Edexcel IGCSEs and CAIE IGCSEs: 12th August

Your centre should have told you how you will receive the grades, if you are unsure check back through emails and correspondence from the centre. If you can't find anything check with the centre the day before. Note they have changed the release time for JCQ exams to 8.30am this year - CAIE is still 6am.

A summary of how grades were awarded, what to do if you are unhappy with the grade, information on appeals procedures and the Autumn exam series are below.

Unhappy with the grade?

Every year some students do not get the grades they were hoping for -

If your student didn't get the grades they needed for University

The UCAS guide explains how the results process works and your options. The first step will be to speak to the University.

You can go through Clearing to apply for alternative courses - UCAS guide to Clearing

For those who have a University place dependent on the grades there is a priority appeals process this year for A Levels (doesn't include CAIE) more details below.

If your student didn't get the grades for college/sixth form

  1. Contact college/sixth form to see if they will still accept your child without the qualifications
  2. Ask school/college whether doing retakes in the autumn would allow student to start on the level they want in September. If no success with 1&2
  3. Consider starting on a lower level course.
  4. Contact other colleges and sixth forms to see if they will accept your child.
  5. Consider delaying college/sixth form for a year and retaking the necessary exams.

If you feel that the grade awarded was wrong (rather than due to under performance in assessments)

  1. Check you understand how grades were awarded this year. The approach was different for CAIE, Edexcel IGCSEs and GCSEs/A levels. The important things to consider is that in all cases the grades were not 'predicted grades', they had to be awarded based on the standard achieved in a portfolio of evidence. The portfolio was supposed to be as consistent as possible across the cohort. The level of authenticity (invigilation) was considered when weighting the grade boundaries. Evidence was supposed to be assessed to pre 2020 standards although no formal grade boundaries were used.
  2. Read the information below regards appeals. There are few grounds for appeals this year. Before deciding on requesting a review for GCSEs or Edexcel IGCSEs you can request to see the centre policy, the evidence submitted and details of any variation of evidence/special considerations.
  3. If, having looked at all the information, you decide you have grounds and feel an appeal is likely to be successful then contact your exam centre.
  4. Consider whether an Autumn resit to improve the grade might be the best solution. If so contact the exam centre to book the exams as soon as possible. Information on the Autumn exam series can be found here.

Appeals - GCSEs, A Levels and Edexcel International GCSEs

Pearsons approach to appeals, for the purposes of IGCSEs follows the JCQ guidelines for GCSE/A levels - factsheet is here

JCQ have published a guide to appeals for students and parents - This is also helpful Guidance for Students and Parents on Summer 2021 - JCQ as is the Important information for students including form to request a centre review

Qualification Wales Guide to Students and Parents for those who have done WJEC GCSEs/A levels

OCR - Fact sheet on appeals

Pearson information on appeals

AQA appeals information

There are 3 possible outcomes to an appeal -

  • The grade goes down
  • The grade remains the same
  • The grade is raised

You can withdraw from a centre review providing no ruling has been made. Once a centre review ruling has been made or once an appeal to an awarding organisation has begun the result of the appeal will stand. Candidates need to be aware that an appeal may lower the grade.

The grounds for an appeal

  • Administrative - eg a factual error such as transposing grades for students with similar names
  • Procedural - whether an exam centre followed procedures laid out in their Centre Policy (which has already been accepted and approved by JCQ - you can not challenge the policy) properly and consistently.
  • Unreasonable exercise of academic judgement - it's important to be aware that Awarding Organisations will not remark individual assessments. Even if you sat a past paper and your mark is right by the published grade boundaries (or even, potentially, the wrong side of one), you won’t be able to ask for a review of marking in the hope of picking up one more and moving up a grade. It has to be significantly wrong, and your overall grade will have been based on the basket of evidence. If you are unsure on the process check the section on 'how grades were awarded'. The questions for this are; was the evidence used reasonable and was the grade awarded reasonable based on the evidence. One AO says this "We will ask independent reviewers to consider if the original teacher assessed grade was a reasonable exercise of academic judgement. Our independent reviewers would only decide if there had been an unreasonable exercise of judgement if the teacher assessed grade was clearly wrong, i.e. if there was no basis upon which the grade could properly have been given."

Stages of appeals

Stage 1: A centre review

A centre review is the first stage of a summer 21 appeal. Candidates can ask exam centres if an administrative or procedural error has occurred. Centres can instigate these error checks themselves before results have been issued where prompted by a school's or college's own quality assurance processes. Requests for a Centre Review post results must be made directly by students to the exam centre which submitted the grade. If a centre finds no error they will communicate this to the candidate and the grade will remain unchanged. If a centre finds an error in the grade they submitted, they need to send exam boards a correction request. If the AO agrees with the revised grade, and the reason for it, a changed grade will be issued and the candidate informed.

Important information for students including form to request a centre review

Stage 2: An appeal to an awarding organisation

Before candidates can request stage two of the appeals process, you must first have asked their centre to complete a centre review (stage 1). If the centre does not agree about the error, but you still believe there has been an administrative or procedural error, or that the centre has exercised an 'unreasonable academic judgement' in deciding a grade, you can ask the centre to submit an appeal to the exam board. You will need to explain your reason for thinking the grade is wrong when you request the appeal - worth being prepared for this. All the evidence on which the judgement was made must be submitted with the appeal. This JCQ document explains the way appeals based on 'unreasonable academic judgement' will be carried out and judged.

Timescales and Deadlines

These are the exam board deadlines, centres are allowed to set their own, earlier deadlines if they want to allow them processing time.

Centre reviews

16 August 2021 (for priority appeals - for students applying to higher education who did not attain their firm choice, i.e. the offer they accepted as first choice, and wish to appeal an A Level or other Level 3 qualification result)

3 September 2021 (for non-priority appeals)

Appeals to awarding organisations

23 August 2021 (priority appeals - as above)

17 September 2021 (for non-priority appeals)

Following the conclusion of the awarding organisation's appeal process, a student who remains concerned their grade was incorrect may be able to apply for a procedural review to the Exam Procedures Review Service (EPRS) from the relevant regulator for GCSE/Alevel. There are EPRS processes for Ofqual (England) and Qualification Wales.

Ofqual - Exam Procedures Review Service (EPRS)

Qualification Wales

For Edexcel International GCSE the appeal should go to Pearson.

Appeals - Cambridge (CAIE)

Cambridge have published a guide to appeals for students and parents

There are 3 possible outcomes to an appeal -

  • The grade goes down
  • The grade remains the same
  • The grade is raised

Stages of appeals

Stage 1: A centre review

The first stage in the appeal process is asking the Centre to check whether they made a mistake when they submitted the grade, or when they were determining the grade. This includes things such as administration errors, applying special consideration or access arrangements, disputes over evidence.

This document explains what will happen during the centre review

At the end of the review if the centre finds reason to change your grade they will submit the new grade to CAIE by 20th Sep.

If you still have concerns after stage one there are 2 options for further appeal.

Stage 2: Option A: Unreasonable exercise of academic judgement

If you believe the judgement reached based on the evidence provided is wrong you can ask the centre to submit a post results check service 2 to CAIE.

The evidence and the rational that explains the centre's grading approach will be sent to the awarding body for review.

Stage 2: Option B: A special enquiry

This is if you have concerns over the choice of the three pieces of evidence that your centre has used to determine your grade and/or how special consideration or access arrangements have been managed. You will need to submit a statement to your exam centre outlining your concerns which they will submit to CAIE.

CAIE say "We will consider whether the school has applied their approach properly and consistently, in line with our guidance for school-assessed grades. The appeals process is not a way of getting another opinion about a candidate’s work." The grounds here are that the centre hasn't followed the guidelines laid out by CAIE.

Stage 3: Further appeals

If you have further concerns regards how the appeals have been carried out you can ask the exam centre to instigate a further review from the exam board on your behalf.

Timescales and Deadlines

This document lays out CAIEs timescales.

It does not give timescales in which centres should carry out centre reviews. However centres must submit results of any grade changes and any requests for Stage 2 appeals to CAIE by 20th Sep so reviews will need to be completed in time to allow for this.

Autumn Exam Series

Cambridge (CAIE) IGCSEs

Cambridge's normal Autumn exam series is set to go ahead from 1st Oct - 18th Nov. As a standard exam series it is open to new sitters.


Entry deadline is Sept 21st although exam centres will have a deadline earlier than this to allow them to process registrations. If you want to resit you will need to register soon.

Edexcel IGCSEs

Pearson are running a special Autumn series from Nov 1st - Nov 26th


The series is open to new entrants. Any adaptions to syllabuses/exams planned for the summer 2021 series will be in place. Entry deadline is Oct 4th although exam centres will have a deadline earlier than this to allow them to process registrations. If you want to resit you will need to register soon.

This document shows the availability of subjects in the Nov 21 and Jan 22 series

GCSEs and A Levels

There will a GCSE special Autumn series from Nov 1st - Dec 2nd

There will be an A Level special Autumn series from Oct 4th - Oct 22nd


Edexcel GCSEs



Edexcel A Levels

AQA A Levels

OCR A Levels

Entry for the autumn 2021 exam series for GCSE, AS and A level examinations is restricted to students who have received a teacher-assessed grade in summer 2021 and to students who are able to demonstrate that they would have entered summer 2021 exams had they not been cancelled.  Exam boards will give the benefit of doubt to private candidates, to address concerns that they might not be able to provide evidence of their intention to take exams in the summer had they taken place. In this situation the student should make a declaration to the entering centre to confirm that they would have entered in summer 2021 if exams had taken place. Centres should retain these declarations and make them available to the awarding organisation or the JCQ Centre Inspection Service if requested. 

The exception to the above restriction is English Language and Maths GCSEs which have a regular November exam series and are open to new candidates who are 16 or older on 31/8/2021

Any adaptions to syllabuses/exams planned for the summer 2021 series will be in place.

Entry deadline for A Level is 8th Sep and GCSE is Oct 4th, although exam centres will have deadlines earlier than this to allow them to process registrations. If you want to resit you will need to register soon.

How were grades awarded in Summer 2021

GCSEs and A Levels


The logic behind cancelling exams this year was due to the wide variations in how schools had been affected by Covid disruption and concerns over 'lost learning'. As a result schools and exam centres were given a lot of flexibility. This has meant that there has been quite a wide variation in approach across centres used by home educators.

Grades this year were based on a collection of evidence. This did not have to cover the full content - centres were supposed to assess only on content covered, but the Heads of Centre had to sign as declaration that enough content had been covered to allow onward progression. The evidence was supposed to cover all assessment objectives. The evidence was expected to as far as possible be consistent across the cohort (eg couldn't pick the best evidence for each student).

For private candidates, the guidance identified 3 types of candidates -

  • Those who had worked with a tutor/DLP affiliated to the exam centre or recognised by the LA. Exam centres were able to accept evidence/grade submitted by the tutor subject to internal quality assurance.
  • Those who had worked with a private tutor/DLP not affiliated to the centre. Exam centres were able to accept evidence submitted by the tutor but were required to collect their own evidence in order to validate.
  • Those who had not worked with a tutor. Exam centres could work with the candidate to collect the evidence. This usually took the form of assessments/exams at the centre or remotely invigilated.

Evidence set/supervised/marked by parents was inadmissible.

Centres were expected to reach a 'holistic' judgement when grading. There were no specific grade boundaries in place. Centres were told to mark to pre-Covid levels (grade boundaries for Nov 20 were seen as too generous). Grade descriptors were produced by JCQ for centres to judge against. When reaching judgements centres had to consider

  • Coverage of assessment objectives.
  • Coverage of content.
  • Authenticity – is the evidence the student’s own work?
  • Level of control – was it taken in timed conditions? Was there an opportunity for redrafting? Was it supervised?
  • Marking – how much support was available when applying the mark scheme? What internal standardisation processes have been applied?

Centres submitted a Centre Policy to JCQ by April 30th. This was reviewed and signed off by the exam boards.

Grades were submitted to the exam boards by June 18th following the evidence gathering and internal quality assurance.

Centres then had to submit samples of evidence to the exam board for review. Where there were problems identified further evidence was requested and possibly centre grades reviewed.

The processes are outlined in much more detail in the links below.

Links and Guides

Guidance for Students and Parents on Summer 2021 - JCQ

Student guide to awarding grades 2021 - Ofqual

Private Candidates - Q&A

Guidance for Centres Accepting Private Candidates

Guidance for Centres on Summer 2021

More from JCQ

Edexcel International GCSEs


Pearson produced a set of 'unseen test materials' (effectively exam papers) and a timetable.

Centres had the options to

  1. Sit the unseen materials on the test dates. The materials were treated as exam papers. If sat on the timetable date, the unseen materials were sufficient for evidence for exam centres to grade from.
  2. Use the unseen materials on a later date. If so centres were required to produce at least 3 pieces of evidence for each candidate.
  3. Not use the unseen materials at all and gather alternative evidence.

Pearson provided a marking service for the unseen materials. There were no grades provided only marks. There were no grade boundaries either. Centres were advised to grade to pre Covid levels.

Apart from the optional unseen materials, the approach for Edexcel International GCSEs ran parallel to that for GCSEs

Links and Guides

Pearson Guidance on the determination of grades for International A/AS Levels and International GCSEs for May/June 2021

Guidance for Centres Accepting Private Candidates - International Qualifications

CAIE IGCSEs and A Levels


Centres were required to produce a portfolio of exactly three substantial (at least one hour of concentrated work to complete) pieces of work for each candidate. The types of work to be included among the three pieces of work were at the centre’s discretion but it was recommended that exam papers from pre summer 2020 were used for at least one.

To ensure consistency and quality, this awarding body used a 'benchmarking process' which is explained in this guide.

Links and Guides

Cambridge information on School Assessed Grades