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Teens on 9-1 GCSEs: 'Everyone's worried about grade boundaries'

Sabrin, Leoreta, Anas, Sadea

After weeks of stress, pressure and revision, GCSEs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are finally over and teenagers can relax and enjoy the summer sunshine.

The current Year 11s in England were the first cohort to sit the majority of their GCSEs under the new, more rigorous 9-1 grading system.

So how did they find them? We asked a group of 16-year-old BBC School Reporters from Westminster Academy, London what they made of this year’s GCSEs.

Were the new exams as hard as billed?

Reidwan: “I think geography was the hardest exam I’ve ever done – I found it particularly hard because of the wording.”

Sadea: “Physics paper 2 – I got through the paper, but I had to read the questions quite a few times and make notes.”

But the teenagers were relieved to find that the maths and English exams – for which they are the second year of 9-1 GCSE candidates – were not as tough as they were expecting.

Reidwan: “Maths and English were surprisingly easier than expected. For our mock exams we were being prepared for the complex questions, we were taught harder context, so the paper seemed easier.”

Leoreta: “They were easier than I expected – the school had prepared us well, we did a lot of questions in lessons.”

Anas: “I thought maths was surprisingly easy – it sounds cocky, but it was. I felt like it had gone really well, but then I thought the grade boundaries are going to be higher.”

Anas’s fear over grade boundaries compared with those for last year’s candidates in maths and English are shared by his peers.

Leoreta: “I think this year the grade boundaries are going to be higher than last year.”

Reidwan: “Everyone is worried about the grade boundaries.”

Sabrin: “It was good that everyone else thought they went well, but then just in the back of my mind was the thought that the rest of the population probably did really well.”

Anas: “You can’t worry though – all we can do now is to wait for results day.”

Reidwan: “It is what it is at the end of the day, there’s nothing you can do about it. I do believe in effort and as long as I know I’ve done the best I can, I’m happy.”

How do you feel about being the first to sit majority 9-1 exams?

Sabrin: “I think there’s little understanding of the 9-1, because it’s so new.

“I feel like for us as a year group, we’re slightly disadvantaged compared with other year groups to come.

“We were the first to do the Spag [spelling, punctuation and grammar] tests in Year 6 – it’s like we’re the trial year group.”

Reidwan: “They more or less scared us with the 9-1 grades.

“But there’s much more of a breakdown of the grades, so instead of just having A, B, C as a pass, there’s 9 to 4.

“It’s good for sixth forms because they can see what sort of student you are, but I don’t think employers understand the new 9-1 system.”

Anas: “A grade 9 is basically a new grade, an A**, so it gives people a chance to show their true worth.

“And even if people are not right at the top, it breaks the grades down more, so that’s a good thing because people understand themselves better.

“And it means there’s a lot of leniency for us – we don’t know what the exam will be like, we can’t go through past papers.

“But they always try to compensate for that. It balances out, so either way it’s not a huge problem.”

What’s your advice to Year 10s?

The Year 11s say this year’s Year 10s need to knuckle down come September.

Anas: “Revise now. Focus in lessons, don’t be idiots, you’re going into Year 11 so just be mature.

“People act like they’re still in Year 8 and they don’t want to grow up.”

Sabrin: “Don’t rely on the teachers – go home and do your independent studies. Take responsibility for yourself.”

Reidwan: “Attend revision sessions, I know they’re annoying, studying outside school hours can be annoying, but I do think it was helpful in the end and it’s for our own benefit.”

They also recommend making time for switching off and relaxing.

Anas: “Have a hobby. I do slalom skating. When I’d done loads of revision, I’d grab my skates, just head off to the park and forget about exams.”

Reidwan: “Play Fortnite – it does get your mind off things. Just constantly revising isn’t good. You need enough sleep and time for yourself.”

How do you feel now the exams are over?

Sadea: “It feels great – stress-free, no revision. I feel good, really good.”

Anas: “I couldn’t wait until the exam was over. But then I thought it’s my last one, let’s put my head down and concentrate. I want to do myself proud and make my teacher proud.”

Sabrin: “It felt good because it was a long period of tiring revision and stress.

“Walking into the exam, knowing it was the last one, was great. Even though the test was actually really difficult, it didn’t bother me – I was just happy I’d finished.

“Then, seeing everyone else happy, made me even happier.”

Produced by BBC family and education reporter Katherine Sellgren


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