General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) graded A* – G. Northern Ireland GCE and GCSE qualifications

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First teaching 2017. Criteria and the Northern Ireland GCSE Design Principles
  • Northern Ireland

GCSEs were introduced to mark student achievement at the end of compulsory education at age 16.

They are also used as an indicator of the most appropriate post-16 progression route for a student.

GCSEs are sometimes used as an entry requirement for post-16 study.

Education context

Since their introduction in 1986, GCSEs graded A* – G were used across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The UK Government is now phasing in new GCSEs graded 9 – 1 from first teaching 2015.

Wales and Northern Ireland will retain GCSEs graded A* – G.

First teaching of revised GCSEs in Northern Ireland will begin in 2017. See below list of subject areas for further information.

UCAS has published separate profiles for:

Awarding organisation
  • CCEA

GCSEs graded A* – G will be available as short-course, single and double award qualifications.

GCSEs graded A* – G are either unitised or linear, depending on the subject.

Subject areas

In September 2017, new GCSE specifications will be introduced in the following subjects:

  • English language
  • English literature
  • Mathematics
  • Further mathematics
  • Art and design
  • Drama
  • Food and nutrition
  • Geography
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Irish
  • Gaeilge
  • Music
  • Physical education
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Science (double award)
  • Science (single award)
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Technology and design
  • Digital technology
  • Business studies
  • Business communications systems
  • Contemporary crafts
  • Agriculture and land use
  • Motor vehicle and road user studies
  • Child development
  • Learning for life and work
  • Manufacturing and engineering
  • Hospitality
  • Journalism
  • Construction
  • Economics
  • Leisure and tourism
  • Health and social care
  • Politics
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Polish

The full range of GCSE grades A*-G spans Levels 1 and 2 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework: Grades A*-C are Level 2; grades D-G are Level 1.


The full range of GCSE grades A* – G spans Levels 1 and 2 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework: Grades A* – C are Level 2; grades D – G are Level 1.

Single award and short-courses are graded A*, A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

Double award qualifications are graded A*A*, A*A, AA, AB, BB, BC, CC, CD, DD, DE, EE, EF, FF, FG, GG.

Attainment that is insufficient to lead to the award of a certificate is reported as unclassified – U.


GCSEs which meet the Northern Ireland GCSE Qualifications Criteria and Design Principles may use question papers which are targeted at either a single tier covering grades A* – G or two tiers of grades A* – D and C – G. This varies from subject to subject.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Unitised qualifications must allocate a weighting of at least 20% to each assessment unit.

Unitised qualifications must require that 40% of the assessment is terminal.

Linear qualifications must require that all components are assessed at the end of the course.

Resit arrangements

In unitised specifications units may be retaken once only before aggregation for the subject award.

In November there are resit opportunities for English language and mathematics.

Guided/notional learning hours
Short course: 60 hours
Single award: 120 hours
Double award: 240 hours
Guided/notional learning hours notes

The actual amount of time allocated to a GCSE varies between schools and subjects. However, the deemed standard size as stated above.

UCAS size bands

Not yet available.

UCAS grade bands

Not yet available.

Key issues for UK HE admissions

Five grades at A* – C, generally including English language and mathematics, is regarded as an appropriate benchmark for Level 3 study.

The vast majority of applicants from Northern Ireland will present with GCSEs graded A* – G.

Universities and colleges with applicants across the UK that use GCSE grades in admissions will need to consider the differences between a 9 – 1 (9-point scale) and A* – G (8-point scale) model.

Timing of assessments/results for students

All Northern Ireland GCSE linear assessments must be taken in May or June.

Assessments for unitised GCSEs will be available in May or June.

Results are available in the latter part of August, one week after A level results.

Qualification dates notes

GCSEs graded A* – G will continue to be current in Northern Ireland.

See above list of subject areas of revised GCSEs.

Reporting and certification information

Grade outcomes by subject and total entries by subject are published by the Joint Council for Qualifications

Progression information

Sufficient Level 2 achievement at GCSE is generally a requirement for Level 3 progression.

Sufficient Level 1 achievement at GCSE should lead to Level 2 progression.

Some universities, colleges and employers ask for specific achievement at GCSE for recruitment.

Further information

Website address for further information: