General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) graded A* – G (three country agreement pre-2015)


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

The aim was to create a single qualification that would cater for at least 80% of the cohort at age 16.

They are now used as a benchmark for acceptable student achievement at age 16.

They are also used as an indicator of the most appropriate post-16 student route for a student. In some instances achievement at GCSE will be used as an entry requirement for post-16 study.


The full range of GCSE grades A* – G spans Levels 2 – 1 of the Qualification Frameworks for England, Wales and Northern Ireland: grades A* – C are Level 2; grades D – G are Level 1.

Single award and shortcourses are graded A*, A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

Double award qualifications are graded A*A*, AA, BB, CC, DD, EE, FF, GG.

The grades on short course and double award GCSE certificates are accompanied by explanatory notes on the nature of these types of GCSE.

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


Three country agreement GCSEs may use question papers which are targeted at either a single tier covering grades A* – G or two tiers of grades A* – D (Higher) with an allowed grade E and C – G (Foundation); this varies from subject to subject.

A small number of subjects are assessed completely by external or internal assessment.

Most GCSEs graded A* – G are assessed by a mixture of external assessment and controlled internal assessment; controlled assessment will either comprise 25% or 60% of the total assessment, depending on the subject.

They require, across controlled and external assessments, a variety of question types and tasks, including extended writing.

In England, the assessment arrangements must ensure that each candidate completes external assessments in May or June each year, with exceptions for English, English Language and mathematics.

In Northern Ireland, CCEA GCSE science modules are taken in November and March. CCEA GCSEs in mathematics, English and, learning for life and work are available in January.

The assessment arrangements for English, English Language and mathematics permit qualifying candidates to complete the external assessment during the month of November; qualifying candidates must have reached the age of 16 on or before 31 August that year.

Unitised assessments for English and English language must provide that assessments in speaking and listening do not form part of the weighting towards the final GCSE mark for the qualification.

Further information

The number of GCSE subjects taken by student varies considerably but eight to ten subjects can be regarded as a broad and balanced curriculum.

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

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a DfE performance measure in England for a GCSE programme comprising English, English Language, mathematics, science, a language and geography or history.

GCSE flyer produced by UCAS and regulators

Links to awarding body websites and specifications