What to Expect from the 2021 Exam Series

After all the uncertainty of exams in Summer 2020, this year's cohort of GCSE students has understandably been concerned about what they can expect for Summer 2021, alongside a lot of speculation and various suggestions of canceling exams.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Dec 3rd that there would be 'a package of exceptional measures' to ensure students sitting exams in 2021 were treated fairly, but that exams would definitely be going ahead, confirming his statement from October.

The press release stated that that 'grades will be more generous, students will be given advance notice of some topic areas, and steps will be taken to ensure every student receives a grade, even if they miss a paper due to self-isolation or illness.'

The message has been pretty consistent throughout for the 2021 assessment that there will be exams to sit, unlike for 2020 students, and I have been telling my students to prepare with that in mind.

What will be changing?

The current details are quite vague, and based on Gavin Williamson's letter to Dame Glenys Stacey, the interim Chief Regulator at Ofqual.

  • Three-week delay - see the GCSE and A level timetable at the JCQ.

  • more generous grading than usual

  • advance notice of some topic areas

  • exam aids - like formula sheets

  • additional exams (in case the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation)

  • option for centre assessed grades as a last resort

  • a new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.

More detail on how this will take place is due out in the New Year, but hopefully, these assurances will mean that some of the pressure is taken off those students facing exams in the coming summer series.

One very important difference in these measures is the investigation into the differential impact on learning students have experienced, as not all students have had the same experience. It is important to understand this and ensure that measures are implemented fairly to account for this.

If you want to have your say on the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services this year, you can do so in the Education Select Committee inquiry before 20th December 2020.

What should you do now?

Until the measures are announced in January, there should be no changes to your current study plans. I advise the same practice of good attendance, taking good notes in lessons, daily independent study, and practicing with exam papers.

When further details are released in the new year, there may be some things you can remove from your study plan. So for the time being, it makes sense to move from your list those tasks most likely to fall into this category. I expect that to include learning formulae for maths and science papers and memorising quotes from English literature texts.

Every year this is a task that causes students a lot of anxiety, so I'm hoping that this is the top of the hit list for Ofqual!

What to expect in 2021

With the arrival of the new vaccine, improved diagnostic testing, improvements in online resources, and learnings from 2020, I anticipate a lot of positive changes in 2021.

There should be less time out of the classroom for students, be that virtual or physical. The isolation requirements have meant some students spending more time out of the classroom than inside it since September, which has meant a massive disruption to their studies even with the best of intentions. Students just don't get the same value from independent study as they do from supported learning.

However, as with every year, those students who are able to make the most of their independent study skills get the best results in their exams year after year.

I've been sharing my top tips throughout December to help students improve their independent study skills, but also to manage their physical and mental wellbeing, in my free group. Come and join us here.

If you're a tutor or a teacher struggling to adapt to the online environment, come and check out my support group here.

And as ever, if your child would benefit from support with their maths and science studies, submit a Request for tuition for a no-obligation chat about how we can help.

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