A Level Results 2020: The Examless Year

Figure 1

This is an unusual year for A Levels because the exams have not actually been taken. Instead grades have been awarded based on teachers’ assessments, possibly taking mocks into account, and possibly with wholesale “adjustment”. However, it is not my purpose here to describe that process. I merely give the results which have been published.

I was particularly keen to look at the sex differentials this year because basing grades on teachers’ assessments might be expected to increase girls dominance even further than normal. Broadly, this does indeed turn out to be the case. Data has been taken from Brian Stubbs’ site, “Student Performance Analysis”.

I have looked only at the total of subjects. If anyone is desperate to see the results for specific subjects, these data are available and I can run off a few extra graphs on request – but not all the graphs below disaggregated by all subjects or I’ll be slaving over this hot laptop for weeks.

Figure 1, which heads this post, tells the main story: As regards the top grades (A*,A and B), girls have been awarded between 25% and 32% more over the last ten years (since the A* grade was introduced in 2010). This year, based on examless assessments, this has increased to an all-time high of 36.3%.

The number of A Levels awarded (all grades) has been falling for both sexes for a number of years (Figure 2), but the percentage awarded to girls has been climbing steadily (Figure 3) and continued to do so in this examless year, reaching an all-time high of 24% across all grades.

Figure 2
Figure 3

The percentages of applicants of each sex being awarded grades A* to C in 2020 are given in Table 1, and the actual numbers of such grades awarded in Table 2. Boys dominate only in the percentage awarded the top A* grade. There are substantially larger absolute numbers of girls attaining all grades, and also a larger percentage of girls at grades A, B and C.

Table 1: All Subjects (percent at grades A* to C), 2020
Table 2: All Subjects (numbers of grades A* to C awarded), 2020

The percentage of each sex awarded grades A*, A and B grades (across all subjects) are plotted against year in Figures 4, 5 and 6. Figure 4 shows a blip upwards this year in the A* percentages for both sexes.

Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6

Figures 7, 8 and 9 show the corresponding absolute numbers of grades A*, A and B awarded by sex. Figure 7 also shows an upward blip this year for the A* grade, but more so for girls than boys. Figure 8 for A grades shows a slight upward blip for girls, but not boys. Figure 9 for grade B shows a continuing downward trend for boys this year, but not for girls.

Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 9

In summary, girls aiming for the better A Level grades have nothing to complain about in this strange examless year. Statistically speaking, girls have done well out of the teachers’ assessment means of assigning grades. This was entirely predictable, of course, as teachers’ assessments are known to favour girls in other contexts (see here and here and here, for example, or The Empathy Gap book – I see Amazon have reduced their price).

We can anticipate that the sex-ratio for university entry will be another record high for girls this year. Data on this is usually released by UCAS in December.

6 thoughts on “A Level Results 2020: The Examless Year

  1. Nigel Johnson

    Interesting. I dont suppose anyone will do the analysis but one does wonder if the marking inflation for girls showed up in the original submissions that schools made that were reduced by the examining boards’ moderation. Given the findings of the two feminist international studies that found systematic inflation of marks for girls in assessed work . As I recall this effect was common across countries though varied in degree. It was also shown to be both Male and female teachers. I suppose my hypothesis is that this effect will have shown up particularly in the school(teacher assessed) grades. And the moderation by examining boards did not take this effect into account in their “down grading”. If simply applied by school it would simply further disadvantage boys, who the research showed got the factual mark not the enhanced mark.

    1. William Collins Post author

      There have been many studies which have shown teachers tend to mark girls up relative to boys, in the UK, the USA and Europe. It would be interesting to see how these pseudo-A-Level results looked before the “moderation”. It’s possible the benefit to girls might have been even greater initially, but I guess we’ll never know.

  2. Callum

    And the Guardians misandry continues:


    There is a section of the article titled:

    “Gender gap narrows slightly”

    Below are the two paragraphs they have written, which I am posting to save anyone else having to click on the Guardian. I also don’t need to pass comment on them as the absurdity of the headline “Gender gap narrows” compared to what is in the text is clear, which is impressive considering how few words there are:

    “The gap between the best-performing boys and girls narrowed slightly. The proportion of boys who got A* was 9.3%, compared with 8.8% of girls who achieved an A*.

    Girls extended their lead for A grades, however. More than a quarter (28.4%) of girls were awarded an A*–A this year – 1.1 percentage points higher than boys (27.3%). In 2019 girls led boys by a minuscule 0.1 percentage points (25.5% girls, 25.4% boys). Meanwhile, 80.4% of girls achieved grades A* – C compared with 75% of boys – a 5.4% difference.”

    1. William Collins Post author

      They – and other newspapers – always do this. They find a way of presenting a statistic which avoids communicating the true position – and amplify the misdirection with an even more misleading headline. The take-away message for most people will be the headline and nothing more. There’s a fine example of that ignoble art here: http://empathygap.uk/?p=1890


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