Whether you're a teacher or a tutor, a GCSE or A-Level candidate or the parents of such a student, you've likely been driving your search engine mad with all of the questions you've been launching about exams. Nobody could blame you; these times and that topic demand rapid answers.

In the space of one year, the coronavirus pandemic has cycled us all through hope, despair, debate and ingenuity. It has stalled our way of life and brought both our significant and mundane moments to a screeching halt.

We're not just talking about birthdays, weddings and fun nights out with the lads or ladies. Everything, from how we shop and bank to how we learn and live, has undergone a forced evolution over the past year.

In some respects, students - kids, in general, had things far easier than policymakers, administrators and educators. They only needed to comply with instructions and/or mandates. That's fairly typical of any extraordinary event; the adults are supposed to lead the way and the kids should follow adults' lead.

However, out of the morass of concepts that adults must consider one specific area occupies kids' thoughts, impacts their ideas and drives their concerns: anything that has to do with school, specifically, those aspects dealing with life-determining academic examinations.

One fact of academic systems laid bare by the pandemic was that students' and educators' goals were opposite. Kids want to learn, progress and help shape the future they will ultimately lead while administrators' focus was on ensuring the right performance indicators, regardless of whether they reflected students' actual performance or not.

Last year's botched grading fallout forced a reckoning in all of the decision-makers' houses, from Parliament to Ofqual.

It doesn't help that, for all of our optimism, the coronavirus still threatens. We might have wanted to get back to normal the minute we got sick of staying home but the virus doesn't care. That's why every entity concerned with academic testing has had to revise its policies and procedures, often on the fly.

Superprof now lays out those changes and what you can expect for this exam season.

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Why Were Exams Cancelled in 2021?

You might think this is the biggest 'Well, Duh!' question of the year. Of course, the exams were cancelled because of the pandemic.

Exams, sports, restaurants, theatres and life as we know it were all cancelled as of last year.

Who likes to play footie all alone? Nobody but the virus made us do it
It's no fun playing footie on your own but we did it because of the virus. Photo credit: clappstar on VisualHunt

True, but doesn't the 'last year' part of that sentence beg the question of why this year's exams were cancelled? After all, it's been a whole year; couldn't something have been put in place by now to make sure the show will go on?

That is, of course, if you were hoping to sit exams. If you're relieved over the wholesale cancellation, you might not be pondering such weighty issues. You may wonder about restaurants and theatres, though.

The fundamental reason for cancelling everything we know, love and anticipate has less to do with the virus than the uncertainty it causes.

Last year's exam season was interrupted. Unfortunate occurrence, to be sure but, after that first wave subsided and we got on with life again, we never expected wave after wave of this thing to repeatedly shut us down. Thus, we took no steps in that direction.

It was only in October, when the virus affliction showed no signs of letting up that educators, administrators and politicians reckoned it was time to start thinking about alternate ways to conduct student assessments.

Exactly what went on and how those decision-makers proceeded is the subject of a whole other article.

How Will Results be Calculated for 2021?

Once everyone was on the same page about this year's exams - namely, that they would not take place in their traditional form, they had to agree on how to measure students' achievements in a way that was consistent and fair across the board.

As you might know, that's the reason last year's exam grade calculations were such a disaster.

The teachers are back in charge of grading, as they were not too long ago
Since last year's grading troubles, we've returned to teachers delivering official assessments. Photo credit: vastateparksstaff on Visualhunt

In the pursuit of fairness, Ofqual designed an algorithm meant to level students' grades to within what would have been the norm for their region and school. Unfortunately, that led to a dramatic lowering of student grades; in England, more than 30% of all students reported lower Ofqual grades than their teacher's assessed marks.

Naturally, nobody was happy with those results, including Ofqual, who never intended such negative consequences of feeding entire student bodies' grades into an algorithm not meant to recognise individual effort or mitigating circumstances. Naturally, outrage ensued.

This year, Ofqual has promised to leave algorithms be. Your teachers' marks will stand as the official grades; with Ofqual only providing guidelines for assessment. Beyond that, it stands ready to help teachers and schools make the right determinations for grading and, should there be any disputes over grades, Ofqual will be involved in resolving them.

All of that is nice to know but what, exactly, will your teacher assess to deliver your grades?

You can find all of that out in our companion article.

Can Students Appeal their 2021 Exam Results?

Considering the dramatic events of last year's grades unveiling, it's logical that parents and students would wonder if they will have to take to the streets again to demonstrate for marks that reflect their actual work.

No doubt, the authorities - the exam boards, exam watchdogs, Department for Education staff and even members of Parliament also wonder if another brouhaha is brewing. Most likely not. As described in the previous segment, everyone concerned worked hard to iron out the kinks in the pandemic-revised system. It should work well, this time around.

What if, despite all of the safeguards, you still find a discrepancy in your grades? Can you appeal them? And to whom do you appeal to?

There certainly is a process in place for student appeals. In some ways, it has diverged wildly from past instances and, in others, it's only a bit different than in pre-pandemic times.

Perhaps the most potentially injurious for you is Ofqual's decision to change a grade only if the original marks were not unreasonable. For instance, if only one or two points made the difference between your being awarded an A or a B, it's not likely your appeal will lead to a grade change.

Also, bear in mind that any appeal you make invites close scrutiny of your work. If, perchance, your teacher failed to mark one of your answers as incorrect but the person handling your appeal catches that mistake, your grade may go down rather than up.

The whole issue of grading exams in these pandemic times is fraught with pitfalls, exclusions and exceptions. It's best you take in our full explanation of the matter.

Thanks to diligence and care, students can go to university this autumn
Everyone, including you, has done their best to ensure that students can still attend university in person. Photo credit: AlbeT10 on Visualhunt.com

Will University Admissions Be Affected by the Cancelled Exams?

A year into this global health crisis and most agencies, entities and governments have come to conclude that the coronavirus has fundamentally changed the way we do life, education and everything else.

Even if the immediate danger of spiking cases has been eliminated, resurgences and new variants constantly threaten. Because this virus's persistence is so new, we don't yet know if a single shot will protect against infection from any variants or even if we will need yearly booster shots to preserve our immunity.

If a year isn't long enough to know everything there is to know about this virus and its capabilities - despite all of the technology and knowledge we have, it's hardly long enough to revolutionise the education system.

It's a shame such a revolution is necessary because it all worked like a well-oiled machine until now!

If your machine is well-maintained and works efficiently, you want to preserve as much of its functionality as you can when you're forced to adapt to circumstances.

That's why, to a large extent, the cancelled exams will have little impact on the university admissions process.

Overall, the UCAS registration and application process remains the same. However, there are a few dramatic differences from years past:

  • expanded deadlines for application
  • help with grade prediction
  • guidance for providing references
  • conducting virtual exhibitions
  • no more unconditional offers

Some aspects of the application process have remained the same, the date when Clearing opens and how you enter your anticipated grades among them.

Despite all of those tweaks to the system, universities are scheduled to start classes per their normal schedule. In other words, if all goes well, you will be university-bound in September. Whether the classes take place online or on campus is yet to be decided. A lot is riding on our ability to keep the virus at bay.

Starting university is a momentous occasion, one to be celebrated as your first step into the adult world. It's too bad we've been robbed of the excitement of touring campuses in person, of meeting future fellow students and taking part in all of the fun welcoming activities schools normally provide.

Still, we're quite lucky that we've not been robbed of the university experience altogether and, with a bit of adjustment in our personal habits (and a few supportive policy changes from the school's directors), we'll still get to experience university life.

Talk about thumbing your nose at that nasty virus!

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.