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First full week of GCSE and A-level exams commences after Covid-19 hiatus as changes made to structure

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Thousands of students across Northern Ireland will sit their GCSE and A-level exams in school this week following a two-year exam hiatus due to disruption caused by Covid. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Thousands of students across Northern Ireland will sit their GCSE and A-level exams in school this week following a two-year exam hiatus due to disruption caused by Covid. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Thousands of students across Northern Ireland will sit their GCSE and A-level exams in school this week following a two-year exam hiatus due to disruption caused by Covid. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Monday (today) sees the beginning of a full week of GCSE, AS-level and A-level summer examinations taking place across Northern Ireland for the first time in three years.

Exams were previously cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and tests were instead replaced with predicted grades calculated by individual schools and teachers.

Last May, the former Education Minister announced there would be a return to in-person exams this year and that pupils would sit significantly fewer exams in most subjects.

English, Maths, Irish, Geography and History are among the exam subjects this week.

A small selection of A-level and GCSE exams will be available for students who miss an initial paper due to illness or self-isolation.

Northern Ireland's exam board - the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) - has said papers will be graded more generously than in pre-pandemic years, due to the disruption the coronavirus crisis has had on teaching, with a similar decision being implemented in England.

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CCEA also stated that students will be provided with the option of omitting one unit of assessment, chosen by CCEA, from the vast majority of CCEA qualifications. 

For example, imagine that two students – Alice and Stephen – are preparing to sit their GCSE History exams in Summer 2022.

GCSE History has two units. Unit 1 is graded out of 120 uniform marks, and Unit 2 is graded out of 80 uniform marks.

For Summer 2022, CCEA has stated that GCSE History students can choose to omit Unit 2.

Alice has opted to omit Unit 2. This means she will be taught the full GCSE History specification, but will only sit the exam for Unit 1, which is what her overall GCSE grade will be based on. 

But if Stephen opts to sit both exams, to ensure he is not disadvantaged by his decision to complete all units, CCEA will compare the grade Stephen achieves after sitting Units 1 and 2 with the grade he would have achieved if he had omitted Unit 2.

CCEA will award Stephen whichever of these two grades is higher.


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