Now that GCSEs are replacing letter grades with a numerical 1–9 grading system, it’s time to reflect on how we can really get our students moving up through those grades.
Whether your exams are still using the letter grades or the new numerical system, the challenge is the same – for our students to aim for and achieve higher than just a bare pass. Traditionally the pass grade has been a ‘C’; now, the new ‘4’ grade aligns to a low ‘C’.
As a minimum, in the exam our students need to have something to say. So, it's partly the quality of the student’s ideas. But this is not the whole story: success also relies on the quality of the language they use to express these ideas. Take, for instance, the following examples from the introductory paragraph to a review:
Which one would you rate more highly? The topic and content are the same, as is the length of the two texts. The first is fine, at around the basic pass level 4; it is clear and contains some serviceable evaluative language such as ‘shocking’ and ‘unexpected’. In short, the student has something to say and their text does the job.
Yet the second text definitely has the edge. Lexically it is more engaging, extending the simple verb ‘has’ to ‘revolves around’ – this sounds much more dynamic. Likewise, the frequent evaluative adjective ‘interesting’ is upgraded to the level of ‘fascinating’. Usefully, the second student guides their audience and focuses their attention with the discourse marker ‘In particular’, which serves to frame the fourth character, Draco Malfoy. Text 2, then, has the edge, and should clock in at a solid 5, with the potential to build further and go higher.
The key to lifting the student’s grade is language.
In the above examples the student’s ideas are fine. Many grade 4 students simply reach for the language they know, and that’s what they use. The more ambitious student strives for more interesting, more complex language. Try the following language-based techniques: