Common Questions – New 9-1 GCSE

I’m just gonna say it … I think I need to get a life!

I’ve been doing some work following the letter I’ve had from Ofqual in response to my own letter to them where I raised the matter of how comparability across tiers was being ensured. You can see from the below extract Ofqual are currently discussing this with exam boards the precise detail about how this will work. It is clear however that there will be a focus on the crossover tasks … anyone that says they know how this process is going to work … THEY DON’T – It is still being worked on! I wrote all about the full response -> here. So with the preamble over I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing. I’ve spent a few happy hours going through different papers from three of the boards looking at what percentage of the various sample/specimen etc papers were actually “crossover” questions (note that there may be some small mistakes where I’ve noted the wrong question number or number of marks – I have double checked these but you DO know I’m not perfect don’t you?). On each of the below the list under each paper refers to the question number on the Higher or Foundation paper and the number of marks. 

What has come out is very interesting but given that “at least 20%” on both tiers must be from common tasks I’m left with lots of questions / thoughts.


I was able to do the Sample Assessment materials, and two sets of specimen papers (I haven’t done any of the 5 or 6 Practice sets though) – whilst I was at it I thought I would do the secure mocks. What is evident is that the questions appear in the same order between both tiers (I like this!) and don’t include the last question on the Foundation tier – this is deliberate! Worth telling students not to assume that they can’t do all the later questions on the Foundation tier just because these are the ones that appear on the Higher tier too.

The lowest on any individual paper was 25% and the highest was 33.75%, with the biggest range across any set of 3 papers being 7.5% but the average across the 4 sets of papers was 30.00%.


I was able to do the Sample Assessment Materials and their 3 practice sets. In the case of these papers the crossover questions aren’t sequential on either paper.

The lowest on any individual paper was 22.5% and the highest was 31.25%, with the biggest range across any set of 3 papers being 8.75% but the average across the 4 sets of papers was 28.02%.


I was able to do the Sample Assessment Materials and one of their practice sets (I’m just setting up an Interchange account to access their other papers). In the case of these papers the crossover questions aren’t sequential on either paper.

The lowest on any individual paper was 21% and the highest was 23%, with the biggest range across any set of 3 papers being 2% but the average across the 2 sets of papers was 21.67%. The thing to note is that because the OCR papers are out of 100 there is a similar number of marks to the other boards and the percentage is a bit misleading. As always, they are unfailing in their helpfulness and Neil confirmed that their aim is to have 20-25 marks that are common on both tiers. This guidance is brilliant and gives me some comfort that they aren’t going to vary wildly.


I’m not sure what my thoughts on some of these being so far away from the “20%” are yet but does leave me with a concern that the % in the live materials could change and the boards have the perfect excuse in that they are adhering to the technical specification. I am assuming that the materials they have produced will reflect their live materials though – changing something like this would be akin to sending a jumper that was advertised as 50% lambswool, 30% angora and 20% nylon to find that when it arrives to be 50% lambswool, 20% angora and 30% nylon. To most people it wouldn’t make a difference but it’s not what you ordered and that just isn’t right and I’ll certainly be checking! To ensure grades 4 or 5 are comparable across both tiers of entry I understand that you need a decent number of marks to compare but it would have been nice for Ofqual to have given a tolerance that this % should fall within so that there wasn’t any uncertainty.

There is reason that this is important to me – Given the make up of what grades are being targeted on the Foundation tier what proportion of these questions will students that are aiming for the 4 or the 5 on the Foundation tier need to nail? So if the same student performs well on these questions (which are the tougher ones) why would you not put them in for the higher tier? I am saying that with some (LOTS!) sarcasm because it isn’t that simple given the ramping in difficulty on the Higher tier. In  essence for me the proportion of the papers that will be used to gauge that the crossover grades of the 4 and 5 are comparable is important to me – it will form part of our tiering decision. 

I keep saying this but we don’t operate in a bubble and just can’t sit back and “hope for the best” … this tiering decision is a massive one that has to be made shortly. Next week we have parents evening giving back results from the December mocks and will be continuing the conversations we started with parents earlier in the year about these decisions – it is not just ours to make.

Some purists amongst you will think that we should just “teach them” and that is what we’re doing in our own context but I don’t think we can ignore the pressures that schools are under in terms of accountability. I’ve produced this information because I have a curious nature and may or may not be of use or interest to you.

I would love to know what you think: leave me a comment below!

2017-07-03T23:34:38+00:00 January 7th, 2017|Blog, Ofqual|


  1. Mark Horley January 7, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Mel – as ever, thanks for the time you spend going into this level of detail. It’s really useful for people having to make this tough decision for students so thank you for sharing. 🙂

  2. Anonymous January 7, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for doing all this hard work and sharing it.

  3. Caroline January 8, 2017 at 8:05 am

    I’ve only looked at the edexcel statistics you have put above but it in my head on the higher paper this makes sense. If approx 30% of the paper is cross-over (grades 4 & 5) and in the original paperwork from the exam board it was said that 50% of the higher tier would be grade 7+ which would leave approx. 20% for grade 6 topics. Not sure how giving that proportion relates to the foundation paper as I can’t remember what was originally given.

  4. admin January 8, 2017 at 11:09 am

    Just because 50% of higher tier is grades 4/5/6 it doesn’t mean that all of the 4/5 questions need to be crossover questions though.

  5. David Gibson January 8, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    I seem to recall that at the last Pearson Network meeting I attended that it was stated their aim is to have about 30% marks as cross over questions.

  6. Saeda June 11, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Thank you
    i really wish u were my teacher
    you care

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