Assessments for GCSEs and A-level in England are to return to pre-pandemic rules next year, the exams watchdog has announced.
The decision by Ofqual will mean that teenagers will have to be prepared to answer questions on any part of the curriculum rather than selected topics in a number of GCSE subjects.
However, the watchdog has left the door open to giving students advance notice of exam topics in 2023 shortly before they sit the papers so they can focus their revision on areas that will be tested.
This year, to take account of Covid-related disruption to schooling, the Government granted a number of “adjustments” to make exams more approachable.
Students sitting GCSE English, history, ancient history and geography have been given a choice of topics and content to tackle.
But in guidance published on Tuesday, Ofqual said: “For 2023, the Department for Education confirms the return to full subject content coverage for those GCSE subjects.”
A number of other adaptations which were put in place in 2021-22 to reflect public health measures – such as relaxed requirements relating to geography field work and science practicals – are set to be reversed.
The watchdog said: “Given that [the public health measures] are no longer in force, for the 2023 cohort Ofqual confirms that, as planned, the usual arrangements for non-exam assessment, fieldwork and practical science are now in place.”
Adaptations for vocational courses will also be dropped. “Given that public health restrictions are no longer in place, these adaptations are no longer necessary for the academic year 2022 to 2023 onwards,” Ofqual said.
As well as returning to full subject content, the grading of next year’s GCSE and A-level exams is set to return to pre-pandemic standards to reverse the grade inflation of 2020 and 2021.
But Ofqual has yet to make a final decision on whether certain adaptations – including advance notice of exam topics and formulae sheets in GCSE maths and science – will be scrapped.
The regulator said: “The Department for Education and Ofqual will continue to monitor the path and impact of the pandemic and evaluate the delivery of arrangements this year, including the provision of exam aids, such as formulae sheets, and advance information to support students’ revision, before finalising 2023 arrangements.
“Our intention is to return to the carefully designed and well-established pre-pandemic assessment arrangements as quickly as possible, given they are the best and fairest way of assessing what students know and can do.”
Ofqual also said it could repeat a decision taken this year to space out exams – a measure which was introduced to avoid students missing multiple papers if they catch Covid.
The regulator said it would “look carefully at the design of the exam timetable for next year in the light of experience this year, to see if the increased spacing between subjects in the exam timetable should be retained”.
Responding to Ofqual’s announcement, National Education Union said that “students taking exams in summer 2023 have not been unaffected by the pandemic”.
Kevin Courtney’s, the NEU’s joint general secretary, said: “If the last-minute decision making and lack of contingency planning for exams has shown us anything it is that the status quo is not something to desire a return to”.
“There is high risk relying on one short time period for all the assessment to take place, never mind the mental health and wellbeing issues associated with the entirety of a grade resting on a few cliff-edge weeks at the end of a course.”