A-level results 2022

A-level results 2022: Which subjects saw the biggest drop in top grades?

Top grades in some subjects are far closer to pre-Covid results than others, with the biggest upheaval still to come in future years

Top grades in some subjects are far closer to pre-Covid results than others, with the biggest upheaval still to come in future years

18 Aug 2022, 13:13

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Some popular subjects have seen far larger declines in top grades than others in this year’s A-level results, but none have returned to anywhere near pre-pandemic grades.

The government had warned that results following this year’s exams, the first since before the pandemic, would be lower than last year’s teacher-assessed grades, but still higher than 2019.

But Schools Week analysis of results data shows significant disparities between subjects, with the year-on-year decline in A*s in one subject (Spanish) five times greater than another (English Language).

More than three times as many English Language students got A* grades as before Covid in 2019, whereas in maths A* grades were only up by less than half.

No subject saw more than half the grade inflation since 2019 reversed this year.

It suggests the biggest upheaval from exams regulator Ofqual’s promised “transition period back to pre-pandemic grades” could be yet to come, with officials storing up the majority of the contentious reversal for future years.

Big decline versus 2021 grades…

Overall the proportion of entries graded at A* stood at 14.5 per cent. It marks a 4.6 percentage point decline on the 19.1 per cent seen last year, but is still significantly higher than the 7.7 per cent of grades at A* seen pre-pandemic in 2019.

Spanish A* results fell almost twice as sharply as the average subject versus 2021, however – with a 9.1 percentage point fall the steepest of all the most popular subjects. French saw the second biggest fall, down 6.3 percentage points.

Maths recorded the third largest fall, down 5.5 percentage points.

At the other end of the table, English Language saw the smallest decline in A* grades, down only 1.6 percentage points. Sociology was second lowest, down just 1.8 percentage points and law third, down 2.3 percentage points.

Some of these disparities are likely linked to pre-pandemic differences between subjects.

Subjects which had far more A* grades already in 2019, such as Spanish, saw both significantly higher rises than average in 2021 and significantly greater declines in 2022.

…but grades not yet halfway back to 2019 levels

Only 40.4 per cent of the overall increase in A*s since 2019 has been reversed this year, however.

This year officials and exam boards sought to balance pressure to rein in grade inflation seen during two year’s of teacher-assessed grades with the pressure to support students whose education was disrupted by Covid-19.

Despite large declines in 2021, the number of A*s overall remains 88 per cent higher than in 2019. Yet there is significant variation between subjects.

In English Language, the proportion of A*s is 244 per cent higher than 2019 – the biggest inflation of any popular subject in percentage terms.

It means only just over a quarter of the increase in A*s in the subject between 2019 and 2021 has been reversed this year. English Language remains the subject with the fewest A*s overall, however, as it was in 2019.

Psychology, history, business studies, Spanish, geography and economics saw the next highest increases on 2019, with more than twice as many A*s as before the pandemic.

By contrast, mathematics A* results were closest to returning to 2019 levels, though they remained 39.9 per cent higher. Art and design was second closest, up 53.3 per cent.

FFT Education Datalab analysis of A grades as well as A*s showed a similar picture of only partial reversals of the past two year’s gains across every subject. The exceptions were biology, chemistry and maths, where a slim majority of past years’ gains were reversed.

In those subjects, the proportion of grades at A and above was marginally below the midpoint between 2019 and 2021.

Source FFT Education Datalab analysis

Writing for Schools Week in an op-ed today, former government adviser Tom Richmond said Ofqual’s approach had been “reasonably sensible”, but warned the A-level system was “not out of the woods yet”.

“If Ofqual do indeed bring the proportion of top grades back to 2019 levels in the summer of 2023, they will have to cut the proportion of A* grades in half in one go,” wrote Richmond, director of the EDSK think tank.

“As ever, do not underestimate the politics of grade inflation – both as grades go up, and as grades go down.”

Full subject tables

Here is the data for the most popular A-level subjects, showing the grades achieved in the last four years, and the changes between 2019, 2021 and 2022.










English literature

English language

Art and design


Business studies



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