GCSE results 2023

GCSE results 2023: Which subjects saw the biggest drop in top grades?

Top grades in some GCSE subjects have fallen below pre-Covid levels, despite an overall near return to 2019 benchmarks

Top grades in some GCSE subjects have fallen below pre-Covid levels, despite an overall near return to 2019 benchmarks

24 Aug 2023, 11:25

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Subject-level breakdowns of GCSE results show some are yet to return to 2019 levels

While the proportion of top GCSE grades handed out to 16-year-olds in England has dropped to near pre-pandemic levels, some subjects have fallen even further.

The percentage of grade 7 and above entries in chemistry, biology, physics and Spanish this year is lower than in 2019.

But some subjects have still fared much better than four years ago, despite Ofqual asking exam boards to return to pre-Covid grading standards.

Here are the key findings from subject-level data published by the Joint Council for Qualifications today.

1. Which GCSE subjects had the most top grades?

Of the 15 most popular GCSE subjects, chemistry had the highest proportion of entries at grade 7, 8 or 9 (43.8 per cent).

Physics had the second highest proportion, at 43.2 per cent.

Biology, which last year saw the largest percentage of top grades (50.9 per cent), came third in the ranking – with 42.8 per cent.

Subjects with the highest proportion of GCSE top grades

2. Which subjects had the fewest top grades?

Of the most popular GCSE subjects this year, double science had the lowest proportion of top grades (8.5 per cent).

This was followed by English language (18.8 per cent), business studies (19.6 per cent), English literature (20.8 per cent) and maths (21.2 per cent).

GCSE subjects with smallest proportion of top grades this year

3. Which GCSE subjects saw the biggest fall in results?

Business studies saw the biggest fall in top grades compared to last year, at 31.2 per cent.

Last year, nearly three in 10 (28.5 per cent) entries were given a grade 7 or above, compared with 19.6 per cent this year.

This was followed by computing, a fall of 28.6 per cent, and English language, which fell by a fifth.

biggest drop in top GCSE grades since 2022

4. Which GCSE subjects saw the smallest fall? 

Religious studies saw the smallest fall in top grades compared with 2022, at 11.8 per cent.

Last year, more than a third (34.6 per cent) of entries gained top grades, compared to 30.5 per cent this year.

Smallest drop in top GCSE grades since 2022

5. So which subjects are furthest away from the 2019 benchmark?

This year, exams watchdog Ofqual instructed exam boards to bring grades down again so they returned to pre-pandemic 2019 standards.

But some of the top 15 most popular GCSE subjects are still a way off the 2019 benchmark in terms of top grades.

This was most apparent in double science, where the percentage difference between 2019 and 2023 was 13.3 per cent.

This year, 8.5 per cent of entries gained a grade 7 or above, compared with 7.5 per cent last year.

biggest rise in top grades since 2019

6. And which subjects are the closest to pre-pandemic standards?

In terms of top grades, religious studies and geography are the only two subjects back to 2019 levels.

The proportion of top grades in English literature and chemistry are less than 1 per cent away from 2019 levels.

Meanwhile, some subjects fell below below 2019 levels. This was true of chemistry (a 0.7 per cent fall in top grades), biology (1.2 per cent fall), physics (1.8 per cent fall) and Spanish (3.1 per cent fall).

Smallest rise in top GCSE grades since 2019

7. How top grades have changed for the 15 most popular GCSEs?

Top grades by most popular GCSE subject

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