There are no set grade boundaries for the practice papers.
The ideal assessments would have the E boundary at about 40% raw marks and the A boundary at 80%. This was the aim with the legacy assessments, the new assessments and the specimen and practice materials – there has been no change to this for many years.
Historically it has proved challenging to hit the aspiration of 80% raw marks for an A. The final boundary tends to be lower than this, sometimes significantly so.
Grade boundaries are only set for a 'real' exam when it has been taken by the full national cohort of students. The 'awarding' process sets grade boundaries based on actual student performance and the expected outcomes of students based on GCSE performance. This cannot happen with the specimen or practice material.
This concept of 'comparable outcomes' year to year and between one exam board and another, is an absolutely vital part of a credible qualification that will be used by employers, FE and HE institutions and as such is focused on very strongly by Ofqual and the exam boards.
It is important for teachers, students and parents to know that Ofqual have stipulated that there will be no change to the demand of the new AS and A Levels. In other words, in general across the national cohort, students will get the same grades as if they had taken the legacy qualifications.
Of course this will not be true for every individual student. A student who is particularly good at applying his/her knowledge to an unfamiliar situation might get a higher grade in the new qualification whereas someone who is very good at memorising a long list of facts but struggles to apply the ideas might get a lower grade. This is not a change to the overall demand, it is a shift in the weighting and detailed wording of the assessment objectives, mandated by Ofqual.
The final thing that makes the specimen and practice papers seem even harder is that the mark schemes themselves have not been through 'standardisation' - a process whereby the actual answers given by students can be considered, before marking, to see if any additions or changes need to be made to the mark schemes. Teachers will probably have found, when marking mocks, some valid student responses which do not appear in the mark scheme. By applying their professional judgement, and crediting these points where appropriate, perhaps in discussion across the department, a form of standardisation in miniature can be achieved.
In summary, for the specimen and practice papers:
- no increase in rigour versus the legacy (i.e. same strength of candidate to get the same grade this year as they would have done last year (on average, across the cohort))
- aiming for 40% for an E, 80% for an A
- a mark scheme that includes correct responses anticipated by the question setter but not encompassing standardisation additions or alterations
A couple of very informative links are included below. The Ofqual one is talking about comparability between boards but the same ideas apply to comparability between years. The Cambridge Assessment document gives a nice clear overview of the process of marking and grading exams.