Guidance and support for advisers when predicting grades.

Predicted grades are a key part of the application process. We’ve worked with a group of experienced advisers to develop the following guidance to help you when making predictions for your students’ applications.

It’s been updated to support you through the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, for students applying to start university from autumn 2021.

We’ll continue to update and enhance this guidance, to give you as much support as possible in predicting your students’ grades in the 2021 application cycle.


What are predicted grades? 

A predicted grade is the grade of qualification an applicant’s school or college believes they’re likely to achieve in positive circumstances.

These predicted grades are then used by universities and colleges, as part of the admissions process, to help them understand an applicant’s potential.


Challenges for advisers

When predicting grades, you may face a number of challenges, such as:

  • ongoing changes to academic, vocational, and technical qualifications – including changes to content, assessment and, in some cases, standards  
  • myths and anecdotal evidence from peers, parents, and the media  
  • external and internal pressures influencing predictions 
  • differences in university and college behaviour – including disparities between entry requirements, offer conditions, and acceptance levels  

Challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic

For 2021, there may be additional challenges when predicting grades due to the ongoing proposals to adapt the curriculum and assessments. 

These challenges might include:

  • the disruption of teaching and learning in 2020 affecting coverage of the curriculum – including vocational and technical qualifications
  • fewer internal assessments on which to base a prediction
  • less face-to-face contact time between teachers and students to inform predictions
  • adaptations to the practical elements of assessments which may impede how a grade is predicted
  • uncertainty as to how the disruption has impacted a student's motivation or likely performance, particularly in light of their home environment and access to support and technology
  • challenges in understanding the full impact on disadvantaged students, students with SEND, and those with protected characteristics

You can read more about the proposed changes to assessments in 2021 around the UK on the regulators’ websites:


Principles for predicting grades

Predicted grades should be:

  • entered for all pending qualifications, unless the assessment method or structure of the qualification makes this inappropriate – failure to do so can lead to complications or, in some cases, the rejection of an application 
  • in the best interests of applicants – fulfilment and success at college or university is the end goal  
  • aspirational but achievable – stretching predicted grades can be motivational for students 
  • determined by professional judgement – your expertise and experience are vital in informing predictions 
  • data-driven – while each school will have its own process, you should look at past Level 2 and Level 3 performance, and/or internal examinations to inform your predictions 
  • finalised by the point of submitting an application – universities and colleges are only likely to consider the predicted grades received as part of the UCAS application. While they will make every effort to accommodate genuine errors in data entry, this may not always be possible for highly selective courses   

Predicted grades should not be:

  • affected by student, parental, guardian, or carer pressure – there are risks associated with inflating and suppressing predicted grades
  • influenced by university or college entry requirements or behaviours – predicted grades should be set in isolation of an applicant’s university or college choice(s)  
  • affected by student behaviour or background – predicted grades should be made objectively and disregard external factors. Be careful to reflect on any preconceptions to mitigate against unconscious bias, particularly for protected characteristics (including sex, race, religion/belief, disability, sexual orientation, or gender reassignment)

Associated risks

Risks of inflating predicted grades

We recognise that sometimes you may come under pressure to inflate predicted grades, to give applicants a better chance of receiving an offer for a certain course. However, this is not without risk, and could significantly disadvantage them. 

  • An applicant may receive an offer(s) they are unlikely to meet, leading to disappointment on results day.  
  • Applicants might gain admission to a course which they cannot succeed in – choosing the right course is a very important decision as they will be investing a lot of time, money, and effort, and it can be difficult to change. 
  • If a university or college has reason to believe that a predicted grade is grossly inaccurate, they retain the right to withdraw any offers.  

Risks of suppressing predicted grades 

We are aware that, in some cases, you are encouraged to suppress predicted grades for highly selective courses, due to a belief this will trigger a (relatively) lower offer for an applicant. Again, this is not without risk. 

  • A student may miss out on receiving an offer from their preferred choice, based on suppressed predicted grades. They would then be required to accept an alternative offer, defer entry, or make use of Clearing. 

Guidance to support internal processes

Each school or college usually has its own processes for predicting grades. To help you get started, here are a few useful points to consider. 

  • A formal and published process on your ‘information for university and college admissions teams’ dedicated web page, linked to in the UCAS reference– schools tell us they’ve found it helpful to formalise and publish their approach to predicting grades. Here, you can articulate any policy about not predicting grades for particular qualifications, or where the assessment method or structure of the qualification may not be suitable for making predictions (e.g. the Extended Project). We recommend this is included in a web page for universities and colleges that outlines your qualification provision, and gives details about the impact of COVID-19 on your centre. This approach will free up space in the reference to concentrate on the individual student’s circumstances – read more about including this information in your references.
  • Timely engagement – it’s important to set expectations, and make your approach to predicting grades transparent and available as early as possible – ideally before the summer break following Year 12, or S5 in Scotland – or the equivalent for international students. These expectations can then form the basis of subsequent conversations with students, until the final predicted grades are submitted.  
  • Part of a two-way dialogue – students should be given the opportunity to discuss their predicted grades with you. It may be that they can demonstrate progress, and you’re comfortable in changing their prediction. Equally, you may not be aware of extenuating circumstances that have affected their performance to date. This contextual information can be included in the reference.
  • Coordination across departments – the process requires you to provide a predicted grade for every formal qualification undertaken by the student. Therefore, in some instances, teachers will need to enter one or more predictions. It may be useful to host a staff training session as part of an inset, to promote consistency of approach.  
  • Timing – typically, an initial set of predicted grades are issued to students before the summer holidays of Year 12, or S5 in Scotland – or the equivalent for international students. There is the potential for these to change until the school’s internal deadline for completing UCAS applications.  
  • Alignment with the reference – predicted grades are part of the reference, so the two should be mutually supportive. For example, it would look strange if a very low predicted grade was combined with a very positive reference (without context). 

 Factors to consider  

  • Schools typically maintain various sets of predicted grades that all serve different purposes, and are made at different points in the year. For example, those given to awarding bodies are typically provided later in the year than those provided to UCAS.  
  • Applicants do not always have to meet the entry requirements with their predicted grades to receive an offer – universities and colleges will assess applications on an individual basis.  
  • Universities and colleges place differing levels of importance of predicted grades, and make use of them in a variety of ways throughout the application process. 
  • While many universities and colleagues endeavour to consider any errors in predicted grades, reconsideration of an application could be subject to a course still being open, or places still being available.