What is UMS?
UMS stands for Uniform Mark Scheme. UMS results are a way of making sure people get the right grade, no matter when they took a particular unit. If students sit the same paper a year apart, due to different questions, it’s possible one exam might be slightly more difficult than another.
If students sitting the same unit a year apart both get 80 out of 120 (the raw mark), but one exam was slightly harder than the other, the marks don’t represent the same level of achievement.
The UMS balances out differences between exams, so the raw marks you get are converted to a UMS mark, allowing comparisons with other sittings of the same unit. UMS marks from all your units are then added together to give you an overall mark for your qualification.
Here's an example:
Most A-levels are made up of four units, with a grand total of 400 UMS marks available. Six-unit A-levels are out of 600 UMS marks, and two-unit A-levels are out of 200 UMS marks.
Let's imagine a four-unit A-level, with the first unit (we'll call it Unit X) worth 30% of the qualification.
There are 400 UMS marks for the whole qualification (because it's a four-unit A-level), so Unit X will be worth a maximum of 120 UMS marks (30% of 400).
Grade boundaries for UMS marks are fixed so that:
A = 80% of the maximum UMS
B = 70%
C = 60%
D = 50%
E = 40%
For Unit X, this means that our UMS grade boundaries are:
A = 96 (80% of 120)
B = 84 (70% of 120)
C = 72 (60% of 120)
D = 60 (50% of 120)
E = 48 (40% of 120)
Let's say that the paper itself is out of 80 marks. These are the raw marks. Once the exam has been taken by everyone, a committee at AQA (the examining board) gathers to decide what the grade boundaries for this particular paper should be, taking into account, for example, how difficult it is compared to earlier versions of the same unit.
For this exam, let's say the committee decides the grade A boundary is 60 out of 80 and the grade E boundary is 36 out of 80 (remember, these are raw marks). The other grade boundaries are spread evenly between these two points.
We now convert the raw marks to UMS marks, because we know where the equivalent grade boundaries lie:
If you took the exam and got 60/80, this would give you 96 UMS – because 60 happens to be the raw mark grade A boundary set by the committee, and 96 is the uniform mark grade A boundary for this unit.
If you got 55/80, you would get 86 UMS (grade B).
If you got 45/80, you would get 66 UMS (grade D).
Because the raw marks are converted to UMS marks, it means different students' grades can be compared side by side, with a particular UMS (and ultimately, grade) representing the same level of achievement no matter when the unit was taken.
This information is taken from and modified from the AQA website. More information is available at www.aqa.org.uk