What is the National Reference Test (NRT)?

The National Reference Test (NRT) was introduced in 2017 to provide additional information to support the awarding of GCSEs. The test was designed with the explicit purpose of providing evidence on changes in performance standards over time in English language and mathematics in England at the end of year 11. NFER developed and administers the NRT under contract to Ofqual.

Each year, a random sample of 60 students from around 350 schools takes a test booklet in mathematics or English (30 for each subject). The year 11 students take the test in late February / early March, before they take their GCSEs (in May / June). The NRT is securely administered and the test content is the same or largely the same each year.

The results are analysed at the national level; there are no results for individual schools or students. The outcomes have no direct consequences for the sampled students or schools. The results of the reference tests indicate the percentage of students who are predicted to achieve at least a grade 4, a grade 5 or a grade 7 in their GCSE. The tests will show if these percentages change from year to year. It is these changes, if any, that will be taken into account when GCSEs are being awarded.

Ofqual expect to see an improvement in early National Reference Test results as student and teacher familiarity with the new English language and maths GCSEs increases. This, alongside the need to compare the performance of student cohorts over several years, means it is expected to be 2019 at the earliest before exam boards will start to use the information from the National Reference Test when they award GCSEs.

Further information is made available by Ofqual: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-reference-test-information

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