Foundation or higher? The question asked by countless GCSE students across the UK. Whilst this format is there to help lower ability students, often, it is seen as a burden having to choose between the two. For most teachers countrywide, deciding which pupils should take foundation exams and which should take higher is a complicated process, and sometimes they will get it wrong, meaning students with greater ability in a subject end up changing tiers. However, it is essential to see both sides of the argument in relation to changing tiers before making a final judgement on which path to take.
In short, yes, it is possible to switch between the foundation and higher tiers. That said, there are several factors to take into consideration before making a decision; there is extra content to learn, and a harder paper to sit, increasing your workload. However, if you have considered your options and you do wish to change tiers, you need to ask the relevant teacher at your school. Afterall, it is down to your school’s discretion on whether to allow you to change tiers.
Taking the higher paper does come with a reward of opportunity. Higher candidates have no limit to the grade they can get. As there are both advantages and disadvantages, the best course of action is speaking to your teacher. Afterall, they know you and your abilities best. In this situation, you must remember that everyone is different, and so this article will explain the best course of action for people in all different circumstances.
How Can You Change Your Tier at GCSE?
If you’ve read the information provided above and are happy that you slide into the category of people eligible to change, as well as understanding the risks of sitting a higher paper, you can begin the process of changing tiers.
Before making a final decision, you should pay a visit to the head of department or your teacher and talk to them about what moving into the higher tier entails. Not only will this provide you with valuable information about the workload and difficulty of the exam, but it also confirms your confidence and interest to the person, making you stand out as an eligible candidate.
After this, there are a few steps to follow, which largely rely on your own school’s procedure. The first is telling your teacher about your decision and making sure they are confident in your ability to take the higher paper. Following this, most institutions will require an email of formal consent from a parent or guardian to make sure they have thoroughly discussed the process with you, and the change isn’t a snap decision which you may regret later.
And that’s it, you’re officially enrolled to the higher tier!
What are the Advantages of Changing to Higher Tier at GCSE?
The main benefit of changing to a different tier would obviously be the attainable grades. Rather than being limited to a grade 5 (or high C equivalent), you have the opportunity to gain those very top 8/9 grades.
In addition, if you are looking to enrol in a particular subject at A-Level, you have a better chance of achieving decent grades in sixth form if you’ve studied the higher tier content at GCSE. For students with enough ability, switching to higher tier is beneficial to future endeavours.
What are the Advantages of Changing to Foundation Tier at GCSE?
As with all decisions in life, there are, of course, some arguments in favour of the opposing side. The foundation tier was created for GCSE students who found they were struggling to meet the grades needed for a pass.
Although the paper means you can only achieve up to a grade 5, it allows students to obtain a higher proportion of marks by only answering questions up to that graded level. This means that the more difficult content is omitted, and your focus can be put on other subjects rather than trying to tackle tricky, higher level problems.
The tier system is particularly useful for pupils who don’t want to take core subjects at A-Level but need to achieve a pass in order to be allowed a place in their chosen sixth form. Being examined on easier questions in, say, Maths and English, means you can concentrate on gaining high grades in the exams of your preferred A-level choices, rather than wasting your time.
What Kind of Person Should Switch Between Tiers?
As previously mentioned, switching from foundation to higher tier is a big undertaking, especially as it means an increase in workload. There are a few questions you will need to ask yourself before requesting a change in tier, such as:
1. How Far Along Are You in Your Current Course?
The most important thing to do is give yourself enough time prior to the exam to learn and revise the new content. The best time to change would ideally be the end of Year 10 or start of Year 11, as this will allow your teachers to make the required set changes, contact the exam board and prepare new materials for you.
That said, if you’re motivated enough and are achieving decent grades in all your other subjects, the latest you could possibly change would be around January of your exam year (although this is not recommended).
2. What is Your Own Academic Ability in the Relevant Subject?
We all know our own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities better than anyone else, so at the end of the day, the decision to move up to the higher tier is on your shoulders. Obviously, you can ask your teachers questions, and in fact, that is encouraged, but you will know whether you can push yourself that little bit further, whether you are organised enough to effectively revise the additional subject matter, and whether you have the confidence to take the exam without overly stressing. You need to realise your own limits.
3. How Have You Performed in Previous GCSE Mock or Lesson Exams?
Looking back at your personal exam history can give you a good sense of how well you will do in the real exam, and how well you could do if you changed tiers. For example, if after a set of Year 10 exams, you produce a Grade 5, there is a strong chance you would be more suited to taking the higher tier paper, as most students will increase their grade by two or three by the end of Year 11, if they put in the work.
However, if a Year 11 mock exam comes back with a Grade 3 or 4, the best course of action is most likely to stick with foundation and improve that grade as much as possible. You have to remember that the grades given to foundation students are proportionally larger than the ones awarded to the higher candidates (e.g., a higher grade 3 is equal to a foundation level 5).
How Can You Prepare for the Higher Tier GCSE Exam?
After changing tiers, it’s time to buckle down and get some serious work done. The most important thing to start with is catching up with any higher tier content you have missed. Chances are, particularly if you’re joining a class later in the year, you will need to learn some of the skills that haven’t been taught previously because they don’t apply to foundation students.
Depending on the subject, you will generally find that most of what you need to catch-up on is just building up to more subjective questions using skills you’ve already covered. However, there will be some concepts- such as vectors in Maths, for example- that will be entirely foreign.
Luckily for you, living in the age of technology means there are thousands of free, online resources right at your fingertips. You can use YouTube to watch easy-to-understand videos, find practice questions to test your knowledge, and there are even some online platforms which allow you to ask specific questions to on demand tutors.
Any Final Tips for Surviving Higher Tier Exams?
Make sure you have a sound knowledge of all concepts in the subject. Speak to your peers or teachers if you’re unsure but getting your head around how to answer the trickiest questions will allow you to build a foundation to support the best quality revision possible.
The best thing you can do for yourself is start revising early. Even if this just means picking up a textbook and trying a question on a particular topic each day, it is always best to get stuck into revision quickly and improve your knowledge, especially as a student tackling the higher assessed tier. Take a look at this article on when the best time to start revising for your GCSE exams is.
Get your priorities straight. Sometimes, as much as we would love to be the best at everything, you have to make sacrifices based on time restrictions. It’s important to put enough time into all your courses, so that other grades aren’t weakened by your higher tier status. You may find that you need to let a particular topic fall to the wayside if you find it so difficult that it absorbs all your time and energy.
Don’t burn yourself out. The last thing you want to do is overwork yourself just because you have switched to a more difficult course. Exams are difficult, and you need to be in a relaxed and confident mindset to gain the best grades possible. As before, figure out your priorities, and you may just have to let some information go for the greater good. Check out this article to see how much revision you should ideally be doing each day.
Just remember that if the higher exam feels like too much pressure, foundation tier was created to help you and is always there to fall back on. Good luck for your exams!