GCSE Exams: What are You Allowed to Bring? (Calculator, Pen, etc)

In GCSE, General by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

With the transition of students to Year 11, there is the inevitable pressure of exams on the horizon. Undoubtedly, this brings with it nervousness for exams of such a huge scale – after all, this is the first time almost all pupils experience such crucial papers. Not only are the exams themselves daunting for students, but the procedures leading up and during exams may also be confusing, such as finding out what you are allowed to bring into the exam hall. What exactly are you allowed to bring, then?

In short, a black pen is the required tool for every exam (remember to bring spares as well!). Students are also required to bring a clear pencil case (or none at all) and are advised to bring in a clear water bottle as well. Depending on which exam you have, additional equipment – such as a calculator or mathematical instruments – may also be necessary.

While this may have given you a very brief overview of what you are allowed to bring to an exam, it may be helpful to read on for more nuanced information.

What should you bring to GCSE exams?

To put it briefly, a black pen (as well as spares) should be the number one priority on the list. They are required for every exam to fill in the answers. If a student is bringing a pencil case, it must be clear, as well as any water bottles.

Of course, not every exam is the same – some exams require additional equipment, which students might already be familiar with from mock exams. For example, GCSE Physics requires you to bring a pencil, ruler, protractor, a scientific calculator in addition to a black pen.

To read about what AQA advises on how to prepare for exams, check out their student and parent support page here.

From personal experience, it is advisable to purchase any necessary equipment well in advance before exams. Below is a list of equipment that will be necessary for most sets of exams:

  • Black pen (either ink or ball-point – no erasable pens as they can fade with heat!)
  • Clear pencil case
  • Clear water bottle with no labels
  • Pencils (and an eraser and sharpener!)
  • Scientific calculator (make sure to remove the lid if you have one)
  • A ruler, pair of compasses, and protractor (or any mathematical instrument set)

Make sure to know which exam you have beforehand and what equipment to bring – when in doubt, ask a teacher or an exams officer. For example, calculators are not allowed during the GCSE Maths non-calculator paper.

Are calculators allowed to be brought in for GCSE Maths?

In short, it depends on what paper it is. There are three papers for GCSE Maths: Paper 1 is non-calculator and Paper 2 and 3 are both calculator papers.

Check beforehand to see what paper you are sitting. If you are going to be sitting a non-calculator paper, either leave your calculator behind or hand it in to an invigilator or exam officer at the exam hall for safekeeping.

For both Paper 2 and 3, the calculator papers, a calculator is absolutely necessary to tackle those equations! However, make sure to leave your calculator lid behind to avoid penalisation. Additionally, make sure your calculator is calibrated correctly and set to “degrees”, to avoid making unnecessary errors.

Check out this helpful guide from Think Student about choosing the best calculator for GCSE Maths!

Are calculators also allowed in GCSE Sciences?

Yes! In fact, calculators are crucial in each science exam; Biology, Chemistry and Physics papers will all contain some form of calculations inside (both paper 1 and 2!).

Additionally, calculation sheets are provided for the Physics exams (as well as the maths exams), which takes the pressure of remembering tens of equations off students. These sheets are released by exam boards several months before exams! For example, the June 2022 equation sheet can be found here from the AQA website for the AQA GCSE Physics 2022 exam.

What type of pen and pencil case are you allowed to bring to GCSE exams?

In short, bring a black ballpoint or ink pen, as well as a clear pencil case. Do NOT be tempted to use an erasable friction pen; the heat from the scanners for the papers may cause the ink to disappear (which would be disastrous). Additionally, it’s not advisable to write in pens prone to smudging, like gel pens (which also do not scan well).

Usually, the invigilators make it a point to stress the importance of avoiding these types of pens before the exam!

In regard to the clear pencil cases, it is a preventative measure against cheating, so invigilators can see inside in case there’s contraband material inside (such as notes!). There are cheap clear pencil cases available in most stationery stores, such as WHSmith! If there’s no time to buy one, or you’re short for cash, a clear plastic bag can work just as well (think airport clear bags!).

If you’re a pen aficionado and would like some recommendations for the best pens for exams, check out this guide from Pen Shop!

If you would like to check out an array of affordable clear pencil cases that you can use for exams, check out this search from Amazon!

Additionally, you can’t use a pencil to write instead of a pen. While it’s fine for graph questions and mathematical questions where drawing is necessary (and you don’t have to go over it with black ink afterwards), it is not permitted to use for writing all your answers. This is because the graphite smears terribly and can also interfere with scanners.

What type of water bottle are you allowed to bring to GCSE exams?

It’s very important to stay hydrated, especially with the stressful season of GCSEs. With that in mind, there are certain stipulations regarding what exam officers allow for water bottles brought into the exam hall.

You are only allowed to bring in a clear water bottle with no labels. This is a measure to counter cheating put in place. Additionally, some exam centres and schools may also forbid any writing on the bottle, even if the bottle itself is clear!

However, from personal experience, you aren’t penalised if you bring in a bottle of water from the shop with the label still on! Rather, an exam invigilator will come round to remove the label. Rest assured; you won’t go dehydrated!

To check out the range of clear and affordable water bottles from Amazon, you can click on this link here.

Are you allowed to use highlighters in the GCSE exams?

To put it briefly, highlighters are absolutely NOT supposed to be used inside your answer itself. This is because the tint of the highlighter can interfere with the scanners, which can make your answers illegible to the examiners. This can negatively affect your marks, which is why using highlighters with your answers is highly discouraged!

Instead, if you want to emphasise key words or concepts, such as in science exam questions, you can alternatively choose to carefully underline key words instead. This can make sure examiners don’t accidentally miss key words that might be on the mark scheme, but it also doesn’t impact the scanners!

However, highlighters can help break up text into manageable chunks. This can be seen in English extracts, for example. Some students may find it easier to annotate the text that way!

Any inserts that come with the paper, such as extracts in English Language or Literature, are free game! You can use highlighters to annotate anything that’s not the exam paper/answer booklet itself. 

Even in other exams without inserts, highlighters can still be used, just not in your answers themselves. You can highlight the question itself, or underline or circle the key words with a regular black pen instead.

In conclusion, highlighters can prevent your written answers from being scanned correctly, which can negatively impact marks! However, you can use them on the inserts that won’t be scanned, like English extracts, or just on the question itself in science papers, for example.

What happens if you forget your pencil case for your GCSE exams?

Maybe you overslept, maybe you were in a rush, or maybe you simply forgot; regardless, forgetting a pencil case is very common, especially in such a high-stress period!

The most important thing is not panicking! Inform a teacher or an exams officer as soon as possible. Teachers and exam officers are prepared for this type of occurrence – it’s inevitable that someone will forget equipment! They can get you spares of the equipment you need, such as a calculator and pen, for example.

However, in the case where you can’t talk to a teacher before getting into the exam hall, signal over an exam invigilator as soon as possible! Typically, they will have spares of any equipment you might need for exams, since these are nation-wide exams.

A handy way to make sure you stay prepared is to create a checklist to make sure everything is packed in your bag the night before and getting a guardian to double-check with you. Of course, this doesn’t always guarantee that mishaps such as forgetting equipment are prevented completely, but the risk is significantly reduced.

In the case that your pen runs out or a mishap occurs with equipment during the exam itself, you can also request a replacement for the faulty equipment. However, it may take a while to get noticed or approached, which is why it is beneficial to carry spares.

To summarise, you shouldn’t be afraid to approach teachers or exam officers in these situations; it’s their job to help you go into the exam hall smoothly and prepared.

What are you prohibited from bringing to GCSE exams?

Of course, students may also be concerned about what is classified as “contraband” in the eyes of the exam board. After all, the penalties if you are caught with a forbidden item on your person during an exam are quite grim.

It is forbidden to carry a mobile phone, watch of any kind, notes/flashcards, or any sort of electronic device that isn’t permitted by the exam board. At the beginning of each exam, the invigilators will ask for students to check their pockets – this is your opportunity to hand in this material for safekeeping. Ideally, you should bring none of these things into the exam room in the first place.

Food isn’t allowed to be consumed within the hall, but in medical cases that the exam board is notified of beforehand, it is permitted.

So, what could the consequences be if you got caught with a prohibited item (even if you weren’t planning on using it to cheat)?

One of the consequences is immediately failing your paper, and having it declared null and void. Another consequence could be getting banned from an exam board for a period, meaning you can’t sit the rest of your exams that fall under this exam board (this can also extend to A-Levels)!

Ultimately, always make sure to double-check your person for any prohibited items to avoid this situation! Check out this page from the Edexcel website for more about banned items in the exam hall.

Where can you put your phone during GCSE exams?

A common question for students is where you can put your phone and valuables, since you can’t take them with you into the exam hall. The answer is that it really depends on the school.

Some schools may collect your phones and lock them away in an office during the exam, then give them back afterwards. However, this may not always be the case, and you may have to leave your phone in your bag. This isn’t always the safest option, so be prepared to just leave your phone at home if your school doesn’t offer such accommodations for students.

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