GCSEs or GCSE’s: Which is Correct and Why?

In GCSE by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

When reading about GCSE exams online, there are several different ways of writing the abbreviation. This means it can be very difficult to understand which you should use, and which is correct for your own writing, especially as this is a key word in many topics. However, in this article we will help you understand which acronym is correct and how you can tell which to use for other similar words. 

The correct way to write GCSE as plural is with a single s on the end, and no apostrophe, as GCSEs. GCSEs stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education and is an acronym. This is correct as it has nothing belonging to it, but in this case, there is more than one of the nouns (GCSE), so we need an -s. Another important note is that the -s on the end must be a lower-case letter because it is not part of the original acronym. There may be a few cases where one may need to include an – ‘s apostrophe, however this is rarely the case. 

While this is an easy short answer to your question, it is important to understand how apostrophes and acronyms work, in order to be able to transfer these skills to any future words you may need to pluralise. Read on to find out more. 

Which is Correct and Why?

As a general rule, GCSEs is correct. This means the apostrophe is not required at the end of the acronym. 

Why is this True?

There are a few situations when you need to add an -s to the end of a word: 

  1. The word is plural – if there are more than one of the nouns you are talking about, then the word needs an -s on the end.
  2. The word has something belonging to it – if for example, if you are talking about a friend who has a book, you would say “my friend’s book”. In this case, you need to add both an -s and an apostrophe, as in -‘s.  
  3. The word is both plural and has something belonging to it – if the word has both of the above conditions, then the apostrophe comes after the -s. So, if you are speaking about the multiple dogs who have bowls, you would say “the dogs’ bowls”. 
  4. If the word already ends in S – such as in the name “James”, it is generally accepted that you put the apostrophe after the word (as in “James’ shoes”) although you may also see it with -s added (“James’s shoes”). It is usually better to write the word without the second -s, as this can easily become confusing. 

In the case of GCSEs, we have a plural noun (multiple GCSEs) but not something belonging to it. For this reason, GCSEs is correct. If you would like more information on when to use apostrophes, please use this linkAlso, if you are wondering if there are any situations using this word where you may need the apostrophe, please look at the section below in this article. 

Also, an apostrophe may be added if the word is a contraction, for instance, “don’t”. This is not the case with GCSEs, see below for further information on contractions. 

What is an Acronym?

GCSE is an acronym standing for the General Certificate of Secondary Education. Acronyms are generally used when a phrase is too long to be said in normal conversation or writing. Acronyms work by creating a word made up of letters that symbolize another phrase. Another example of an acronym would be MP, standing for Member of Parliament, or the USA, for the United States of America.  

It is also important to note that acronyms need to be written in all capital letters, to avoid confusion with other words in the sentence. However, their -s suffixes must be written in lowercase, to avoid confusing this as part of the original acronym.  

These can be useful for memorising lists, and in revision. For more information on revision techniques visit this Think Student article.  

Is it Okay to use Acronyms in Academic Writing?

There is a special rule about using acronyms in academic or formal writing (such as in an essay). It is okay to use an acronym if you follow the following rule. The rule states that if you wish to use an acronym, you must first write the phrase out in full the first time you use it and follow this with the acronym in brackets. This applies no matter how wellknown the acronym is.  

So, in the case of GCSEs, you must write (the first time you use this term in your piece of writing) “General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSEs)”. After this, it is acceptable to simply write “GCSEs” in your writing. This rule applies to all acronyms. 

Similarly, it is important to realize that using contractions or abbreviations of words is not usually acceptable in formal writing. This applies to words such as “don’t” and “shouldn’t”. These are seen as generally unprofessional and should only be used when necessary, in informal writing or speech to be clearer and more concise 

However, some abbreviations such as titles in names, (Doctor = Dr. and Mister = Mr) and Latin abbreviations such as et al. (after the name of a researcher to indicate more people worked on a piece, used when citing in essays and short for et alia.) and sic (meaning as written, indicating that a mistake in a quote is copied directly from the source and short for sic erat scriptumare acceptable, as they have become widely acknowledged as good procedure. These Latin abbreviations must always be italicised, as they are not in English.  

This means they are allowed to be used, however, it is usually sensible to avoid them unless you have no alternative, as in the case of the stated examples.  

For more information on this, please visit this website.  

Why is Grammar Important?

It is always important to use correct grammar, especially when doing transactional or formal writing. For this reason, getting apostrophes correct can mean sounding far more professional, and added to other important grammar work could mean getting a few key marks in SPaG (Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar) in an English GCSE.  

These marks are worth 20% of the total in English Language GCSE, assessed under AO6 (assessment objective 6). They are worth 5% of English Literature GCSE marks, under AO4. These marks require you to use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose, and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation.”  

If you are concerned about this part of the mark scheme, ask your school for help, and visit this link for more information on grammar concepts you may find difficult.   

Here is a website with some more information on key grammar concepts, as well as practice for the more difficult rules. 

Is There Ever a Situation Where You Need the Apostrophe?

As the GCSEs are an umbrella term covering so many exams, it is not usual to need to use an apostrophe with them. The word does not require an apostrophe to say things like “GCSE exams” as this is not referring to multiple single exams, but to the exams covered under the bracket of GCSEs, meaning that the plural is not needed on “GCSE”. 

It is also important to note that you do not need to say, “my GCSE’s” or “my GCSE’s results”. The correct phrasing would simply be “my GCSEs” because the GCSEs are not possessing anything. This is also true with “my GCSE results” which does not need to be plural or have an apostrophe, as the “GCSEs” belong to you, and “my” is already a possessive pronoun, so you do not need an apostrophe.  

However, to say “the mark schemes from the GCSEs”, you may wish to say, “the GCSE’s mark scheme”. While this is not functionally incorrect, it can be seen as clunky. Therefore, it is usually better to write “the GCSE mark scheme” if referring to a specific mark scheme, as it is viewed as more professional and correct. 

How Do Other Common Educational Words use Apostrophes?

Some other words in education which we use regularly can also be confusing to add apostrophes and pluralise. Here are some examples: 

Exam Boards: AQA and OCR (both acronyms) generally will not be plural, as they are a single organization each. However, for instance, if you wish to talk about exams made by AQA you would need to say “AQA’s exams”.

If you wish to talk about the exams made by Edexcel or Eduqas (WJEC) then the correct phrasing is “Edexcel’s exams”. This is the same set of rules as for the other examining boards, except that these boards are not acronyms. (for more information about different examining boards for GCSE please visit this link) 

Another keyword in higher education is A-Level exams. This is phrased with a single -s afterwards to become plural, as in “A-levels”It is always important to get this correct, as these are words you are likely to use often, especially in the context of essays applying for University or 6th form, where correct grammar is tantamount.

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