How to Sit GCSE Exams Privately: The Extensive Guide

In GCSE by Think Student Editor1 Comment

There is a lot to research and consider if you’re taking your GCSE exams privately, whether you’re home-schooled or only looking to do one subject. This article goes through each step in the process and will give you all the details you need to make an informed decision about sitting your GCSE exams privately.

Additionally, this article will provide you with some extra details and contextual information that you may find interesting as a prospective private GCSE exam candidate. Therefore, I would recommend that you take the time to read this article.

1. Determine Which GCSE Subjects You Want to Take as a Private Candidate

The first thing you need to decide when taking your GCSEs privately, is which subjects you are going to take, and what the minimum required grades are for these subjects. This section of the article is aimed towards students who have never sat their GCSEs before and plan to continue their education following the completion of their GCSEs by studying A-Levels.

Certain subjects are compulsory for GCSE pupils. These are the core subjects of: English Language, Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. For English Language and Maths in particular, you will need to achieve a grade 4 or above, otherwise you will have to retake the exam the following year. Passes in these subjects are a government requirement.

Some guidance on how to achieve a high grade in GCSE Maths can be found here. You can also access advice on how to be successful in GCSE English Language in this useful article.

You can find more information on your options for your Science GCSEs at My Science GCSE, but essentially there are 2 courses to choose from:

  • The first is Triple Award Science where you study each science and get three GCSEs.
  • The second is Double Award Science where you also study each science but cover two thirds of the content of triple science, and end the course with two GCSEs.

Following GCSEs, most students go on to study A-Levels at a local College. For the majority of Colleges in the UK, you will need to have passed five GCSEs to study any A-Level subject – this means 5 subjects at Grades 4 and above. However, you should check that the courses you are potentially interested in taking at College do not have any subject requirements in addition to the core subjects discussed here.

It’s also worth noting that there are certain BTEC courses that will accept a vocational qualification rather than five GCSEs, so again, ensure you have researched courses you’re interested in and check the required qualifications.

2. Determine How Many GCSE Subjects You Wish to Sit Privately

As a private candidate, you may only want to resit one exam or get a qualification in one subject. If you plan to do A-Levels at a college or sixth form, you’ll need a certain number of GCSEs to be accepted on the course.

Although five GCSEs is the minimum needed for most A-Level Courses, having more GCSEs does give you a better chance of getting a place on the course and also looks better to employers. It also adequately prepares you for the A-Level workload. Most students who attend a secondary school will take between 9 and 11 subjects, including the five compulsory GCSEs. As a private candidate, you will need to assess your own abilities to pass the five required GCSEs and if you would manage to study more. If you would like to read more about the importance of GCSEs, this helpful article would give you more information on this topic.

Certain exam boards don’t offer particular subjects to private candidates, these are usually creative subjects like Art or Drama. For any subject you’re interested in studying, you will need to check which exam board you can enter through and find a Centre which can meet the required conditions for the subject. We will consider the different exam boards and the importance of choosing the right Centre later on in this article.

3. Assess the Different Exam boards that are Available to You as a Private Candidate

There are three main exam boards in the UK: AQA, OCR and Edexcel (also recognised as Pearson). CCEA is the main exam board in Northern Ireland, WJEC for Wales and SQA in Scotland. This article won’t be discussing the latter exam boards in detail but there is a link to each board’s page for private candidates to access.

In the UK there is a government set syllabus, which each exam board has to follow, so this means that all students are studying similar content, despite being on different exam boards. This partially simplifies the process for choosing an exam board to follow but can sometimes also make the decision harder to make.

One way to pick an exam board is to find a Centre (like a school) that will allow you to study as a private candidate and follow the same exam boards that the school sets for their pupils. This means you only have to be in contact with one Centre and, when it comes to exams, you only have to travel to one place. Teachers and school staff put a lot of consideration into which exam board is best for their students so if you do follow the school’s exam boards, you know they have made a reliable choice. This also saves you from having to do a lot of research on each exam board and subject, which can be very time consuming.

Another way to choose exam boards is to find which subjects and boards have the most revision materials available online. For example, there are lots of videos, textbooks and websites dedicated to helping AQA English Language students but much less for OCR English Language. This approach will take more time but may be worthwhile when you start revising and require more information than your textbook provides. However, the downside is the possibility of traveling between different Centres to sit the exams.

You can also select one exam board and sit all your exams with them. This means you will only need to sit your exams at one approved Centre, you don’t have to do as much research and the fee system will be the same for each exam. AQA is the largest exam board so is most likely to have lots of online resources but you need to do your own research and select the exam board that’s right for you. For more guidance, you can take a look at this Tes article.

4. Decide Whether You are Going to Use a Distance Learning Provider (DLP)

Some private candidates chose to sit their exams with a Distance Learning Provider (DLP). This is a third party body who provide tutoring, set assessments and course activities to aid your learning, and help you prepare for exams. This can be a great option if you only plan to do one subject as the cost can be quite high. This style of learning is all online and any contact with tutors is done over the phone or by email. Through this service, you can get exam papers marked and receive feedback on assignments.

Below are 4 distance learning providers that AQA has listed as being registered with them. There are more DLPs available but you will need to contact your chosen exam board and certify that they have been registered. Each offers slightly different services and a variety of subjects so more research is required to find the right choice for you. I have included the general pricings and what exam board each DLP uses:

  • National Extension College – GCSE courses cost £495 each (excluding Double Science which costs £940). They offer a mixture of Edexcel, AQA and CAIE GCSE courses.
  • ICS Learn – ICS courses are £285 each, they offer a mix of Edexcel GCSEs and IGCSEs and one AQA GCSE.
  • Learnonline Pembrokeshire College – All of the 11 courses they offer are Edexcel IGCSEs and cost £345 each.
  • Oxford Open Learning – Most of their courses are £295 each, and they offer five AQA GCSEs and 14 Edexcel IGCSEs.

DLPs are a more expensive option, especially if you plan to sit five or more subjects but the assessment materials and access to a tutor can be very beneficial. These learning providers essentially allow you to complete a structured course (like you would do in school), but they often come with a hefty price tag. Be sure to read reviews when researching which DLP to choose and always double check that they are registered with your exam board.

5. Finding a Local or Online Tutor as a Private GCSE Candidate

A DLP may not be the right option for you but a tutor could still be very useful. This applies to those sitting exams privately, under any circumstances.

There are two main methods of tutoring, face to face and online. If you live in a more remote area, online tutoring may be the best option for you as you can find a great tutor and distance would not limit your options when it comes to choosing a tutor who is fit to support your needs. Online tutoring can also be a cheaper option but that all depends on where you live and what subject you are searching for.

These three websites can be used to find a face to face or online tutor and all have received high scores on Trustpilot:

Tutoring can be a great way to get specialised support with any issues that you may come across when working through the GCSE content. With the ability to tailor all sessions around your needs, paying for a tutor in a subject that you are struggling to get a handle on can be a great investment!

If you can’t find a tutor in your area or just don’t feel that tutoring will work for you, don’t worry as it is just one of many options for sitting as a private candidate. There are lots of great online resources as well as revision guides that can really help you and many candidates are very successful, even when teaching themselves.

6. Find Out Where You Will Sit Your GCSE Exams as a Private Candidate

To sit your exams, you’ll need to find a local school or college that accepts private candidates. It is  important to contact these centres as early as possible so your space can be booked in advance, and you can make sure that your entry fees are paid on time.

Each exam board provides a list of schools and colleges that have agreed to accept private candidates:

  • AQA centres
  • Edexcel centres
  • OCR centres – there is no current published list of OCR centres, so you will need to get in touch with their customer contact centre to find this information. Make sure to do this as soon as possible.

The schools on the list have directly given permission for their details to be online as a centre that allows private candidates. This means that if you can’t see a centre in your area, there might still be places that will accept you. Start by contacting local schools and colleges to see if you can sit your exams with them. If your course contains a non-exam assessment (NEA), the centre will need to provide you with the ability to complete this assessment –  NEAs will be discussed in more detail later on in this article.

7. Determine the Cost of Sitting GCSE Exams Privately

The next part of booking for your exams is paying the fees, which consist of two parts:

  1. Administrative fees to the centre
  2. Fees to the exam board.

Below are links to each exam boards fees for the 2019/20 academic year:

  • AQA fees range between £36.50 – £73 depending on the subject.
  • Edexcel fees range between £34.70 – £78.20
  • OCR fees range between £40.25 – £83.00

Along with the fees to the exam board, you’ll need to pay administrative fees to the centre. These will vary depending on where you decide to sit your exams and, usually, can’t be found online – contact the school directly to enquire about how much you will need to pay.

Unfortunately these fees cannot be avoided when taking GCSEs privately. However, keep in mind that this is certainly not a waste of your money – you are investing in your education, which is invaluable.

8. Ensure That You Book in for Your Private GCSE Examinations

Once you’ve picked your exam board and centre, there’s some information you’ll need to give to the exams officer:

  • Your personal information and full contact details
  • Evidence of your identity, for example your passport or driving license. Your ID should include a recent photograph and must be within date.
  • Details of the subject you wish to be entered for, specifically the entry code. The codes foreach exam board can be found here:

These may change or be updated depending on your year of entry, so be sure to look at the most recent version of these documents.

  • Your Unique Candidate Identifier (UCI), and your Unique Learner Number (ULN) if you have previously been issued with them.

It’s really important that you make your entry within the time period otherwise you’ll have to pay late entry fees or won’t be permitted to enter at all. The entry period for 2020 exams are over and the entry dates for 2021 exams haven’t been released yet. Based on previous years, the closing date is in February but you should contact your chosen exam board directly for the most accurate information.

9. Familiarize Yourself with the Exam Centre’s Responsibilities

Once you have booked in to your exams, there are various responsibilities that the centre has. This information has been taken directly from the AQA website but the responsibilities are similar for every exam board.

Exam Centre responsibilities (find this AQA this here):

  • Forwarding details of your entry to the exam board
  • Forwarding to you a statement of entry that will confirm:
    • Your candidate number, UCI and ULN (if you have been allocated one previously)
    • Your personal details held by us (please check this information carefully)
  • The dates, sessions and duration of timetabled exam papers
  • Ensuring that you are aware of the published timetable for your exams
  • Informing you of the venue and starting times of your exams if they are different to the published timetable (that is 9.00am for morning exams and 1.30pm for afternoon exams)
  • Informing you of the venue, date and starting times of any practical, controlled assessment or speaking test sessions and exams that are not shown on the timetable or your statement of entry
  • Providing you with any additional information to ensure that you arrive for your exam on time and at the appropriate place
  • Forwarding to you, where appropriate, any preliminary (pre-release) material that you might need before your exam
  • Issuing to you, as appropriate, a copy of the following JCQ notices:
    • Information for candidates – coursework
    • Information for candidates – non-examination assessments
    • Information for candidates – on-screen tests
    • Information for candidates – privacy notice
    • Information for candidates – social media
    • Information for candidates – written exams.
  • Informing you of when and where to collect your exam results
  • Informing you when your exam certificate (if appropriate) is available.

Although this list hasn’t got too much information that you need to be personally concerned about, it’s valuable to know exactly what information the centre should be giving you. It’s very important to know the dates, times and locations of the exams so ensure you ask about this if you aren’t told.

It is ultimately your responsibility to make sure that you have all of the information that you need in order to sit your exams, preferably quite far in advance of your exams to allow for the best planning of your time and revision. Make sure that you keep this information in an organised, easily-accessible place after it has been provided by your centre, so that you are well-informed all the way through the process of sitting your GCSEs privately.

10. Consider Potential Non-Exam Assessments (NEAs)

Although GCSEs don’t have coursework components anymore, there are non-exam assessments (NEAs) for certain subjects. Most of these NEAs don’t contribute to your grade but a pass is required to achieve the GCSE.

It’s your chosen centre’s responsibility to ensure you can carry out these NEAs, specifically they must supervise, authenticate and mark the work. They must also meet the administration requirements and make the entries.

For some Modern Foreign Language GCSEs, there will be a spoken test which is marked by the exam board themselves rather than the centre.

If you are a candidate who is resitting exams, your NEA marks can be carried forward if you have previously passed – for some subjects, the mark can be carried forward even if you sat with a different exam board. It is important that you enquire about these details if they apply to you as soon as you can.

11. Know What Will Happen on the Day of Your Exam

The day of any exam can be quite stressful, and so you should take as many steps as possible to reduce you stress levels. This article will guide you through some useful things that you can do on the morning of an exam, to help you feel ready for it!

On the day of your exam, you should aim to arrive 15 minutes early to your chosen centre. If you do think you will be late, contact the centre as early as possible. You will not be allowed to enter if an hour has passed since the exam began.

When you sit your exam, the school or college will provide the question papers, answer sheets and additional materials but there are some items you need to bring yourself:

  • At least two black pens – you can only write in black pen, so do not bring any other colours
  • Pencils
  • An eraser
  • A ruler
  • A scientific calculator suitable for a maths or science exam. Your calculator should not have a lid – if you do bring a lid, you need to leave it outside the exam hall or give it to an invigilator.
  • For maths exams, you will need a protractor and compass

You can also bring:

  • Clear pencil case
  • Wrist watch (no smart watches). The invigilator will ask you to remove your watch and place it on the desk.
  • Clear water bottle with no label. Some centres specifically request that the bottle has a sports lid to prevent any spillages.
  • A highlighter but only use this for the printed questions and not in your actual answer booklet.

Do not bring any notes or technological devices into the exam room otherwise you may be disqualified from sitting the rest of your exams.

If you need any resources during the exam or have an issue with the paper, raise your hand and an invigilator will come and assist you.

12. When Will You Get Your GCSE Exam Results as a Private Candidate?

Once you’ve sat your exams, you’ll no doubt be anxiously awaiting your results. GCSE results day is usually in the middle of August but the exact date varies each year. You can find out about the ways that you can receive GCSE results by reading this helpful article, but usually you will be asked to go into the centre that you sat the exams at. The centre should contact you to give you details of opening times and where to go on the day.

On the day you’ll be given a slip with your grades for each subject but the actual certificates don’t get posted out for eight weeks. You may have to collect the certificates from the centre or they will be sent directly to you. Find out more about exam certificates by taking a look at this useful article!

If you are unhappy with your results, you can request a remark or a recount. Talk to the school exams officer and they’ll give you the appropriate paperwork and advice on how to move forwards.

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Jude Paul Hope
Jude Paul Hope
2 years ago

Hi not sure if you will see this but thanks for the article. I need to get an A in maths between now and exam deadline do you have any information thanks