The 10 Most Popular GCSE Subjects – Ranked for 2024

In GCSE by Think Student Editor1 Comment

For some people, it can be difficult to make big decisions. Unfortunately, this can often extend to choosing GCSE subjects to take. It’s especially hard to pick if there are many appealing options (or sometimes none!). It’s even harder if you don’t really have an idea of what you want to do in the future. Worry not; this article contains the objective top 10 GCSE subjects based on how many chose them to help you decide!

Be advised: The ranking is based off our research on GCSE subject entries in 2022. This data was collected from the government website.

Most popular GCSE subjects based off student entries.

Below you can find the visualisation of GCSE subject popularity (top – most popular, bottom – 12ᵗʰ most popular). Displayed on the chart is GCSE subject popularity determined by number of entries in the UK.

10. GCSE Biology

GCSE Biology is a subject where you study living organisms and the environment.  Fortunately, there is no coursework for it. Unfortunately, this means that 100% of your mark is from your exams.

There are two exams for Biology, and they are worth 50% of your grade each (both in Single Science and Combined). To read more about what the difference between the two sciences are, check out this helpful article from Think Student.

Biology is the 10th most popular subject, with 174,605 entries in 2022. It was followed closely, however, by Chemistry (at 167,190 entries) and Physics (166,550 entries).

Generally, Biology is the least calculation-heavy science GCSE, which is why it may be favoured more than Chemistry and Physics (they require a lot of formulas and maths skills).

Biology is also a compulsory subject, but you can take either Single or Combined Science for it. That may also be a factor in why there are so many entries for it.

Additionally, Biology has quite a high pass rate. 91.9% of students who sat the exams received a 4 (or a C) and above in 2022! Also, 49.8% of students received a 7 (or A). These statistics have been taken from the JCQ; to read more, check out their page here.

Even though Biology is more content heavy than the other subjects, it’s not terribly difficult. Doing well in Biology can be helpful if you’re interested in careers to do with healthcare, science, pharmaceuticals, research and many others!

9. GCSE Art and Design Subjects

GCSE Art and Design consists of 2 components: your portfolio and an externally set assessment. In total, they are worth 96 marks.

The portfolio, or your coursework done in the preparatory period before the exam, is worth 60% of your total grade, whereas your externally set assessment is worth 40%. The qualification is linear, meaning the coursework is turned in and the exam sat at the end of the course.

One thing that attracts a lot of people is that there are no written assessments, and you walk into the exam already knowing your answers. However, the coursework does involve writing annotations about both the artists you choose to study and your own work.

Art and Design is completely optional! It is 9th in the popularity rankings, with 194,040 entries.

It usually is quite a popular subject as people are often under the impression that it is an easy subject. While knowledge may not be tested, it involves a lot of determination and hard work to stay on top of coursework. Additionally, it requires a lot of creativity and grit!

The pass rate for Art and Design is also fairly high, with 81.4% of students receiving a 4/C or above. To read more about pass rates, check out the Joint Council of Qualification’s website for results here.

To read about how to get a 9 at GCSE Art and Design, check out this article from Think Student for some tips and tricks!

8. GCSE Religious Studies

GCSE Religious Studies explores different faiths and how they interact with the world. The subject ties into philosophy and ethics, so it might be helpful if you’re planning to do Philosophy for A-Levels.

Luckily, there is no coursework for this exam, but there are two assessments, both written. Each assessment is worth 50%, and one is typically about different religious beliefs, with the other being about themes.

All the questions are written, and essay based. Therefore, good knowledge of English and arguments is needed for practically all of the exam.

It isn’t compulsory in secular (non-religious) schools. On the other hand, some religious schools do have it as compulsory. It is important to check with a teacher within your school to see whether you would have to take it as a subject, so you don’t get any unexpected surprises when it’s time to submit your options!

In 2022, it ranked 8th with 243,875 entries. While some of those entries may have been compulsory, it may also have been because Religious Studies is widely regarded as one of the easiest GCSEs. In fact, in 2022, it ranked first place for easiest GCSE. To read more about this, click here to read an article about the top 10 easiest GCSEs from Think Student.

Additionally, pass rates are quite high. 76.7% of students received a 4/C or above in 2022! This statistic was taken from here, on the Joint Council of Qualifications website.

7. GCSE History

GCSE History is the study of time periods in the world. It tests both your knowledge and ability to argue and helps develop those skills further. It’s also good if you’re planning on looking for a career in law or politics.

The number of papers depends on the exam board, but there’s generally 4 components assessed across them. The four components will be selected by the school, and they’ll cover four periods or themes throughout history. Typically, there are either three or two papers to sit, with two components sometimes being on the same paper. There is no coursework!

The questions are all written and a good majority (if not all of them) are essay based. Practically all the questions need a fact or knowledge to prove your point, and it can be a challenging subject.

History is not a compulsory subject, but schools will generally make you choose a humanities subject, whether it’s History, Geography or Religious Studies.

In 2022, it was ranked 7th most popular subject, with 278,750 student entries. It remains a popular choice as the skills learned in History can be easily transferable to other subjects and potentially careers, such as developing a clear argument.

However, it can also be difficult as it is a lot of knowledge to remember. It’s not easy developing arguments in the time limit given, which is why some students choose a different humanity subject.

The pass rates are also on the lower side when compared to other subjects, with 70.4% of students receiving a 4/C or above. This statistic was taken from JCQ; click here to learn more!

To find out how to revise for GCSE History, check out this helpful article from Think Student!

6. GCSE Geography

GCSE Geography is the study of the physical and human environment. It tests and develops the skills of memory, problem solving, and working in the field. It’s good for people who are interested in the issues the world faces and learning about different countries.

There are three papers for Geography, with each paper testing students on a different component. Some examples include the physical environment, human environment, and applying geographical skills. There is no coursework.

The geography exam is mostly written, with a few odd calculations here and there. However, it’s not strongly essay based. Instead, key words and knowledge of the topic are more valued, rather than developed arguments. It can therefore be a good option for students seeking to improve their memory rather than their argument skills.

It’s not a compulsory subject, but often you’ll have to pick a humanities subject (Geography, History or Religious Studies) to make up your core subjects.

In 2022, it was ranked 6th most popular subject, with 279,205 student entries. It remains a popular choice as students often find it easy since it’s not really argument based. Additionally, there are trips involved in Geography for fieldwork, which some students may find fun.

Overall, Geography pass rates aren’t overly high, but those who get a 7/A or above are 30.3% of students, which is higher compared to other subjects in that category. Those who receive a 4/C make up 72.1% of students. To learn more, check out the Joint Council of Qualification’s website by clicking here.

5. GCSE Foreign Languages

It’s a good idea to take a modern foreign language, and many schools seem to think so. GCSE Foreign Languages have a lot of benefits for the brain, such as improving your memory and linguistics.

There is no coursework, but there are 4 exams to take for languages typically: speaking, listening, writing and reading, each worth 25% of the whole grade. The multiple components may put some people off. However, there’s no coursework!

Some schools do make learning Foreign Languages compulsory, with German, French and Spanish being examples of ones typically studied.

In 2022, Foreign Languages ranked 5th, with 326,360 student entries. Below is a table ordered with the number of entries for each language.

French 126,185
Spanish 116,355
Other modern languages 36,310
German 36,000
Ancient languages 11,510

Initially, French found itself to be more unpopular due to the harsh mark scheme. However, in 2020, Ofqual introduced less harsher mark schemes for GCSE French to combat the decline in learning the language, leading to many choosing it.

Additionally, French is a widely spoken language, as is Spanish, which is why both are favoured quite highly.

If you speak any other languages, you could also apply to sit a GCSE in that language. Some schools may allow you to sit one as an extra GCSE, which could look excellent on your results, especially if you’re proficient in that language.

Foreign Languages are quite high in the list, probably due to a lot of schools making the subject compulsory. It can be difficult for students as it requires good memory and constant practice with vocabulary in order to not forget the language.

However, choosing this subject could be valuable in the future when applying for various jobs. An extra language can show a broader range of skills and can be a steppingstone for hiring you.

4. GCSE English Literature

English Literature is an important subject for those looking to hone their memory and analysis skills. This subject allows you to develop your arguments so you can skilfully take a stance on a text you study. 

There are four components to the exams, generally sat over two exam papers, with no coursework. The components are a Shakespeare play, a 19th century novel, a modern play/novel (typically 20th century) and a collection of poetry.  There is typically a break between the first exam paper and the second.

The exam question style is definitely written. All the questions are essay based, so prepare to have hurting hands at the end of the exam!

English Literature is compulsory at GCSE in the vast majority of schools. However, there are exceptions, so it’s always best to check with a teacher.

In 2022, English Literature was ranked 4th most popular, with 582,680 student entries. However, its popularity could also be due to the fact that it’s compulsory practically everywhere. This doesn’t discredit it as a valuable GCSE choice, because it develops transferrable skills in argument and memory.

The pass rate for English Literature is fairly high; 77.5% of students receive a 4/C. To read more about this, click here for a graph about pass rates over the years for English Literature on Ofqual.

To read a helpful guide from Think Student on the English Literature GCSE, click here.

3. GCSE English Language

English Language is a compulsory GCSE for every student. In fact, if you don’t pass, a resit is needed for it. It’s practically vital for continuing education and getting a job.

English Language is made up of two exams. There is no coursework. English Language homes in on analytical skills and writing instead of memory. Future employers value employees who have high quality writing and communication.

English Language ranks 3rd in popularity, with over 719,790 student entries. This high number is likely a combination of both how popular it is and how many people must resit the exams each year due to previous failures.

Overall, the pass (4/C) rate is the lowest, with it being only 69.8%. To read more about this, check out this graph from Ofqual.

2. GCSE Maths

This GCSE is also compulsory for each student. Basic maths skills are very much required today, and a failure in this GCSE means a resit in the next year. If you want to find out more information about GCSE Maths pass marks check out this Think Student article.

There’s no coursework, but there are 3 exams: one non-calculator and two with a calculator. Typically, the non-calculator papers are seen as harder as a lot of problem solving is involved.

Maths has many crossovers into different subjects, such as science. Additionally, maths has many uses both in the real life and in employment.

Maths ranks 2nd in popularity, with 749,390 entries. This is likely because it is both compulsory, and that there are numerous resits each year.

Many find it difficult, and this is corroborated because the pass rate is the lowest in 2022; only 64.9% of students received a 4/C or above. More can be found on this Ofqual graph.

1. GCSE Combined Science

The number one in popularity was Combined Science, with a whopping 854,450 entries. This is likely because it is a compulsory subject, but also because some people don’t want to pursue science.

Combined Science is very similar to single sciences. The main difference is that it is two-thirds of the content, therefore it’s a lot easier to prepare for. Additionally, it’s worth two GCSEs instead of three, therefore you can choose more optional subjects.

To read more about how the two sciences differ, check out this article from Think Student.

Combined Science has 2 exams for each science (Biology, Chemistry and Physics). The papers vary between being calculation dense and written (although not much).

Typically, the grade boundaries are low, meaning that it’s easy to do well in Combined Science, which would also be a solid reason why people pick this subject. Additionally, there’s more time to focus on other subjects since there’s way less content to memorise!

Overall, this GCSE is good to pick instead of Single Science if you’re not looking for a scientific career, or just want to prioritise other subjects above science.

If you are interested in which GCSEs are the hardest and easiest you may want to check out one of our other top 10 articles below:

3.1 10 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

I mean, I’m not surprised GCSE English, Science & Maths are the top 3 because they’re forced.