GCSEs are the stepping stones to the next stages of your education and future career, so it is important to gain the best grades possible for your ability in the exams. The process can be complicated as there are so many different exam boards. You will find that others you know are learning different content for the same subjects as you. This is because their schools have chosen a different board. It is important to understand which of these produces the simplest and most difficult exams so you can be fully prepared for each paper.
At GCSE, the difficulty of an exam board’s content generally depends on your own learning style and the type of question you find easiest to answer. Edexcel, AQA and OCR are the three UK based exam boards. Each is suited to a different type of person, meaning Edexcel may seem like the easiest to one person when AQA is the easiest to another. The grades received are all down to the grade boundaries. These boundaries shift depending on the difficulty of the paper the exam board creates. It is possible for your grade to be better than someone else who has more marks than you if you are on different exam boards.
Dislaimer: this article does not provide a definitive answer to the question of which exam boards are the hardest. This is due to different exam boards being better suited to students who have unique strengths and weaknesses. This article represents a single student’s opinion on the topic.
In this article, you can find out how schools choose which exam board will benefit their pupils the most. Also, which exam boards are the hardest and easiest for specific subjects. Read on to find out more!
Which are the Hardest and Easiest Exam Boards for Specific GCSE Subjects?
At GCSE, there is such a broad range of subjects to choose from that you will often find each course you take follows a different exam board. The reason for this is that your teachers inside each subject will find that they prefer the content or the question style of certain boards and believe they will be able to teach this to students more effectively.
It is important for you to know the easiest and hardest exam boards for your specific programmes of study, especially if you are taking exams privately and need to choose your own exam boards.
What are the Easiest and Hardest Exam Boards for GCSE Maths and Sciences?
In Maths, Pearson Edexcel is the most popular of the boards. However, past students have mentioned that the AQA exam seems to have easier questions to answer as there is less problem solving involved to find a final solution. The questions are in a different structure as well, with several parts to each question giving candidates more hints as to the technique needed to find a final answer, so more marks are awarded.
For science, although only an exceedingly small part of the country uses it, OCR Gateway has been dubbed the easiest exam to take, although this does mean that the grade boundaries are often extremely high. The boards with the toughest science questions are both AQA and Edexcel, although there are few schools in the UK who enter students for the Edexcel course.
What are the Easiest and Hardest Exam Boards for GCSE English?
Edexcel iGCSE is said to be the easiest board to take English Language and Literature under. According to students who have taken examinations with the board previously, the amount of writing required in the time limit of the exam can be difficult to cope with. This is countered by the fact the grade boundaries are reasonable, and an occasional easy mark on top of this makes passing achievable.
On the other hand, any exam under the “GCSE” syllabus rather than “IGCSE” is the most difficult, so all three boards are as hard as each other. The main reason for this is that the questions on any iGCSE paper are designed to be accessible for all students living internationally. Therefore, the English paper just for students in the UK does not provide as many easy marks, making the paper that little bit harder.
That said, these UK-based exam boards are also allow the top grades for less marks, so students with better ability find that taking a regular GCSE is more rewarding.
What are the Easiest and Hardest Exam Boards for Languages?
There are a versatile range of language subjects available at GCSE, all of which have slightly different exam structures. Generally, the easiest exam board for languages is AQA, as students have said that the listening exams for this are much simpler to understand as half of the paper is answered in English, and the speaking exam requires fewer answers to be learnt than for other boards.
The hardest is Pearson Edexcel, and the iGCSE branch of the qualification in particular. Within this, there are less papers to be sat than AQA, but the time given is shorter. The questions are more difficult, expecting candidates to understand complex structures which may not necessarily have been taught, and more content needs to be learnt, including speaking questions and long vocab lists.
Note that many past entrants say the exam board is only hard if you don’t put in any effort. People who have worked hard and learnt the content find Edexcel relatively easy because there are no problem-solving questions, so your ability to reach a high grade is purely based on your personal motivation.
What are the Easiest and Hardest Exam Boards for the Arts?
In performing arts subjects like Music and Drama, AQA is the most popular exam board across the UK, as it has the easiest structure for teachers to follow and the board releases lots of resources to help students study.
On the reverse side, Edexcel is the most difficult exam board to take both performing art subjects and art itself, as well as photography. As the board specialises in core subjects, there are not as many resources available, and the specification uses content which isn’t as relevant to the course.
For fine art and photography, Eduqas, the Welsh board, is increasing in popularity. Despite AQA having the most knowledge of art and being popular with teachers for the style which it requires, the grade boundaries in recent years have been extraordinarily high. Whilst the board are looking to bring their standards down, it seems that Eduqas is preferrable as the easiest GCSE exam for now.
What are the Easiest and Hardest Exam Boards for Humanities?
In History and Geography, the most popular exam board for GCSE students to take has been AQA for a long time.
Although Edexcel and OCR both provide suitable exams, schools simply prefer the style of questions in the AQA exam and find the content both interesting enough to keep students engaged and easy to use in detailed written answers.
The AQA exam itself is quite difficult, as there is barely enough time allocated to write solid answers to questions. However, the grade boundaries, especially in Geography, are incredibly low compared to the two other exam boards, making the OCR and Edexcel courses less desirable to follow. Most people would say the “ease” of the subjects makes the grade allocation questionable, but AQA still provides the best course to follow.
What are the Easiest and Hardest Exam Boards for Social Sciences?
Most schools across the UK will only offer social sciences as A-Level courses, as they contain complex content which is difficult to simplify for the minds of GCSE students.
Those that do take the subjects say Edexcel is the easiest board, as the question set up means less theory application is involved. Despite the high-grade boundaries, the smaller essay questions and substantial proportion of multiple-choice makes this the easiest board.
The two remaining, AQA and OCR are both equally difficult. They have a structure which is similar to an A-Level social science paper, but with lower grade boundaries and shorter, easier essay questions, and some multiple choice and gap fill questions, but far fewer than in an Edexcel paper.
Bear in mind that most schools avoid Edexcel as a social science exam board because, despite the easy exam, the content and questions given do not fully prepare students who wish to take the subjects at A-Level, and as the main aim of GCSE is to set pupils up for the next steps in their education, it seems pointless.
What are the Easiest and Hardest iGCSE Exam Boards?
IGCSEs are similar to regular GCSEs, except they are available to students in foreign countries. In all subjects, Edexcel is the most popular exam board for students in the UK taking iGCSEs, and it is also the easiest.
The content is geared towards teenagers who live in the UK, meaning that the question structure is like that of an exam paper taken for regular GCSEs, so students feel more confident understanding what questions are asking.
The Cambridge board (CIE) is the most difficult board for students in the UK but the easiest for candidates abroad. Whilst Edexcel iGCSE is mainly based in the UK, CIE focuses on facilitating the needs of students abroad. Therefore, the questions are set out in a different style and often use wording which can be found confusing for students in the UK (but make the exam easier for those abroad.)
What Type of Person is Suited to Each Exam Board?
The three main exam boards each have their advantages and disadvantages for students taking subjects with them, but each one is most suited to a particular type of person.
AQA Exam Board
AQA exams are best fit with people who are good at writing extended answer questions. They don’t have to be essays but structuring your answers in full sentences with linking words and paragraphs works in your favour for AQA exams. The most coursework is included within AQA as well, so there is less exam pressure on those who prefer writing essay outside of an exam situation. Click here to read more about the AQA exam board.
Edexcel Exam Board
Edexcel takes a very logical approach to the exam. Bullet pointing answers in a simple structure can allow you to gain all the marks very quickly and if you are somebody who learns well by answering exam style questions, then Edexcel is for you, as the website supplies stacks of past papers and exam questions for you to try, unlike AQA, who have recently started locking the papers away. Click here to read more about Edexcel.
OCR Exam Board
OCR is the final board and is made for people who can answer evaluative questions on information provided. Unlike the other two, there aren’t as many facts to be learnt beforehand and instead, OCR tests candidates on their application of theories inside the exam.
The board is perfect for people who find remembering facts difficult and prefer authoring critical essays, while it is much more difficult for people who find analysis hard. Click here to read more about OCR.
How Should You Choose the Best Exam Board?
Please remember that, in the UK, the government makes sure that every exam board is standardised. If you are taking a board which has been listed as the most difficult in this article, remember that the grade boundaries will be lower or higher to make sure that the grades are as fair as possible.
Furthermore, note that different schools teach the courses in different ways, and so the course which you follow will be the easiest for you to understand in the environment that you’re learning in.
Finally, remember that choosing an exam board isn’t a snap decision. Your teachers will have put lots of time and effort into weighing out the positives and negatives of each exam board before making a final choice.
They will consider class sizes, the resources and facilities available (particularly in practical subjects) and the teaching style of each member of staff in the department as well as the performance of students in previous years at the school with each exam board.
The bottom line is that, if you are in school rather than a private candidate, the exam board chosen for each subject will be the easiest one for you personally to take.
If you are at home applying for GCSEs privately, use the information provided in this article and find the exam boards which you think are most suited to your personal learning style.