If you are in secondary school, you will most likely have come across the term GCSEs more than a few times. It may be something you look forward to or something you just want to get over with. Regardless, it is something you must be aware of. GCSEs will most likely be the most important thing in your life in secondary school and it can be difficult to grasp your head around this. These will be your first national exams since SATs in primary school.
For those unfamiliar with the term GCSEs, the acronym stands for the General Certificate of Secondary Education. They refer to a set of qualifications you will receive towards the end of your secondary school education. To receive a GCSE qualification you must sit the nation-wide exam and students will usually start preparing for their GCSEs from the ages of fourteen to sixteen. GCSEs were introduced to replace the O-Level examinations students previously had to take which were much harder.
Read on to find out what exactly your GCSEs consist of and when you will have to take these final exams.
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When do you take your GCSEs?
The majority of schools will make their students take their GCSE exams at the end of Year 11 as a series of summer exams. This is usually in May/June. The reason for this is that by the end of Year 11, students are usually more mature and prepared to take the exams as compared to students in Year 10.
However, depending on your school and yourself, you may be able to take your GCSEs earlier. Check out this article from Think Student for more information about this.
What subjects must you take for GCSE?
There is no way to avoid your GCSEs as they are compulsory. However, you are not required to take a GCSE exam in all the subjects you study through secondary school.
There are currently three subjects that are compulsory to take nation-wide and these are English, mathematics and science. These are referred to as the core subjects.
Most sixth form colleges and employers will expect a grade of 5 to 9 (C to A) in these subjects.
The English GCSE qualification will be split into two components, English Literature and English Language. However, English Language is the compulsory part of the qualification. Many schools across the UK will choose to include Literature as part of the exams.
Your science GCSEs will be studied as Combined Science or Separate Science. The main difference between the two is that Combined Science is worth 2 GCSEs whilst Separate Science is worth 3 GCSEs.
Check out this article on Think Student to find out why these subjects are compulsory as opposed to the other subjects offered.
What subjects can you take at GCSE?
The subjects you can take for GCSE are highly dependent on your school and whether they offer those lessons. Subjects like photography and Latin are not offered in every school.
Whilst the minimum number of subjects you can take is 5, many schools will choose to take at least 9 or 10. If your school thinks you are capable of handling more, they may let you take more than 10.
You can check out the Success at school website to discover all of your GCSE options if you click here.
Some schools may choose to make certain subjects compulsory for all students even if the government does not enforce it. These subjects will usually be a modern foreign language or a humanities subject like geography.
There are a number of subjects that you could take for GCSEs and each of these subjects will be assessed differently based on the exam board your school uses. In the UK, there are five exam boards used for GCSEs.
These are AQA, OCR, Pearson Edexcel, WJEC and CCEA. You have probably heard of them before or seen them in past paper questions. The only main difference between the exam boards will be their questioning method and layout.
However, for essay-based subjects different exam boards may study different texts. For example in English Literature you may read and be examined on different novellas or in Religious Studies you may study different religious texts.
How do you choose GCSE subjects?
You will still be able to choose some of the GCSEs you want to take. When selecting these subjects it is important to keep in mind the work you will have to put in.
Many students will lean towards their strengths or subjects with a lighter workload. You can check out this article from Think Student to learn about all of the GCSE subjects to help you decide.
For example, if writing an essay isn’t easy for you, you may choose a subject like art which is heavily dependent on coursework rather than written exams.
However, if you do want to take a harder subject, you should prepare early and find out the revision method that works best for you. Check out this article from Think Student to find out ways that you can organise your revision.
Universities will look at your maths and English grades as well as the subjects you are planning on studying at university. If you aren’t planning on continuing a subject to A-Level, it is best not to choose it and further increase your workload when not necessary.
Hopefully this article has provided you with a better understanding of what you can expect for your GCSEs.