Which GCSE Subjects Have Foundation and Higher Papers?

In GCSE by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

If you’re doing your GCSEs, you’ve probably heard quite a few terms related to your studies. Your school may have even spoke about foundation and higher papers. However, these separate tiers aren’t available for all GCSE subjects. As a result, you may be wondering which GCSE subjects actually have higher or foundation tiers.

Not all subjects have the option of foundation and high tier papers. The table shows the options available for some of the most commonly sat GCSEs.

GCSE Foundation/Higher
Mathematics Yes
English Language No
English Literature No
Biology Yes
Chemistry Yes
Physics Yes
Combined Sciences Yes
Computer Science No
Languages Yes
Physical Education No
Religious Studies No

You may have many questions, what is the difference between the two tiers, how are grades affected and you can change your tier. You can find out more about this, by reading on.

Which GCSEs have foundation and higher papers?

In summary, all of the languages and sciences have both higher and foundation papers. However, if you do combined sciences, you have to choose one tier for all 3 sciences. Maths offers both, but English does not. Here is a list of the most common GCSEs, and whether they offer foundation or higher.

GCSE Foundation Higher Other Details
Mathematics Yes Yes  
English Language No No  
English Literature No No Students studying the same texts all sit the same papers for them.
Biology Yes Yes  
Chemistry Yes Yes  
Physics Yes Yes  
Combined Sciences Yes Yes Choose either foundation or higher for all.
Computer Science No No  
Design and Technology No No  
French Yes Yes  
German Yes Yes  
Mandarin Yes Yes  
Spanish Yes Yes  
Physical Education No No  
Religious Studies No No  

If your subject was not listed here, you can find it on your exam board website. You can click on the links in the list below to go to their website, and list of subjects.

What is a foundation paper?

The foundation paper is seen as an easier GCSE paper than the higher. It is aimed at students wanting a grade 1 to 5. There will be less content to cover in lessons, also giving more revision time, and less work from home. T

he exam usually has shorter answers and are generally more straightforward. The style of questioning is also different. More of the paper focuses on a certain element.

For example, 25% of the OCR GCSE Maths foundation paper is on number, while it is only 15% for higher. Similarly, there is 10% more algebra on higher papers than in foundation papers. For more about this, check out this article by OCR.

The maximum grade that can be achieved is a grade 5, and to receive a “pass” in foundation, you will need more marks as a 4 is still a low pass. You can find more details regarding your exam board, from the links above. For more information about foundation papers, check out this Think Student article.

What is a higher paper?

A higher paper is seen as the harder GCSE paper in comparison to the foundation. The content learnt is what the foundation tier students learn, plus some extra work.

There is also more content. This may mean less revision sessions and more work from home. This also means the teacher will spend less time on a topic.

The exam usually requires longer answers and the questions are generally less straightforward. The maximum grade that can be achieved is 9 and 1 is the lowest. For more information about the 9-1 GCSE grading system, look at this governmental guide.

Below a 1 is a ‘U’ which means Ungraded or Unsatisfactory of any credit and is sometimes deemed as a fail. You can find more details regarding your exam board, from the links above.

For more information about higher tier papers, check out this article from My GCSE Science.

Should you do a foundation or higher GCSE?

You should first take into account your ability. If you are currently working at a grade 5 or below, it is generally seen that you will take a foundation paper. It has easier and less content, and exams are easier to understand.

Otherwise, you should take into consideration your work ethic. Higher has more work, more revision, and more work from home.

When looking at grades, the foundation paper can only give you a maximum grade 5. This can be an issue, as most schools and universities look for a 5 or above.

The higher paper technically requires less marks to pass compared to a foundation, but the maximum grade that can be obtained is a grade 9. You can find out more about the differences, and which option you should choose in this Think Student article.

Can you change which tier you are taking at GCSE?

If you find you are unhappy with the tier you have chosen, or the tier your teachers have given you, you can discuss with your teacher regarding which tier to take. Firstly, make sure the subject you are taking allows you to change. You can view the table above to see this.

It is important to consider if this is the right option. This is as you may get a second chance, but not a third. Your school may also require a formal consent letter from your parent or guardian. This is the usual process of moving from foundation to higher.

You will have to prove to your teacher that you are ready to move. The teachers are less likely to move you from higher to foundation. You can find out more by clicking on this Think Student article, and whether you should change.

If you were unable to change your tier because your teacher didn’t let you, there isn’t much more you can do than to stick to your current tier.

You can ask for guidance and support from your teacher, and they can give you extra help. If you are struggling with the workload, you should also let your teacher know.

Most likely, if your teacher didn’t move you, it was usually the right choice.

Is it worth changing your GCSE tier?

This depends on many things. One of those is the subjects. Some subjects have major differences while some do not.

You should consider your work ethic. If you are struggling with the load on higher tier, it might seem good to try for foundation tier and vice versa.

You should also consider your academic ability. You will know best your strengths and weaknesses and you should take that into account. You can also view previous tests or mock exams to back this up.

Finally, you should consider how far you are into the course. You should give yourself enough time to change and catch up where needed. You can read more about this, in this Think Student article.

How does your GCSE tier affect your future?

The main way your future is affected is with grades. Foundation only allows you to get a maximum grade of 5. A lot of universities, schools and jobs usually look for a grade 5 or above. Especially if you are looking to go to good universities or sixth form colleges for A-Levels.

Getting as close as possible to a 9 shows the university or school that you have exceptional academic capabilities. However, if you do not get at least a grade 4 in foundation or higher GCSE Maths, you will need to re-sit the paper. To learn more about this, check out this Think Student article.

For other careers, you should research job specific requirements regarding GCSEs to find out the requirements. You can click this link for more details on this, and for specific requirements in certain jobs or careers.

From this article, we hope you have understood which subjects have higher and foundation, what your options are regarding your GCSE tier, and how it affects your future.

You should avoid putting too much stress on this and focus on your future. If you are struggling, maybe take a look at this Think Student article of revision techniques.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments