General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSEs) are undertaken in Year 10 and Year 11 over five terms with exams taking place in the third term of Year 11. Most schools will ask that you take Maths, English and Science, and most will ask that you undertake approximately 10 GCSEs, although you may be asked to do more.
There are over 50 subjects to choose from, so there will certainly be subjects that interest you. Choosing your subjects is a big decision, but don’t worry - no one expects you to know exactly what you want to do in the future.
Your teachers will give you information about exactly which GCSEs are offered at your school and how they fit together in your timetable.
You still have to study English; maths; science; ICT (England only); PE; citizenship; sex education; careers education; religious education; work-related learning; and Welsh (Wales only); and can choose to take GCSEs in these subjects. At the same time, your school has to offer you subjects in the arts; design and technology; the humanities; and modern foreign languages, however what they specifically offer will depend on your school.
When you are deciding what subjects to study, think about what subjects you are best at, which you enjoy and which might help you in the future. There may be some subjects, such as psychology or economics, which you haven’t studied before.
All GCSEs will benefit you as employers value them highly, however there are 8 which are vocational and relate directly to employment in particular areas. These are applied art and design; applied business; applied ICT; applied science; applied engineering; health and social care; leisure and tourism; and manufacturing.
Some subjects can be taken in different ways, and you will need to check with your school about what options your school provides. For example, you can undertake GCSE science, which is worth one GCSE; GCSE science plus additional science, which covers all three science subjects and is worth two GCSEs; or three separate GCSE sciences.
Most GCSE courses lead to one GCSE, however some can be worth two. Some, such as citizenship studies, are also available in ‘short courses’ which are half the size of a GCSE - these are helpful if you want to study a subject but you don’t have time for the whole syllabus, or if you want to obtain a qualification in something you have to study, such as RE.
GCSEs normally take two years to complete and may involve controlled assessments (coursework). Controlled assessments count towards your final grade, and may include projects, fieldwork, experiments, investigations or artwork. You also have to sit exams which will take place in the third term of Year 11 (Year 12 in Northern Ireland).
Your GCSEs will be graded from A*-G with A* being the highest and G the lowest. If you don’t obtain the G pass mark, you will be awarded a U which stands for ‘unclassified’. Different subjects are studied in different ways and some offer a choice of two tiers - foundation and higher. Your teacher will decide which tier you should take and if you take the foundation tier you will be able to obtain grades C-G, while if you take the higher tier you will be able to obtain grades A*-D.
If something happens on the day of your exam, such as illness or a death in the family, you may be able to apply for special consideration after the examiners mark your paper - check with your teacher about what to do if you come across this situation.
Results are published on the third Thursday of August and you can either collect them from school or have them sent to your house. If you and your teachers aren’t happy with your results you can request for your paper to be re-marked or have the marks added up again. You can also request your exam papers so you can seen how they have been marked.
Alongside your GCSEs you may be offered other qualifications such as NVQs and BTECs.