GCSEs explained

During Year 9, your teachers start talking about GCSEs a lot, and you may have friends in older years already taking them. Not sure what all the fuss is about? Get the lowdown here...

What is a GCSE?
A General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is a qualification normally taken by most UK students at the end of compulsory education. It  normally take two years and you take the final exams when you’re 16. The equivalent in Scotland is Standard Grade.
As well as giving you useful skills and knowledge in themselves, GCSEs are an important stepping stone if you want to get a job or continue studying. Many employers and colleges ask for candidates to have at least five GCSEs, so they will come in useful, whatever you choose to do.

Whilst you must study certain subjects like English, Science and Maths at GCSE level, there are a range of other subjects you can choose to study as well. Some courses are really practical and hands-on, whereas others are more academic and involve more reading and writing. You should be able to find something to suit your interests.
Will I only study GCSEs?
As well as GCSEs, there are other qualifications and courses you can do in Years 10 and 11. At the moment these are either Functional Skill courses and National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). Either way, there are some things you have to do, and then a certain amount of choice. Here is a list of subjects you will have to continue, in one form or another, over the next two years:
  • English (GCSE)
  • Maths (GCSE)
  • ICT
  • Science (GCSE)
  • PE
  • Religious education
  • Sex education
  • Careers education
  • Citizenship
With the exception of compulsory subjects, the subjects available to study at GCSE level depend on the school you attend. Here are a few examples of the subjects your school might offer at GCSE level:
  • Arts (including Art and design, Music, Dance, Drama and Media Arts)
  • Design and technology
  • Humanities (History and Geography)
  • Modern foreign languages (such as French or Spanish)
  • Business studies
  • Engineering
  • Health and social care
  • Leisure and tourism
  • Life skills
  • Manufacturing
  • Social sciences
Course content can vary widely between examination boards and schools. If you plan on studying a subject at A-level it's also worth checking whether you need to have a GCSE in it. You don't want to realise that you can't study a subject later on because you didn't study it at GCSE level! Talk to your teachers to discuss your options and find out what each course involves.
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