Everything You Need To Know To Successfully Pass Your GCSEs

GCSE exams are taken at the end of the Key Stage four academic journey. Studies can take place over 2 or 3 years depending on the school, subject or exam board. Studies will begin in Year 9 or 10 for most students with exams assessed in Year 11.

GCSE Results can affect:

  • The sixth form you go to
  • The qualifications you take
  • Your eligibility for a university course
  • The universities you can apply to
  • Your career prospects. 
Everything you need to know about GCSE exams
Find out all the important information about GCSEs so you pass your exams

Students have been guided on how, what and when to study, however supported approach however does not last for GCSE exams. Students are required to analyse the specification produced by their board, organise the content into a study timetable, and study effectively. But what’s the big deal?

What does GCSE stand for?

GCSE is an acronym that stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. These end of year exams act as a gateway to higher education. They replace the old O (Ordinary) Levels and the CES (Certificate of Secondary Education) you may be familiar with. 

Which exam boards do schools use?

There are several examining boards that run GCSE exams across the UK. They are all regulated by the Office of the Regulators of Qualifications (OFQUAL). As such, schools can use a mixture of exams from different boards. Ask your school to find out which exam boards they are using.

The main UK exam boards for GCSEs are:

Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations

Assessment and Qualifications Alliance


Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC)

Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA)

When do I choose my GCSEs?

Pupils choose their GCSE options at the end of Year 8 or Year 9. This can pose a bit of a challenge if the child is unsure about their future goals. Schools often hold Options Evening that will provide more opportunities to find out about each course and ask questions in order to find the best fit. 

Which subjects are compulsory for GCSEs?

As GCSEs act as the bridge to further education, there are 6 compulsory subjects: Maths, English, Science (x2), Citizenship and PE. Though the latter two do not have an exam. The rest are in line with the student’s preferences and their plans post-secondary education.

What are ‘entitlement areas’?

In addition to the six compulsory subjects, schools must also provide access to a minimum of one course in each of the four ‘entitlement areas’. The four entitlement areas are:

  • The Arts (Art and Design, Dance, Drama, Music)
  • Design and Technology (Electronics, Food Technology, Graphics, Resistant Materials, Systems and Control, Textiles and Product Design)
  • The Humanities (Geography and History)
  • Modern Foreign Language (French, German, Spanish, etc)

Optional subjects for KS4 will vary between schools. 

How many GCSEs do I need to take?

The school gets to determine the number of GCSEs a pupil must take. It can be as many as 12 or as few as 7. Aside from the compulsory Maths, English and Science GCSEs, pupils will select their remaining GCSE options in Year 9. What they choose will help pave the path for their post-secondary choices. Therefore, having an idea of what and if they would like to study in further education will be helpful. 

The new 9-1 GCSEs

In the past, GCSE exams were marked between an A* (the highest) and G (the lowest). Scores below G were marked U for ‘ungraded’. However, there is a new 9-1 GCSEs marking model. Grades now range from 9 (highest) to 1 (lowest).

  • Grade 9 – the top mark is even higher than the old A*
  • Grade 8 – Below an A* but above an A
  • Grade 7 – Slightly below and A but only just
  • Grade 6 – Slightly better than a B
  • Grade 5 – Below a B but above a C – Considered a Strong Pass
  • Grade 4 – Equivalent of a C – Standard Pass
  • Grade 3 – Below a D but above an E
  • Grade 2 – Between an E and an F
  • Grade 1 – Between an F and a G
  • Ungraded – Lowest possible grade, it represents a fail
New GCSE 9-1 Grading scale presented by Bettering Youth

Why has the GCSE grading system changed?

While it will take some time to understand this new grading system, it is important to note that the change occurred to help differentiate between the very highest performing children. 

Are GCSE exams difficult?

Along with the new grading system has come some more challenging questions. The exams will be taken at the end of the 2 year course rather than following the modules, there will be more exam style questions and the content will increase. There will be more substantial texts in English literature and number of new topics in Maths. The aim is to identify the very brightest pupils. In 2017 only 3% of students managed to achieve the Grade 9.

Book into one of our parent-info workshops to learn more about the skills your child needs to succeed at GCSEs

Will GCSEs affect my future university application?

As the exams are the final test before sixth-form and college, and with the new changes to A-Levels, there is quite a bit of weight put on them. The results can impact a pupils acceptance to a college course as some require a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade 4 or above (C or more) and some may go so far as to demand five 6s (A or A*). And given the A-level changes, some universities may well look at your GCSEs when making a decision about your application.

While these exams are weighted heavily, Bettering Youth tutors also believe in helping pupils deal with the stress, anxiety, pressure, and study cycle to ensure they are not sacrificing their health in hopes of achieving high marks (these tactics of little sleep, stressing etc often lead to less than favourable outcomes in the exams).

How long is a GCSE course?

The exams will come at the end of a two-year course of study. Some courses are not strictly focused on a final exam either. Some courses use students’ coursework to assess part of their GCSE results.

Which GCSE subjects include coursework as part of the final?

Practical courses like Dance, Drama and Art can be assessed through coursework. Other theoretical courses will rely more heavily, if not entirely, on an exam. 

All you need to know about GCSEs
Bettering Youth shares the top things you need to know about GCSEs
  • Do you know how to revise for your GCSEs?
  • Do you know how to take effective class notes?
  • Are you confident organising your time to study effectively in order to pass your exam with your hoped mark?

Bettering Youth offers qualified teachers to support students along their GCSE exam prep. We offer 1-1 GCSE tutoring and small group GCSE exam tutoring. Our sessions can be tailored to help:

  • Learn how to revise effectively without wasting time or getting caught up in too much detail
  • Take effective notes that are helpful and not overwhelming
  • Organise what you need to study into a plan that keeps you feeling confident and productive

Be sure to find out more and book your free trial with us on our GCSE tuition page. 

GCSE Booster club
GCSE Half Term Booster Club

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