Find out what subjects you can study at GCSE, what it'll be like and what you can do afterwards.

Girl studying with books and laptop

Lesson learnt: I won't be leaving revision until the last minute.

How do GCSEs work?

GCSEs are usually taken in Years 10 and 11, when you are aged between 14 and 16. They can also be taken after this age, and occasionally before. If you’re taking them in Years 10 and 11, you’ll study up to 10 subjects over two years, with coursework, regular assessment and final exams. They’re usually studied full-time at school or college, taking five terms to complete, with exams in the summer term.

How will the new changes to GCSEs affect me?

Changes in GCSEs have been happening for the last few years. The main change is that core subjects (English, ICT and Maths) will have a new focus on ‘controlled assessment’. Instead of exams and coursework you’ll be tested more regularly, in a controlled environment, which will usually mean in the classroom with your teacher overseeing you. This is designed to stop plagiarism from the internet and to encourage people to do more coursework at school.

International GCSEs

More state schools will be offering the International GCSE (IGCSE), previously only available in independent schools. IGCSEs have been compared with old-style O-Levels and are supposed to be more difficult than standard GCSEs.

What subjects can I study at GCSE?

You can choose from over 45 subjects – some of which are compulsory – but the choices you have will depend on your school. Core subjects are: English, maths, science, RE and PE. In England, you will also have to study Citizenship and ICT; and in Wales, you must also study Welsh. Scotland’s equivalent of GCSEs is the Standard Grade qualification. Other choices include history, psychology, geography, art, drama, music, design, business studies, media studies, law, technology, economics and sociology.

What will the courses be like?

Some last two years with exams in the final summer term; others are modular, meaning you study a particular topic for a certain amount of time, a term perhaps, and then take an exam. Other courses, such as art, music and drama, are coursework-based with work regularly submitted throughout the two years and a final exam.

What grades can I get?

This depends on the tier, or level, that you do. In some subjects, such as history, RE, music, art and design, everybody studying the subject sits exactly the same exam paper. In subjects like English and science you have a choice of two different tiers – foundation and higher. The foundation tier assesses grades C-G and the higher tier assesses grades A*-D.

What if I want to do GCSEs that will help me get a job?

All GCSEs will benefit you as employers value them highly, but there are GCSEs in vocational subjects that relate directly to employment in particular areas, such as engineering, IT, hospitality or healthcare. These are practical courses which can be mixed with other GCSEs and are mainly assessed by coursework. There are eight GCSEs in vocational subjects: applied art and design; applied business; applied ICT; applied science; engineering; health and social care; leisure and tourism and manufacturing.

Where will GCSEs take me?

GCSEs are highly valued by schools, colleges and employers, so they will be useful whatever you are planning to do when you finish your course, such as A-levels, Diplomas or university.

Alternatively, you can use your GCSEs to gain employment. Research shows having GCSEs ensures you have more chance of getting a job after school than someone without them, and having GCSEs can increase your wages by up to £2000 a year.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015