What are GCSE?

Oleksandra (Sasha) Petrova
May 22, 2024

The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) are standardised qualifications undertaken by students in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Typically pursued over two years when students are 14-16 years old (grades 10 and 11), GCSE serve as the foundation for further academic education or vocational qualifications. It is the last stage of compulsory education in the UK. 

How to choose subjects for GCSE?

Students are required to take at least 5 subjects at GCSE, though most choose around 9-10, with the maximum number allowed being 16. The GCSE curriculum includes core subjects that are compulsory, such as Maths, English Literature, English Language, and a selection of Science subjects. Welsh is also a core subject in Wales. Beyond these, students can choose from a wide range of optional subjects. While there are over 60 GCSE subjects available, most schools in the UK offer about 20, so it's important to check your school's offerings. Common options include Modern Languages (Spanish, French), Humanities (History, Geography, Psychology), Arts (Drama, Art and Design), and Technical subjects (Computer Science, Business). One of the newest GCSE subject is Global Citizenship (read more

  1. Avoid Overloading
    Be cautious about taking on too many subjects, as GCSEs require significant preparation and an excessive workload could impact your performance.
  1. Future Career Considerations 
    If you know what you would like to do in the future, choose subjects relevant to your potential career path. For example, aspiring medical students might focus on sciences like Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. While completing specific GCSEs might not always be a mandatory prerequisite for A-Level courses and university admission, studying relevant subjects from the beginning can provide you with a solid foundation, greatly benefiting your future education.
  1. Follow Your Interests
    Selecting subjects that genuinely interest you can make your educational experience more enjoyable and motivate you to study more effectively.

Exam Boards

Some subjects have different exams boards and it is up to the school to choose which one to follow. Schools often follow different exam boards in different subjects. This makes it very difficult and almost impossible to move schools in the middle of a GCSE course as it will be almost impossible to match all subjects and exam boards in a new school. 

What are the assessments like?

GCSEs use a grading scale from 1 to 9, with 9 being the highest. Grades are awarded based on performance in final exams, coursework, and other assessments over the two years. A grade 5 is considered a strong pass, equivalent to a high C or low B in the old letter system, while a grade 4 is a standard pass, comparable to a low C.

Assessment methods vary by subject. For example, English, Maths, and Sciences primarily use exams, while in modern languages, 60% of the grade may come from coursework. In contrast, subjects like Art and Design are assessed entirely through practical work.

When applying to university, you will be required to submit your GCSE results as well as A-levels. 

What are the key differences from the Ukrainian system?

  1. Subject Variety
    Compared to the traditional Ukrainian secondary education system, GCSEs provide a wider selection of subject choices while requiring students to study a smaller number of subjects.
  1. Assessment Structure
    All GCSE subjects are externally assessed, differing from the Ukrainian system where only a few final exams are typically taken.
  1. Examination Style
    The structure and style of GCSE assessments may differ significantly from Ukrainian exams, requiring adaptation in exam preparation and technique.
  1. Multiple Assessments
    Many GCSE subjects involve several assessments at different times. For example, Maths includes three papers, some allowing calculators and some not, each focusing on different topics.

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