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GCSEs: How Best to Prepare Your Pupils

Whether you’re a parent navigating exam season for the first time since your own school days or a teacher who’s a seasoned professional, there’s no doubt this is an important time for GCSE students.

With that in mind, we’ve got some information and useful links below. In the first part we’ll give a quick rundown of the basics, before discussing what you might consider as part of the support process for GCSE candidates.

What are GCSE exams?

The acronym stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. GCSE exams measure key stage 4 students’ attainment in a range of subjects such as maths, English and science (core subjects) as well as other optional subjects such as modern foreign languages and drama.

When are GCSE exams held?

In 2023, GCSEs were held between Monday 15 May and Wednesday 21 June. In other words, exams began a week following the coronation of King Charles.

What do GCSEs cover?

GCSEs cover a range of subjects. All students must take maths, English and science GCSEs, and will usually do so along with a selection of other subjects such as geography, history, music and more. According to UCAS, most students will do between 9 and 10 GCSEs in total.

How are GCSEs marked?

Up until 2017, GCSEs were graded using the classic lettering system, with an A* being the highest grade and a U grade denoting that no certification or qualification would be awarded. However, in 2017 grading for English maths changed to a numeric system, with 9 being the highest grade possible. In 2018, another 20 subjects followed suit with most remaining others making the swap in 2019.

What are GCSEs used for?

GCSE results are one of the means institutions such as universities use to consider a candidate’s suitability and applications for higher education. Along with A-level and other level 3 results qualifications, GCSE results are also sometimes requested by employers when reviewing prospective employees.

GCSEs are also important as pass rates and achievement percentages are used to help determine how well a setting is performing. Should a setting fail to demonstrate that attainment and grades are at an acceptable level then the local authority or Oftsed may intervene.

How can we prepare young people for GCSEs?

By the time they get to their GCSEs, many pupils will be familiar with the feelings that exam season can bring. However, while mock exams and previous experience of sitting exams may go some way to helping young people prepare for their GCSEs, there is no doubt that these exams bring with them added pressure.

While parents and teachers may not be able to dispel all the worries and stress that pupils may feel around sitting their GCSEs, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have a role to play in modelling coping mechanisms, promoting emotional intelligence and providing strategies to make life that little bit easier at exam time.

To help leaders, teachers and assistants with giving young people in secondary education the support they need, we’ve developed this webinar titled ‘How to How to Manage Exam and Test-Related Anxiety and Stress’. Featuring strategies to help reduce and better cope with exam-related stress, this webinar is a fantastic resource for ensuring that pupils are better able to focus on their exams than the understandable stress that comes with them.

Can a young person practice for GCSEs?

As with most things, practice may not ‘make perfect’ when it comes to sitting GCSEs, but it certainly helps, and getting into good habits like staying hydrated, sleeping well and sticking to a revision plan can all contribute to helping candidates feel more confident and prepared.

Of course, there is no one revision strategy which works best for every single pupil, so an amount of experimentation is encouraged to discover a routine and technique that works for the individual. Candidates will also likely participate in mock exams which, run under strict test conditions, are designed to simulate taking exams for real and should help to identify any knowledge gaps or areas in which exam strategy may be developed.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of GCSE subjects require the completion of coursework alongside exams, including all creative subjects. This means that though they are very important, exams may not necessarily be the only contributing factor to a grade.