A guide to choosing the right GCSE options

A guide to choosing the right GCSE options
August 12, 2021
Marilyn Brydges

Need help choosing which GCSE options?  We recognise how overwhelming and challenging it is for students to pick their GCSE subjects. We’ve gathered some helpful information to assist you when choosing your GCSE subjects.

10 tips for choosing your GCSE subjects

1) Figure out which subjects are compulsory

Across England, some subjects are compulsory and are known as “core” GCSE subjects. They include Maths, English Language, English Literature, and Sciences. The ‘core’ science GCSE subjects are biology, physics, and chemistry. You need to choose at least one science subject as part of your GCSE options. They are the main compulsory GCSE subjects. However, some schools do make other GCSE options essential, so double-check with your school. 

2) Find out what options you have

You will have to pick at least one GCSE subject from the following four categories:

  • Arts subjects including Drama, Music, Art and Design, or Media Studies.
  • Technical subjects such as Food Technology, Computer Science, or Textiles. 
  • Humanities subjects like History, Geography, or Religious Studies. 
  • Modern foreign languages with Spanish, French, or German being the most taught. Some schools also require you to take a modern foreign language as a GCSE subject, so check your school requirements. 

GCSE options vary across schools, and your school might not offer all GCSE options. Whereas another local school or college might teach you some subjects, so always check with your school. 

3) Focus on your passions and aspirations

Learning GCSE subjects should be a driving force for your personal and professional development. Gaining a GCSE in a subject you don’t enjoy won’t be helpful if your grades are also negatively impacted. Additionally, you’re less likely to pursue it in your future career path. So, picking subjects that interest you is essential.

Ask yourself what motivates you? What subject will pique your curiosity and excite you? Will a GCSE subject help you get a job that you want to pursue? The latter is crucial to understand what each subject can offer in career pathways. Ask your teachers or careers adviser for more information to help you make an informed choice.

4) Think of good subject combinations and strike a balance

Although we said pick subjects you enjoy and are passionate about doing, it is also important to get the right balance between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ subjects; this is so universities can see how varied your knowledge and abilities are. ‘Soft’ GCSE subjects are more likely to be practical, vocational, and creative. Some of these subjects can include PE, Media Studies, Drama, and Art and Design. In contrast, a ‘hard’ GCSE subject, also known as ‘traditional’ or ‘facilitating’ subjects. They include three core sciences, history, economics, politics, or a modern foreign language.

These subjects can show universities and employers how hard you can work. They can also typically teach skills that will be useful when applying to various degrees and careers. Consider choosing mainly “facilitating” GCSE subjects to keep your future options as open as possible. Then perhaps picking one or two ‘soft’ subjects because you’re interested in them, and they will help with your future. Getting a balance between traditional, academic, and practical subjects demonstrates that you’re a well-rounded learner. 

gcse options

5) Review your skillset and strengths

It’s important to know what type of thinker and learner you are. Studies have shown that we often use one side of our brain more than the other. Those who use their ‘left’ side more tend to be more logical thinkers. That would be suitable for subjects such as maths and science. Whilst people who use their ‘right’ side are more creative thinkers. These students can thrive in GCSE subjects such as drama, art and design, or music. 

There are different ways that GCSE subjects are marked, through coursework and exams, written and spoken. So, it’s essential to know what you perform well in and if specific examining formats are challenging. Your teachers can tell you how courses are graded, and the percentage of marks assigned to each assessment.

6) Seek guidance from a careers adviser

GCSEs are usually chosen in Year 9 and most Year 9 students might not know what they want to do as a career. Careers advisors can help in so many ways. They can help you refine your interests; identify what skills you have and what goals you’d like to set. They can also help by providing a list of relevant subjects and what career pathways you could have. Careers advisers will offer support, information, and resources to help you with your GCSE options.

7) Don’t let others influence you 

Whether it’s friends, parents, or what subjects your favourite teachers do. You’re the one who must spend two years learning about the subject and do the assessments. You’ll also be the one with a grade at the end of it. So, it’s best to do something for yourself that you’ll enjoy rather than doing it because of someone else.  

8) Plan a realistic schedule that you can keep up with

You might think doing more GCSE subjects will look better to universities and future employers. More GCSE subjects mean you’ll have more qualifications and show you’re a well-rounded learner. However, some subjects might clash with your timetable.  This might mean you’ll have to do more work outside of school hours. So you need to understand what is realistic and achievable for you.

You need a timetable that won’t put you under too much pressure and leave you overwhelmed. Streamlining how many GCSEs you take will help you spread your time between subjects and keep up with the workload. It’s also important to make sure your schedule fits alongside your other commitments and regular breaks.

9) Think about how your GCSEs will complement your A-level choices

Some A-level subjects will require you to have already done the subject at GCSE level as you are typically learning and building upon GCSE content. So, if you chose a single science like GCSE biology but want to do chemistry at A-level, that choice may no longer be viable. Some A-levels don’t require you to take them at GCSE level, for example, media studies or economics.

10) Understand that nothing is final, and you can still gain further GCSEs later on

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself by thinking that you can’t do more GCSEs later in life. Even after you have done your A-levels, degree, or started your first full-time job. There are always chances to start or retake a GCSE subject if you need to, with a range of courses offered. 

Check out this link for additional information on choosing your GCSE subjects