Everything you need to know about choosing your GCSE subjects

Everything you need to know about choosing your GCSE subjects
August 12, 2021
Marilyn Brydges

GCSEs are qualifications that students in the UK study, usually from 14 years old or in Year 10. Students study a GCSE subject over two years, with final exams taking place in Year 11. 

For students, picking their GCSE subjects can be a daunting task. With some questioning, what exactly are my GCSE options? How should I decide what GCSE subjects are ‘right’ for me? How will my GCSE subjects’ impact my future? Here’s a friendly guide of our most frequently asked questions to help students make the best choice for them.

Which GCSE options are compulsory?

In 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. You can also pick a combination of two or all three. 

They are the main compulsory GCSE subjects; however, some schools do make other GCSE options essential. Do check with your school and teachers if there are any other subjects you need to take. 

What GCSE options are there?

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. 

It’s important to note that GCSE options vary across schools, and your school might not offer all GCSE options, so always check with your school to make sure they offer the courses you would like to take.

Can I change my GCSE subjects?

You might be able to swap your GCSE options if you change your mind. However, changing subjects can be complex if your timetable clashes and there are no spaces available on another subject. Speak to your teachers and consider if you’ve given the subject a chance or need more support before giving up on a GCSE course you have already started.

gcse subjects

When do I have to pick my GCSE subjects?

Across England, students will choose the GCSE subjects they want to study, usually in Year 9. In some schools, this might happen in Year 8, so check with your school or teachers. 

Schools will set different deadlines for when students must pick their GCSE options. You’ll get plenty of information about this from your teachers. 

How to choose your options wisely for the future you want

If you’re still unsure about your GCSE options, thinking about what you want to do in the future can help. Remember, there’s no “right” way to choose your GCSE options, but future planning is a good start. 

If you have a particular career or job in mind, you should speak to others (e.g., teachers, older students). Find out what employers and industry experts look for within that field. If you are thinking about continuing to A-levels, then consider what GCSE subjects you need to take to do them. For example, if you want to become a doctor, you’ll need to consider taking all three sciences at GCSE level. If you want a job where you need to travel, consider taking a modern foreign language.

However, like many students, you might not know what you want to do in the future. Then consider keeping your GCSE options open. Studying diverse subjects can help decide what sort of career you’d like in the future. They can also give you a good overview of different subjects.

What I wish I’d known about choosing my options

Many older students who have gone through the process and gone onto A-levels or University are valuable sources of information. They can give honest advice from a young person’s perspective, having been in the same position a few years earlier. Here are some common pieces of advice from previous students:


Pick GCSE subjects with your future in mind. Have a look at what GCSEs you need to do for certain A Levels. For instance, if you want to do Chemistry at A-level, you must do Chemistry at GCSE level. Knowing what options, you have later down the track can help you decide what options to pick now. 

Pick GCSE subjects you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the subjects that you pick and are doing it to impress your teachers, parents, or friends. You might end up feeling unmotivated and having a strong dislike for the subject. Remember you’re committing to these subjects for two years, so it’s worthwhile doing subjects that you’ll enjoy and find challenging. 

Do your research. Ask your teachers if they think a particular subject could be a good option for you and what the choice will entail. Speak to older students who are currently doing the subject about their experiences and any helpful advice they can offer. 


Don’t stress too much. Although it may seem like a huge decision for your future. It’s also supposed to be about picking options that you’ll enjoy studying for the next two years. 

Don’t pick a GCSE subject just because your friends are doing it. It might not be the ‘right’ choice for you, and you don’t want to be stuck doing an unenjoyable GCSE. If you choose GCSE subjects different from your friends, you will have more to talk about with them. You also have the chance to meet new friends. 

Don’t pick a GCSE subject based on the teacher as anything can happen. On the one hand, a great teacher can make all the difference when learning GCSE level subjects. However, teachers can go on leave, they might not take your class, or they can find another job. So, you can’t make decisions based on what other people are going to do. Likewise, if you enjoy a subject, don’t let your relationship with a teacher deter you from picking it. 

For a helpful video on past student’s experience, please click here.