If you are coming to the end of Year 9 and are getting ready to choose your options for your Key Stage 4, or GCSE as they are better known, years then you might be grateful for a little bit of advice. While you should, first of all, discuss your decisions with your parents, form tutor and careers department, we are here to offer you some insight into what you might expect if you were to enrol on the AQA GCSE Art & Design course, the most popular art programme in the UK.

Even if you absolutely love to draw, you may be surprised by how different 'art classes near me' are once you enter this level of your education aged around thirteen-years-old (finishing the course when you are about fifteen or sixteen). Gone are the days where you could simply draw a pretty picture and get top marks for your efforts, a number of secondary factors come into play at GCSE which you must be prepared for like producing pieces of art with a message or meaning, understanding the history of art and the different genres and mediums, as well as being able to analyse works by others in great detail.

All of your hard work during the two-year course will culminate with a final piece, usually completed during a 10-hour exam spread across two school days, which will be heavily influenced by what you have learned along the way about yourself, your artistic preferences and your individual style.

Art at GCSE will, of course, be good preparation for you before you begin a sixth form art course or decide you wish to enrol on an Art Foundation course as part of your further education. Each part of your art education will help you to transition to the next and have you ready for your prospective career within the field.

GCSE Art will help you to transition to A Level Art.
An Art GCSE could be the start of your journey towards studying Art at university. Photo on VisualHunt.com

So, if you are still interested in taking this subject as one of your options for GCSE, then keep reading to find out more about the course!

Why Study Art GCSE?

As we have touched upon, you can't just study Art because you like drawing or painting. You must be inclined to analyse what you see and to experiment with various styles and medium. However, this might add to the appeal when it comes to someone who isn't necessarily 'naturally gifted' as an artist.

If you can't draw or make sculptures, for example, but you are fascinated by the world of art and enjoy playing with different textures and materials then this course could be right up your street.

Throughout the course, you'll get the opportunity to focus on one or more of the following areas:

  • Art, craft, and design
  • Fine art
  • Graphic communication
  • Textile design
  • Three-dimensional design
  • Photography

As you can see already, the amount of mark making on paper or on a canvas required is very little.

It Has Much More To It Than Just Being "GCSE Painting"

When you think of Art, you often conjure up images of famous paintings completed using acrylics or oil paints on a stretched canvas. But, in actual fact, Art as both an academic subject and a topic of interest reaches out much further than that. If you think about it, music is an art form much like how interior design is seen as a style of artistic expression.

The definition of art is that it is "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power."

If you have younger children in your life, you might foster a lifelong love of art and creativity with these resources...

The key words here are 'visual' and 'emotional', which seem to sum up what the examiners are looking for when awarding the top grades in this subject. If you can evoke a range of feelings with the sight of one single artistic creation, then you are on your way to fulfilling the requirements set out by the curriculum.

Get resources primary school art here.

A Guide To Your AQA Art GCSE Options

As we have mentioned above, there are various subject areas in GCSE art that you can choose to focus your attention on. Below, we have provided some detail on the course content covered by each subtopic to give you a better idea of whether it fits in with your professional interests and life aspirations.

Fine art

During your fine art module, you can expect to do drawing, painting, sculpting, printmaking, photography, installation and other lens or light-based media and mixed media art. As an aspiring artist who wants to see their work in galleries, then this is the perfect choice for you.

Find art classes London now.

Graphic communication

This area focuses on communication graphics, design for print, advertising and branding, illustration, package design, typography, interactive design, (including web, app, and game), multi-media, motion graphics, and signage and exhibition graphics. This choice is therefore very well-suited to those wishing to fulfil a career in advertising.

Art at GCSE is not just about drawing and painting.
Your Art & Design course can help to qualify you in Graphic design for brand packaging. Photo on Visualhunt.com

Textile design

This subtopic is all about textile art like fashion design and illustration, costume design, constructed textiles, printed and dyed textiles, surface pattern, stitched and/or embellished textiles, soft furnishings and/or textiles for interiors, digital textiles and installed textiles. Therefore, anyone who sees themselves in the textiles industry would benefit from having studied this module.

Three-dimensional design

This particular section offers those wishing to express themselves artistically with the opportunity to do with varying mediums and within different settings. For example, this mofule is made up of architectural design, sculpture, ceramics, product design, jewellery and body adornment, interior design, environmental/landscape/garden design, exhibition design, three-dimensional digital design and designs for theatre, and film and television.


Finally, budding photographers will no doubt be drawn to this area of study because it allows them to develop their skills and experiment with portraiture, location photography, studio photography, experimental imagery, installation, documentary photography, photo-journalism, moving image: film, video and animation, and fashion photography.

Look up for art classes Edinburgh now.

How Will You Be Assessed?

When it comes to assessment, this Art & Design course is structured as so:

There are two compulsory components. Students must complete both components.

Component 1: Portfolio

A portfolio that in total shows explicit coverage of the four assessment objectives. It must include a sustained project evidencing the journey from initial engagement to the realisation of intentions and a selection of further work undertaken during the student’s course of study.

See further details below on how this component is assessed:

No time limit
96 marks
60% of GCSE
Non-exam assessment (NEA) set and marked by the school/college and moderated by AQA during a visit. Moderation will normally take place in June.

Component 2: Externally-set assignment

Students respond to their chosen starting point from an externally set assignment paper relating to their subject title, evidencing coverage of all four assessment objectives.

See further details below on how this component is assessed:

Preparatory period followed by 10 hours of supervised time
96 marks
40% of GCSE
Non-exam assessment (NEA) set by AQA; marked by the school/college and moderated by AQA during a visit. Moderation will normally take place in June.

As you can gather, the majority of your final grade will be given in conjunction with your sketchbook or portfolio (i.e. the work that you complete throughout the two-year period) whilst 40% will be based on how you perform in your final assessment and the final piece of art work that you produce as a result of those 10 hours of supervised work.

Perfecting Your GCSE Art Sketchbook

It might seem quite constrictive having to fill a small-scale sketchbook with your ideas throughout the two-year course, but the guidelines suggest that there are actually no restrictions on the scale of work you can complete, nor are you tied down to using just basic media or materials. So, check with your Art teacher first, but, in short, you can go wild and create huge masterpieces to add to your portfolio if you so wish!

Your sketchbook will demonstrate a journey towards your final piece.
Your sketchbook should be true to your style and also display your academic journey. Photo credit: marciadotcom on Visual Hunt

Your GCSE art portfolio should, however, be a good representation of your academic journey in this subject.

For instance, you should ensure that it responds in some way to a theme, subject, task or brief set out by your course and that it provides evidence of how you have engaged with this subject matter and how you came to your final piece. Your intentions, therefore, should be made completely visible so the examiner can recognise them.

The idea is that this gives you the chance to demonstrate your ability to draw together different areas of knowledge, skills and/or understanding from across your course of study and connect with such things to produce artwork that is meaningful to you as an individual.

Other important pieces of work to show in your textbook are a selection of further work resulting from activities such as trials and experiments; skills-based workshops; mini and/or foundation projects; responses to gallery, museum or site visits; work placements; independent study and evidence of the student’s specific role in any group work undertaken.

One very important thing to remember is that this component is marked as a whole, so every single visual representation should be to the highest of standards.

There is no use having a few amazing pages in your portfolio followed by an incomplete and bare-looking page, as this will only bring your mark down. (And with 60% of your final grade depending on it, you want every mark you can get!) The examiner wants to see that you have put in the effort and that you have really engaged with the task at hand rather than just sticking things down unnecessarily to cover blank white spaces or writing things down that have little or no meaning to you or your project.

On the subject of writing, it is important to note sources and indicate when words or images are not your own so as not to plagiarise.

The format of your portfolio will vary from page to page and piece to piece, but, ideally, it will include mounted studies, sketchbooks, visual diaries, journals, design sheets, design proposals, models, maquettes, prototypes, storyboards, video, photographic or digital presentations, and records of transient and site-specific installations.

Find online art courses near you.

Settling On Your GCSE Art Final Piece 2018

Your final piece is usually 40% of your overall grade in Art (as is the case for AQA Art & Design) so it is good to understand more about this component before you begin the course. You will have a number of weeks to research the theme of your choice (or the theme set out by your course) and create a preparation journey in your sketchbook.

The final part of the examination project is a 10-hour exam where you will create your final piece, but remember that it must also be linked to your sketchbook research and not come completely out of the blue for the examiner assessing it alongside your coursework.

You will be able to add to your sketchbook during the exam however you ideally want to be focused on your final piece and have already completed all the preparation you need ahead of the day of the exam. In addition, the following activities, according to the AQA exam board website, do not get counted as part of your exam time:

preparation of print materials, such as filing edges of perspex or metal print plates
stretching of screens, preparation of blocks and plates
mixing of photographic chemicals, washing and drying prints
arrangement of a still life. You can take the materials for a still-life group into the exam.
rest time for life models
the making of a bare model stage
fixing dye, dyeing yarn, washing and finishing of hand-woven fabrics or stretching of embroidery
casting and mounting of models and sculptures
drying of printing inks, oil paints, varnishes, glues or papier-mâché
drying and firing time for sculptural work
For ceramicists: the firing of the kiln is not counted in the time you're given but preparing the clay and the shaping of the work is. Ceramic work should be fired and completed before you present it for assessment, and you'll need plenty of time for drying-out and firing.

The Importance Of Choosing Your GCSE Artwork Carefully

What you decide to work on during your exam should not be a decision you take lightly.

In theory, you will have had an idea in your head from quite early on in the course and will have used your portfolio to identify a path towards this final piece of artwork.

Every teenager's final piece will be different, but the main things to remember are to ensure your final piece clearly links with your sketchbook work and ensuring that it also links clearly with your artist research within your sketchbook. You shouldn't be cautious in your Art course - be ambitious with your ideas, but choose materials and techniques that you feel particularly confident using. Do not try to use a medium you have never tried before during your final exam - this is not the time for experimentation!

Finally, plan the 10 hours well as the time will fly by. You can either set out an hourly schedule or guide or you can simply set out objectives for your first and second days. The exam more often than not takes place in your classroom so you can feel comfortable completing work within your usual learning environment.

Once it is done, it will be such a great achievement and a huge relief!

Good luck!

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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.