Exam season is almost upon us: GCSE students are scrambling for last-minute electives and pupils just finishing Key Stage 3 are warily eyeing the long list of GCSE subjects to choose from.

Is it a bane or a blessing that adolescents – on the younger side of that spectrum at that, are compelled to determine their life’s path and choose exam subjects that will (hopefully) put them on it?

How are they supposed to know what they want to do three, five… even 10 years from now when most adults have a hard time deciding what they want from day to day?

Whether you agree with the necessity of GCSEs or not – and more people agree they’re superfluous, sitting them is nevertheless required so you had better have a basis for choosing subjects to test in.

Note: throwing a dart at a list of subjects and seeing which one it sticks in is not the best way to choose, neither is flipping a coin or any other convenient decision maker.

You have to put thought into the subjects you sit and choose them carefully lest you cheat yourself out of a future opportunity.

That’s a lot of pressure but your Superprof is ready to give you some ideas to mull over and discuss with caregivers, teachers and friends.

Advice for Choosing Your GCSE Subjects

If there were more reports of sitting GCSEs being an overwhelmingly positive experience, one might say that getting to choose your own exam subjects is a bit like being a kid in a candy store.

Unfortunately, this ordeal is anxiety-inducing and stressful in the utmost… but it doesn’t have to be.

The most important aspect of GCSEs is knowing your boundaries.

As with tennis, so with GCSE exams: you have to know your boundaries Image by Markus Weber from Pixabay

Some people like to adhere to the ‘more is more’ maxim, meaning that the more exams you select, the brighter your future will be.

There are only a couple of things wrong with that notion, the first one being your school’s exam timetable: you cannot sign up to for exams that are given at the same time.

Let’s say you want to sit GCSE History and Further Maths. They are both slotted for Thursday morning. Obviously, you cannot be in two places at one time, nor are you allowed a proxy to sit an exam for you. Wouldn’t that be nice!

To choose exams effectively, you have to see how your school has populated its exam timetables.

You also have to know about mandatory exams: GCSE English Language, GCSE Mathematics, GCSE Science – this may be a combined science GCSE or a single subject like GCSE Biology, GCSE English Literature (some schools make this exam mandatory).

The second most important aspect of your exams is knowing what you have control over.

You have control over your GCSE revision schedule, which resources you study from and your eating and sleeping habits.

You have no control over how your school will set up their timetable, what GCSE courses they will offer or which exam board your school subscribes to… or do you?

To find out more about those factors are and how best to manage them, you should refer to our companion article.

Choosing Your Subjects Depending on Your Future Job

Sometimes a traumatic event such as a terrible health scare or a close relative dying leads students to decide early in their life that they want to become a doctor.

Maybe, if you’ve had exposure to life’s rougher edges, you might aspire to social work so you can help other people through their misfortunes.

Finally, you might have had a superb teacher – a real mentor who inspired you to follow in their footsteps; to become a teacher yourself.

Significant emotional events such as these are often the catalyst for students knowing early on what they want to do in life.

General Certificate exams seem tailored to those who know what they want
For those who know what they want to do with their future, GCSE results is but the first step towards achieving their goals Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

If you’re not sure which direction you want to take, consider yourself lucky that you’ve not endured such hardship. Also, pity yourself a little that you’ve not had such a rousing teacher.

For the most part, it seems the GCSEs are structured for those who know what they want. If you are such a one, choosing your elective subjects should be a piece of cake.

If you want to become a scientist, go for a Double Award or even triple science and Further Maths.

If you want to be a journalist when you’re done studying, Media Studies is your niche and if you want a job where you have to travel a lot and you already speak a second language, perhaps Modern Foreign Languages would suit you.

And the list goes on: to work in IT, math skills are a definite plus; you might also choose Design and Technology and Computer Science. If you want to be an artist, Art and Design, Music and/or Drama are the categories for you.

It’s when your future profession doesn’t fall neatly into a GCSE category that choosing your exams gets a bit trickier.

Fortunately, Superprof has devoted an entire article to the subject…

How to Choose Your GCSE Subjects if You Don’t Know What You Want to do After You Graduate

Maybe it’s the ‘kid in a candy store’ analogy, or perhaps the allusions to stress and anxiety but there are people who simply do not (yet) know, from all of the choices available, what they want to do in life.

There is nothing at all wrong with that but Edexcel, OCR and the other exam boards aren’t buying, and neither is the Department for Education.

No two ways around it; you must sit these exams. More to the point, you must choose between three and five elective subjects to test in alongside your mandated subjects.

How should you choose if you don't know what you want?

The point to focus on is that GCSEs are only the start of your further education adventure; Sixth Form awaits and, beyond those schools and colleges lies the possibility of enroling in university courses, apprenticeships and/or internships.

Your school’s career counsellors and teachers, as well as your parents and tutors (if you have them) consistently advise choosing GCSE subjects in-line with what you might do later in life. That’s not much help if you don’t yet know what you might do, is it?

This nugget might clue you into the right direction: hedge your bets.

There are five major areas of study addressed through GCSEs:

  • Humanities – diverse subjects like Business Studies and Religious Studies
  • Arts include everything from music and Drama to Design and Media Studies
  • Modern Foreign Languages: you might test your knowledge of French, German or Spanish
  • Physical Education – great for becoming a physical therapist or personal trainer later on
  • Technology subjects open the door to become a Food Technologist or a Lab Technologist
    • You could even go deeper and study computer science later

To make sure you have all of the bases covered, why not select one subject from each category?

That would be five electives on top of your three (or five) compulsory subjects, yielding a grand total of eight to ten GCSEs – that is the recommended number of exams every student should sit!

You could hardly do better than that but, for more advice, check out what else those who don’t know what their future holds think about selecting exams…

O Level exam selection can be quite confusing
If your GCSE exam selection leaves you confused about your future, just choose one subject from every category! Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

What Are the Easiest GCSE Subjects to Pass?

No, we’re not tricking you; some subjects are easier to pass than others. We just don’t know what they are.

‘Easy’ is entirely subjective: what comes easily to others might not be so easy for you.

Still, if you launch yourself at The Student Room with a panicked query about which GCSE subjects are the easiest and are grateful for others’ opinions, perhaps you will be equally happy with ours.

Easy subjects are those that help you meet your university entry qualifications because if you plan to study that subject beyond secondary school, you must have a measure of interest in it.

Subjects that are interesting to you will be easier than subjects that you have no interest in.

You may also consider a GCSE subject easy if you consistently earn good grades in it.

Here’s an unusual case of a natural polyglot who could speak three languages fluently by the time she was 15.

Although she had no interest in capitalising on her ability to speak more than one foreign language, she chose the GCSE language component simply because she knew she would breeze right through it.

Having an interest in something and being good at something are not always the same thing; if you need a qualification that you don’t need further study on, look at the academic subjects you consistently scored well in.

The bottom line here is that what is easy depends on you: how much time you put into your studies, how much you enjoy learning about that subject and how big a role it will play in your life.

Of course, other factors determine how easy these tests can be…

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.