On the one hand, it’s quite progressive that students get to choose our future career path by ourselves – albeit within the constraints imposed by the GCSE subjects available at their secondary school.
On the other hand, deciding your entire future when you’re 14 years old is a lot of pressure!
What if you’ve not had the luxury of thinking that far ahead? What if you choose a particular field of study for further education only to realise you’re not that interested in it after all?
And the biggest question, applicable to everyone – not just GCSE students: how is anyone supposed to know what their future holds???
Some pupils approaching the end of their secondary education have always known what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Lucky them!
For the rest of us, there is a fair amount of scratching about – consulting with caregivers, friends and school counsellors; maybe even taking aptitude tests to try and decide what the next steps should be.
It would be nice if the points to consider were all laid out before deciding which GCSE subjects to test in. Equally good would be someone dispensing frank advice on how to choose your GCSE courses if you have no clue what the future holds for you.
As ever, your Superprof is here to help. Let’s get on with the discussion, shall we?
A Few Hard Facts
If you are one of the rare – some might say lucky few who knows exactly what you want out of life and how to get it, it is most likely you are not in a tizzy over which GCSE exams to sit.
You might even now be contemplating a Double Award course… congratulations!
If that is your case, this article is clearly not meant for you. Still, you might benefit from a few tips; our companion article on choosing your subject to get the career you want should give you some food for thought.
This article is meant for the students who, dazzled by the wealth of possibilities before them, have difficulty in deciding which treasure to claim for themselves.
It is also aimed at the students who have decided that they are completely fed up with school and would rather seek out an apprenticeship than face deeper forays into academia.
Should you fall into the latter category, you might be dismayed to find that you must still sit – and score well on at least five GCSEs.
Three of those exams are mandatory: you must sit and pass GCSE Maths, GCSE English and GCSE Science. If your school also makes English Literature and Combined Science compulsory, you may find yourself confronting a Chemistry and Physics exam rather than just a Biology exam.
More bad news: if you do not score well enough on your Maths or English exams, you will have to retake them.
Now, for the silver lining.
If, after your second retake, you cannot achieve the desired cutoff mark, you may opt for a Functional Skills Qualification that will still open doors to your future.
Not quite so many doors as decent GCSE grades, unfortunately, but at least you’re not doomed to an eternal cycle of resits or a life of penury.
Your turn to chime in: is there such a thing as an easy GCSE subject?
Sadly, the number of exams cited above that you must sit is the bare minimum you should take.
Even if you have no further educational aspirations, to better hedge your bets against the future job market, it would behove you to sit at least eight exams if not 10 of them. Why?
Because even School Leaver Apprenticeship programmes expect potential candidates to demonstrate that they have the will to learn and the determination to succeed.
Clearly, doing the least possible amount of work before leaving school will prove exactly the contrary.
Another commonly-held belief is that, after GCSEs, you are done with education.
In some parts of the UK, if your birthday falls just right, that is indeed a fact; not in England. A recent change to DfE policy dictates that you must continue to pursue further study until you are 18 years old.
You may enrol in schools and colleges that reflect possible interests you may have for a future career, sign up for an apprenticeship (where you will still go to school), work part-time while still taking classes.
GCSE exams are inevitable; why not make them worthwhile?
Choosing GCSEs When You’re Undecided
There is substantial stress on students who don’t yet know which direction they’d like their life to run. Friends, family, teachers and society at large seem to pile it on, making you feel inept and incapable of deciding what you want.
It is perfectly acceptable to be undecided about your future.
What’s not acceptable is wallowing; waiting until some stroke of lightning fires your brain that causes you to have some sort of A-HA! moment when, suddenly, your path is laid out clearly before you.
Now is the time to be clever; to think pragmatically.
There are at least three exams that you must take; that leaves you as many as six elective subjects (if you’re going for the average nine exams). You might choose from:
- The Arts: Art and Design, Drama and Music, Photography and Media Studies
- Modern Foreign Languages: French, German, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin…
- Humanities include Geography, History, Religious Studies, Social Care and so on
- Technology covers Design and Technology, Computer Science… even Food Technology!
- Physical Education would be excellent if you’re into fitness
Now that the options are on the table, let’s go through them together.
Art is really a very broad term that covers a lot of categories. Do you like to listen to music? Are you always doodling? Taking pictures? Do you always cobble things together out of scrap or enjoy the art of precision folding called origami? What about fashion?
All of those topics fall under the Art curriculum. Do you like any of them enough to test yourself in them?
Now, let’s move to another group of academic subjects: languages.
Can you speak a foreign language? If so, you might pursue this course of study. If not, ask yourself: would you like to travel? Maybe learn about other cultures? With a ‘yes’ answer, you’ve just chosen one of your potential exam subjects.
If you are worried about your GCSE English language exam; in fact, if you are completely rubbish at languages, dismiss this category and move on.
Our country has a long and well-documented history; if you are well-versed in the wars and kings (and queens!) that shaped our country, how the British Empire influenced the world and was instrumental in kickstarting the Industrial Revolution, History may be your way to go.
Conversely, if you’re constantly picking up odd-looking rocks and staring at cliff structures, you may be more interested in Geography and/or Geology.
If you can’t tear yourself away from your phone, computer or tablet, Technology might be your metier and if you’d love nothing more than a good workout every day, Physical Education GCSEs could start you on the path to becoming a personal trainer or physical therapist.
How you choose your GCSE subjects matters greatly, both from the perspective that you want to do well on your exams and that they will shape your future.
The Bottom Line on GCSE Indecision
There are a lot of factors that go into selecting your General Certificate exam subjects.
First, whatever subjects you elect to sit exams in, you should at least have a passing interest in. Keep in mind that it is a bad idea to select a subject simply because your mates (or family) urged you to.
You should also have an aptitude for subjects you’re considering.
If you’re struggling in your GCSE Mathematics course, it would obviously be a bad idea to sign up for Further Maths. Likewise, if you can’t draw a credible stick figure, it would not serve you well to sign up for a Drawing exam.
Take a good look at your academic track record. What subjects did you do well in? Which ones did you really like and/or feel the most curious about?
Such subjects are certainly worth adding to your list of GCSE electives.
Finally, consider the earning potential of each of your chosen subjects. How much money could you earn with the qualifications you will have?
By no means are we suggesting you gear your GCSE results only to economic concerns?
However, the fact that GCSE attainment correlates directly to earning potential – not only because of the subjects you’ve chosen but in the grade you earn for each, makes the question of money relevant.
Please don’t sit GCSE Biology if you have no interest in the subject because the pay for Marine Biologists is high.
Don’t focus on math skills if solving equations is about the same as having a root canal done, in your opinion, simply because your parents want you so.
Choosing your GCSEs means taking your first steps into the adult world.
The path you set your feet on should be interesting to you, satisfying to walk and comfortable enough for you to enjoy your journey through life.
Those are really all of the criteria you need to choose which GCSEs to sit.
Your turn to chime in: what advice would you give to someone choosing their GCSE subjects?