Students preparing to sit GCSEs this year most likely made their subject selections at least by the start of Key Stage 4, if not at the end of the third Key Stage.

One might argue that 14 is far too young to make decisions that will impact one’s whole life; indeed, such is the power of GCSE results that one may be denied work, the opportunity to buy a home or earn a more-than-decent wage throughout their life.

And, needless to say, a poor showing on GCSEs may bar one from higher education.

That is why, towards the end of every school year, The Student Room is flooded with threads relating to how many GCSEs would be considered acceptable to shepherd one through life, tips for getting the best GCSE results and which are the easiest GCSE subjects.

Today, your Superprof gets a jump on that discussion by detailing what subjects you must sit exams in (and pass), how many exams you should sit for a credible future and which subjects you may select as electives.

Hint: it’s among elective subjects that we might find the easiest exams.

The Subjects You Must Sit

There is no argument, debate or indecision about it: in England, you must sit GCSE Maths, GCSE English and a science component.

Whether you choose a combined science or just one branch – chemistry, biology or physics may be up to you.

Your school has a voice in deciding mandatory subjects.

You may have to sit an O Level in Literature as well as English
To earn your certificate of secondary education, you may have to test in English Literature as well as in GCSE English Image by Congerdesign from Pixabay

You might, for instance, be required to sit English Literature as well as GCSE English. You may also have to sit a Combined Science GCSE rather than selecting an individual branch of science to test in.

If there is any confusion about what your school requires, you should talk with your teachers.

It is important to know that these mandates go even further: you must also pass the Maths and English components. If you do not score satisfactorily on them, you will be compelled to retake them.

With that out of the way, we can now talk about the number of exams you should sit.

Three to five of your exams are required (in England); despite that, they count towards the optimal number of exams students should take.

Optimal number?

Sitting only a handful of exams, even if you earn top marks in each of them, is not seen as favourably as taking twice that number and earning above average or even average scores.

In general, students sit nine to ten GCSE exams in total, choosing additional subjects from a range of disciplines:

  • Humanities include Religious Studies, Geography and History
  • Arts include Art and Design, Media Studies, Music, Photography and the like
  • Modern Foreign Languages: Spanish, French and German are very popular but Mandarin and Russian are gaining traction
  • Physical Education: even though you must take a P.E. course during Years 10 and 11, you may also select P.E. as a GCSE subject
  • Technical subjects include Computer Science, Food Technology or the more unspecific Design and Technology

With such a wide array of subjects to choose from, it would be difficult to not find something that interests you – that you might want to pursue as a career.

That being said, now, the other shoe drops.

All of these subjects and more are available for testing but may not be offered at your school.

The reasons for such a lack of offerings vary between school budget constraints, no qualified teachers available to instruct in the subject and students’ own lack of interest.

Did you know that, if a subject you’re interested in is not offered at your school, you may visit other campuses to sit your desired exam?

Your input is needed: how do students who don’t know what they want to do after earning their Certificate of Secondary Education choose their GCSEs?

Teachers decide all subjects that will be tested by a particular exam board
Your secondary school teachers and administrators play a large role in which exam board you will test with Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A Word on Exam Boards

As you surely know, there is more than one exam board that your school could work with; whichever one your facility’s administration chooses also has something to do with the exams you may select from.

It might also have to do with the level of difficulty despite the fact that every Awarding Body from OCR to Edexcel tests on the same material.

How they do it is what makes the difference between a relatively confident exam outcome and one that leaves GCSE students escaping the testing room feeling mentally and emotionally drained.

How the GCSE exams are structured is an excellent case in point.

Some exams include a lot of multiple-choice questions while others overwhelmingly demand essay answers.

Ostensibly, having four or five answers to choose from improves your odds of answering correctly but writing out your answers calls for a whole different set of thinking skills.

First, you have to know the correct answer – no subtle hints are embedded in the question, and then, you have to phrase it in such a way that it will be accepted by the examiners.

All of that notwithstanding, past exam papers show that students actually do better with the essay question format than with multiple choice.

Do pupils have a voice in which exam board the school chooses? Not exactly… that is unless your school asks you and/or your caregivers what your preferences are.

However, rather than accepting the choices your school makes on your behalf, you may look into sitting the IGCSE – the international version of the exam, also known as the CIE.

Some students opine that the international examination series is harder and that AQA exam questions are much easier. That is a very narrow view of the entire GCSE qualifications process.

Consider the fact that AQA has recently limited student access to past papers, leaving you with fewer resources for your GCSE revision – indeed, their doing so restricts you from the most valuable study materials to be had.

By contrast, CIE is generous to a fault in providing you with everything you need to get the best GCSE grades possible.

And, while it is true that all of the exams – from GCSE Mathematics to GCSE Biology with a stop at Chemistry and Physics, must necessarily conform to Ofqual and the Department for Education guidelines, they all vary in how their exams are structured, tiered and even in their grading system.

So, while there may be talk about which exam board more favours student attainment and further education, there are far more points to consider than which exam board asks easy questions.

Join the discussion: how should students choose their GCSE subjects?

No GCSE exam is inherently difficult or easy
Whether GCSE courses are easy or difficult is entirely up to your abilities and interests Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

The Case of Easy v. Difficult

Determining the ease of anything is entirely subjective: what might be easy for your mates might be very difficult for you and vice versa.

To illustrate that point, we draw on foreign languages.

Let’s say you grew up in a household that speaks more than one language; in effect, you grew up with constant exposure to a second language.

For you, learning another foreign language – especially one related to the language family you already speak, would be a piece of cake. Not so for your mates who do not have the linguistic advantages you had while growing up.

You get the idea?

If you have a penchant for analysis, Business Studies and understanding scientific concepts would most likely come easier to you than to someone who is not so enraptured data and statistics.

On the other hand, if you’re more of a dreamer, artistic pursuits might be more your forte rather than the concrete, data-driven certainties you might find in an Economics course.

That’s not to say that someone whose imagination often runs away with them would test poorly in GCSE physics; in fact, some of the greatest theoretical physicists are/were themselves often given to daydreaming!

The bottom line is: if you have a particular aptitude for a subject, it will be easier for you than subjects that you have no particular ability – or interest in.

Learn more about how your interests can drive how you choose your GCSE subjects.

The Easiest GCSE Subjects

To close out this topic, we focus on subjects that students thought would be an easy grade but turned out to be very labour-intensive and not that easy after all.

Physical Education is often considered a slam-dunk qualification to attain but more than one dismayed student reported that there was so much practical work to do and so much uncertainty over what might be on the exam…

Other students think that Arts and Humanities subjects might be pretty easy; photography is often cited, as were Music and Drama.

While online student applications such as The Student Room are a great way to get help from your peers, the bottom line is that the easiest GCSE subjects are the ones you pick for yourself based on your aptitude and interests.

Furthermore, every GCSE subject can be made at least bearable if you study effectively and, come exam day, are completely prepared to meet your challenge and succeed.

But what if you choose your GCSE subjects based on the job you hope to have in the future?

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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.