GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education, and this certification is awarded at the end of a two-year study programme after exams and any coursework have been marked. Traditionally taken by those aged around sixteen years-old, this course is compulsory for students in the UK.

The way in which pupils are assessed as part of the UK’s education system has been a hot topic in recent years. As it stands, British students are tested across each subject undertaken at GCSE level, a test which generally makes up more than half of their overall grade.

Yet, with children and young adults in our country allegedly being among the most tested on the planet, surely they should be accustomed to performing under pressure? It seems, however, that the recurrent need to test performance and improvement during schooling is something that still causes a lot of distress for pupils.

What about adults sitting GCSE? Find out how they manage here!

Students in the UK have to undergo a number of tests to keep track of their academic performance.
Britons are among the world's most tested students. Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via Visualhunt.com

Getting Your Head Around Your Upcoming Exams

It is probably hard to get to grips with the fact that you will be participating in nationwide exams along with your peers across the country, especially if you have never been tested in this way before. Nevertheless, your exams are going to happen and will make up a great deal of your final grade, so it is time to start thinking seriously about them.

A good way to get your head around them is by reviewing past exams and you might find a veritable goldmine in these top GCSE English resources! 

Having access to a timetable, even if only a provisional one, can really help to prepare you psychologically for the culmination of your course, because having a specific goal to work towards can be very motivating.

Using a calendar or a countdown app might make it even easier to remain focused on the exam period and might, on some level, build up a bit of anticipation for the day of the first exam to finally come.

Attempt to keep your spirits up by translating your nervous energy into positivity. Just think, once you have completed your last exam you will have an entirely carefree summer ahead of you!

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When Will My GCSE Exam Timetable Be Released?

Timetables for compulsory exams like GCSEs and A Levels are usually released a couple of years in advance, but do remember that these are only there for guidance and should not be taken as certain.

Although exams will usually take place across roughly the same 2-3 week period of each academic year, you should never attempt to predict when your exams will be based on information from previous years.

A number of factors come into play when large-scale events are planned, and exams are no different.

For instance, the exam boards need to consider things like bank holidays and the availability of staff and resources. As such, you should always wait until your exam dates are set in stone before making any plans that could affect your ability to attend an exam.

Bank holidays could give you extra time to review GCSE English study materials!

To be on the safe side, however, we would recommend that you do not make any arrangements for holidays or social events around the time of your exams unless completely necessary, as doing so could allow you to get distracted from your revision, cause unwanted stress due to losing precious revision time, or leave you feeling tired and less alert.

Your education does not last forever but you will have plenty of opportunities to go on trips or nights out in the future.

Could My Exam Date Change?

As previously mentioned, exam boards will try their best to commit to provisional exam dates, however this is not always possible for a number of reasons.

Take, for example, an event that could not be predicted like the sudden introduction of a new national holiday or, on the contrary, adverse weather that affects an entire region of the UK. Although these situations are rare, you should be aware that unexpected things can happen which can cause exam boards to have to rethink their timetables.

Meanwhile, some timetables might result in exam clashes for students taking a particular combination of subjects and will therefore need to be amended accordingly.

Such instances could give you extra time to find revision materials online!

What you must bear in mind is that an exam for a specific specification needs to bet set on the same morning or afternoon for all students taking that assessment. This is to ensure that exam questions are kept completely confidential until the day of the exam, allowing a fair test for each pupil taking it.

What If I Am Away On The Day An Exam Is Set?

You should make sure that you do not accidentally make any plans which cause you to be away on the date of any of your exams.

Failing to sit an exam could result in you failing the entire course and putting two years of study to waste.

If your family are looking to book a holiday which crosses over with the exam period, then every effort should be made for the trip to be booked for a later date, or rebooked for another year. Even a once in a lifetime trip will not sway the examiners, as the rules cannot be twisted for just one pupil.

If you want to make plans with friends or family, these should ideally be limited to before or after the busy exam period.
Family holidays should not interfere with your revision or exams. Photo via VisualHunt

If, however, you have a valid reason for missing an exam, such as being unable to make an exam due to the death of a loved one or as a result of having a funeral to attend, you should consult your school or exam board at the earliest opportunity.

In such emergencies, the officials will work together to do all that they can to help you, whether that be awarding you a mark based on other assessed performances or using comparable units of a completed exam to predict how you would probably have been graded. This is called special consideration and applies to all GCSE students so long as they have completed 25% or more of the total assessment for the subject.

Similarly, special consideration can be applied to those who made it to the exam but were affected by circumstances out of their control, like sickness, a bereavement, or being in the midst of a court case, for example. In situations like these, exam boards will give an allowance (usually up to 5% of the raw mark) dependent on the severity of the circumstances.

Do you want to learn more about the English GCSE syllabus? Read our great guide to studying English at GCSE.

Prepare your GCSE with an English tutor London, in Manchester, in Glasgow, or anywhere else in the UK, with our nationwide network.

How Can Knowing My Timetable In Advance Help Me?

For some students, knowing exactly what will be happening on a certain day or week in the future can really help them to visualise their movements on a given day and aid in putting their mind at rest. For those who are particularly susceptible to feeling stress on a severe level, being able to organise yourself far in advance can be quite satisfying.

Use this information to plan educational activities, like pencilling in revision sessions with friends or setting aside time to complete independent study prior to a certain exam. You may even wish to ask your parents to take younger siblings out of the house for a day or weekend to give you some quiet time during which you can focus.

If you and your fellow students want to go and visit a landmark or museum that has significance to your course, be sure to get this booked in before the exam comes around. There are no second chances when it comes to exam-taking so do not let yourself have any regrets.

You could schedule intensive GCSE literature studies based on the exam's timetable!

As touched upon above, using a calendar or diary to effectively countdown to the date of an exam or the start of the exam period can be a great way of making what is a nerve-racking experience more positive.

As soon as you are given your final timetable, which will most likely be 1-2 terms in advance, be sure to give a copy to your parent or guardian.

Having a member of the family fully aware of your exam timetable can be really beneficial in improving your preparation for the assessments. They can encourage you with your revision, make plans in advance to drop you off prior to exams and offer you emotional support.

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How Are GCSEs Graded?

Most GCSE pupils will be familiar with the historical grading system, which awarded marks ranging from ‘A*’-‘G’, with ‘A*’ being the highest attainable and ‘G’ being the lowest. However, a new grade system is being phased in to the UK education system whereby pupils are marked against a ‘9’-‘1’ system instead.

Soon grades A* to G will be replaced by numbers 9-1.
The traditional GCSE grading system is to be replaced by a numbering system. Photo via Visualhunt

This new grading method will have been applied for the first time on this year’s Year 11 students who studied English Language, English Literature and Mathematics, with the remaining subjects being changed over the course of the next couple of years.

Although it sounds reasonably straightforward, the letters do not translate seamlessly into the scale of numbers. Ofqual, the exams watchdog, has advised educators not to make direct comparisons between the two because the boundaries do differ.

While there is still a ‘U’, or ungraded, mark, grades ‘9’, ‘8’ and ‘7’ are roughly equivalent to ‘A*’ and ‘A’. Grades ‘6’, ‘5’ and ‘4’ can be likened to a 'B’-‘C’, meanwhile a ‘3’ is said to be similar to a current ‘D’. Finally, ‘2’ and ‘1’ are close to ‘E’, ‘F’ and ‘G’ grades.

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