When you think of a GCSE student, you automatically think back to your teenage self. However, it is possible, and quite common, for adults to enrol on GCSE courses too for a number of reasons.

A ‘mature’ GCSE student may be an eighteen or nineteen-year-old looking to enter the workplace for the first time but finding it hard to meet the requirements of the posts of their choice due to poor grades, or an older professional who needs a new set of skills or qualifications to move into a particular area of specification for work (i.e. an individual who might have taken a GCSE in Graphic Design but now feels that a Textiles GCSE would benefit them as they try to enter a fashion-related design career).

As many of you will already know, GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. The qualification, which may be known to you as O Levels, is a compulsory course taken across a two-year period by UK students aged roughly between fourteen and sixteen years-old.

It is this nationwide recognition of the study programme which makes its results so vital, since they are one of only a handful of officially determined benchmarks indicating one's academic abilities.

Employers use these grades, along with any further qualifications awarded, to assess a person’s suitability for a particular role.

Whilst GCSEs are traditionally taken by the dozen, and include a set of core subjects (namely English, Maths and Science), it is more likely that adults looking to gain a new GCSE qualification or re-sit a past exam will only pick one or two subjects to focus their attention on. This is often because they are completing the programme alongside a full or part-time job, or have limited time to dedicate their studies as a result of having a family to look after.

However, the most common scenario is that they only actually need to advance their education in one particular area of study.

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Adult learners might only need to study one subject for their career.
GCSEs are normally studied in the dozen, but adult learners might just focus on one area. Photo credit: LifeSupercharger via Visualhunt

What Type Of GCSE Courses Are Available To Adults?

As already mentioned, adult learners tend to return to education to support their professional careers. This is often because they did not originally take the GCSE course seriously and subsequently did not work hard enough to attain good grades.

However, this could also be a consequence of not having had the academic ability back then to achieve a certain grade and wanting to try again now to see if they can improve.

As an adult learner returning to education, you can attend classes at a school or college either part or full-time, or alternatively you can opt to work from home, enrolling yourself on a distance-learning course and registering your details at your nearest examination centre.

Want to know where to find the best online GCSE study materials? How about making use of extra review materials for your GCSE English exam?

A wide range of courses are available to learners of all ages in line with the current specifications, and some paid courses might include private tuition for a reasonable fee.

It is always advisable to look for English tuition if not receiving one-to-one contact from a teacher during your course, because they can offer you feedback and tips to support your individual learning needs. Yet another advantage of hiring an English tutor is that they will no doubt be more familiar with the present course structure and how work is assessed than you (factors which have most likely changed since you were a student since the education system is ever-evolving).

A private tutor can offer you tips and guidance based on your individual needs.
If you do not have much teacher/student contact during your course, consider hiring a private tutor who can offer guidance. Photo via Visualhunt

You can do GCSE courses at further education colleges, adult education centres, libraries or via other training providers (on and offline). To find out which establishments offer English courses, you can carry out online searches and then request details of the course specifics directly from your preferred places of study. Courses usually last around 36 weeks and students can make full use of the department’s facilities.

If you have limited time to attend classes, then an iGCSE English Edexcel programme could be a suitable option for you as many of the specifications do not require the submission of coursework/controlled assessments.

As with many other independent learning courses, you must find a centre which is willing to accept you as a private entry student and allow you to take your exam at their facilities. When learning independently, you may find it useful to revise using materials produced by the exam board you are enrolled on.

Reviewing past GCSE papers can offer great help for English exam preperation!

However, since many textbooks or online materials suggest taking part in group discussions or speaking to teachers as part of the revision process, you may find it useful to find a local study group where you can discuss the modules with peers on the same course and in similar situations to yourself.

Moreover, student forums can be a great place to exchange concerns or queries about course-related matters.

If you opt for an online GCSE course offered by a training provider, the fees could be quite high and you will still be required to find an examination centre and pay for the assessment itself on top of the tuition fees you have already paid out for.

It should be noted that you may be required to attend an interview prior to being accepted on a course too. This is to check that you have the correct core skills to be able to work comfortably towards the qualification or if a pre-GCSE course may be required to get you up to the required standard.

Learn why it is so important to check exam timetables and marking schemes!

How Expensive Is It To Re-sit A GCSE Exam?

The UK government website states that, if you are over the age of sixteen and have left school, you do not need to pay to study English or Maths at GCSE level, although Discretionary Learner Support income is available to some pupils’ cases where a fee applies. This is because the government recognises that basic reading, writing and maths skills are necessary for most jobs or for further study.

A typical online course costs in the region of £300, and some establishments offer multi-buy discounts allowing you to study two or more subjects for a small additional fee.

Before signing up for extra study courses, learn all you need to know about sitting GCSE!

Where a course fee is applicable, then your chosen place of study may offer a 'pay as you learn' scheme or allow you to pay the sum in pre-arranged instalments throughout the course of the study programme.

And, while you're at it, you might attend an essay writing workshop to pick up on the best ways to write an essay.

Paying for study programmes can be costly there are government schemes in place to help.
You may be wondering how you will pay for your course. Photo credit: kenteegardin via Visual Hunt

How Do I Study Towards My GCSE When Not Attending School?

There are many ways in which you can approach your studies, but the most important thing to bear in mind is that this is probably your second and last attempt at your GCSEs, therefore you must try your hardest to do all that you can to reach your desired grade. As such, as many revision websites, textbooks, lectures or discussions should be sought to support your learning.

As previously touched upon, you may or may not have the opportunity to spend time with a private English tutor or to participate in study groups. If this is the case, you should go out of your way to find other pupils like yourself with whom you can have academic discussions with.

When you sign up for a course, there may be a chance to make contact with others on the programme.

CGP offer some really useful revision guides for a range of subjects, including English, yet exam boards like Edexcel, for example, have their own study materials readily available to purchase.

As well as consulting revision resources, you could consider finding relevant texts at your local library, joining reading groups or going to watch speakers talking about themes related to your topics.

Get concise information on GCSE English Language in his handy guide!

How Will A GCSE Benefit Me Later In Life?

GCSEs have been for many years, and still are, important benchmarks of the U.K. education system.

Employers to this day still like to know what kinds of grades you achieved in these exams, even if you have a set of A Levels and a degree which followed them.

GCSEs say a lot about you and your work ethics. They also provide an insight into your basic literary and numeracy skills, which could be vital aspects of a role which you are applying for.

If, for example, you are applying for a Marketing role which involves vast amounts of tweeting but you only have a 'D' in your English GCSE exam, your interviewer may question whether you have the basic literacy and communication skills required to perform these tasks well (even though you may well have excelled in a Marketing A Level or degree).

The difference between you having a 'D' grade and a 'B' could make all the difference in an employer believing in your potential.

Similarly, if you are already employed but are looking to specialise in another area of your business, a GCSE could be what you need to progress into that domain. Your employer might help you to make the necessary arrangements and allow you time off work to study, or you might be expected to take the work on in your own time.

Either way, your new GCSE exam will be proof that you have reached a certain level of expertise in a particular specification, and you can start adding this qualification to your CV as soon as your result is published.

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