Many countries provide free primary and secondary education so that their citizens can be productive, contributing members of society.

When that idea was implemented, a couple of centuries ago, it made a lot of sense because jobs were limited by the resources available and by class structure.

For instance, a barrister – a fairly upper-class position would not train his son to be a merchant and a merchant would never expect his son to train as a barrister.

Likewise, some of today’s hottest career fields, like Information Technology and Genetic Engineering, didn’t exist a century ago. So advanced are they that such work demands more than basic education.

The explosion of industry, from financial to fashion, has created entirely new professional realms that virtually anyone from any social class may aspire to.

And you are the lucky ones who are spoilt for choice!

Do you know which career field you want to embrace? More importantly: do you know how to get where you want to be, job-wise?

Superprof talks with you today about making your GCSE exam selections with an eye toward your future.

The Basics of Selecting Exams

Like anyone undertaking a productive journey, you have to know your starting point, your variables and your destination.

Your destination is where you want to end up, career-wise. Your starting point is your GCSE ordeal and your variables are… many.

Which subjects you choose to test in and how many exams you sit are but two of them.

Your GCSE results are important for university
Earning a strong pass depends on how many exam papers you have time and energy to review Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay

How Many Exams Should You Sit?

As you surely know, virtually every pupil at GCSE level must sit GCSE Maths, GCSE English Language and GCSE Science.

Some schools and colleges take mandatory subjects a bit further. Instead of a single science GCSE, they give a combined science test – maybe Chemistry and Physics or Chemistry and Biology.

Some schools add another dimension to their English criteria; students enroled there are also required to sit the English Literature exam.

If your school requires the Combined Sciences as well as the English Literature exams on top of the ones mandated by the Department for Education, that means that five exams have been chosen for you.

That’s a pretty big deal because the more exams you have to take, the fewer you get to choose.

That means that the number of elective exams – the ones needed to start you off on the right foot in your future job depends on your school’s exams policy, at least in part.

We’ll talk more about electives in our next segment.

There is no specific number of exams that students should sit; somewhere between eight and 10 is the norm.

Assuming your school mandates five exams; should you aim for a total of eight, you will only have three elective choices.

If you choose the right three, you may be able to squeak by but, if you really want to give yourself an edge, you should pick one or two more subjects to test in.

If you have a specific career goal, the number of exams you sit is as important as the subjects you test in.

Beware, though, that if more than one of your subjects involve labour-intensive practicals or is one that you particularly struggle in, you might edge toward fewer exams to get decent grades in the subjects that matter the most.

Whether you know what you want to do after you’re finished with school or not, choosing GCSEs requires balance and consideration - of your school’s timetables, among other things.

For the Easily-Identified Careers

Obviously, if you want to be any kind of scientist, you must test in science. Maths wouldn’t hurt and English would be good, too.

Luckily, English and GCSE Mathematics are already required no matter what your career orientation might be but, if it's something like astrophysics, you might consider Further Maths, just for good measure.

Conversely, if you want to base your career on modern foreign languages because you already speak a second language and wish to learn more foreign languages while working abroad, you would have no need to further demonstrate you math skills.

By the way, if you do speak a foreign language, you might consider modern language qualifications an easy GCSE subject…

Which exams would you sit if you wanted a career in which you study classical civilisation? Any of the humanities subjects would work, from GCSE History to Religious Studies.

Other career fields and their subjects include:

  • Engineering, Economics, Accounting and the like: maths, maths, and more maths
  • Any management position: Business Studies
  • Design Technology: Art and Design
  • Information Technology: maths and further maths, computer science
  • Journalism: media studies, English.

These are the straightforward, easy-to-decide subjects that reflect specific career fields.

Which exams should you sit if you want to be a physical therapist or a fashion designer or…

Let’s take a closer look at GCSE requirements for those specific jobs.

All pupils love a good teacher; why not become one?
Your certificate of secondary education can qualify you to become a teacher Image by Pexels from Pixabay

GCSEs for Future Teachers

As maligned as teachers are, the profession is still considered noble and, with all of the changes in technology and educational theory, aspiring to become a teacher is a worthy goal.

Oddly enough, the GCSEs that permit you to become a teacher are Maths, English and, if you intend to teach at the primary level, Science. That is as simple as it gets!

Now we throw a spanner in the works.

You should also select the GCSE that corresponds with the subject you would like to teach.

For instance, if you want to infuse legions of students with your passion for cartography, you’ll need to sit Geography GCSEs but if you’re concerned about your future students’ health in relation to the current obesity crisis, you should select Physical Education.

Finally, to better understand social processes such as teaching, you might consider the Sociology exam.

Exams for Future Veterinarians

To take your love of animals to a higher level, you will need English, Maths and Science; your science component should be a double award or even a triple science award.

If you would feel more confident with just two sciences, choose Chemistry and Biology; leave Physics off.

However, be aware that veterinary medicine is a very competitive field. You should give yourself as many advantages as possible - maybe even selecting fewer subjects to test in, and score above Grade 6 on all of your exams.

Lab Technician GCSEs

Unlike the career fields we’ve discussed so far, to become a lab technician, you don’t necessarily have to spend years at university; you can become a lab technician through internships or apprenticeships.

The important qualification you need for this career field is science.

Unless you know specifically what type of lab work you want to do, it would be best to hedge your bets and sit all three science exams. That way, you maximise your chances of landing the position you want.

You will also have to score fairly well on them.

GCSE Subjects for Midwifery

Little could be more rewarding than helping to bring forth a new life while seeing to the health and welfare of new mothers.

The pay is not too shabby – upwards of £30,000 per year depending on where you practice, and the demand for qualified midwives remains high.

How to choose your GCSE courses to become a midwife?

Physical Education, with its health and well-being component, would help you earn the position you want. You might also consider Sociology so you can get a better understanding of family dynamics and troubles that may arise as a new baby enters the home.

GCSE Biology may help you land a midwifery internship
Midwifery internship entry requirements are not as stringent as you might think! Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

GCSE Exams for Civil Engineering

Like midwifery, civil engineering offers more than one way into the field but your GCSE grades must be high enough to gain admittance into an internship or apprenticeship.

Should you choose the university route, you will have another chance to target your education to this particular career in sixth form.

To qualify for the further education that you will need for such work, you should select GCSE Physics as one of your electives.

Successfully testing in Physics will help you earn the vocational qualification you need to become a civil engineer and good GCSE results will boost your chances of university acceptance, should you decide to take that route.

GCSE students feel substantial pressure to outline their future when they’ve hardly experienced life, and rightly so: everything hangs on their exam results.

All need not be as dire as it seems.

With a well-planned study timetable and targeted GCSE revision – in school, with study groups and with tutors, above-average grade attainment is not such an unrealistic prospect.

If for some reason, you don’t score as well as you needed to to meet your objectives, you can retake exams in all subjects that you need. Exam results are not make-or-break, after all.

So, download those past papers and get to revising! Your future awaits, based on what you do today.

Your turn to chime in: what advice would you give a younger sibling about choosing their GCSEs?

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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.