Before they’ve even started the course, some pre-college GCSE pupils begin to get nervous about the concept of a ten-hour-long exam but, in actual fact, the final piece assessment isn’t as daunting or scary as you might think.
If you are familiar with the Art & Design course, you will know that your final piece counts as 40% of your overall grade and that the other 60% is awarded for the effort you put into your portfolio during the two academic years leading up to the final exam.
The key, however, is not to produce an exceptional final piece and a superb sketchbook, it is to make them both absolutely brilliant and (most importantly) link together.
As you will see below, the ideas, images, texts, and experiments that you display in your sketchbook should all be stepping stones towards your final art piece. It’s all about the journey, not just where you’re headed!
As such, in this article, we will look at how you can gain those top marks by making your portfolio and final piece work together.
During your time as a GCSE Art student, you will be given a very good grounding and a general introduction to the subject of Art and will be given the opportunity to choose from a range of options.
Below, we have provided some detail on the subtopics available to you in the Art classroom.
During a fine art module, you can expect to do drawing, painting, sculpting, printmaking, photography, installation and other lens or light-based media and mixed media art.
A fine art option enables you to learn about classical and modern painters and develop your own drawing and painting style. Photo credit: rverc on Visualhunt / CC BY
This area focuses on communication graphics, design for print, advertising and branding, illustration, package design, typography, interactive design, (including web, app, and game), multi-media, motion graphics, and signage and exhibition graphics. This choice is therefore very well-suited to those wishing to fulfil a career in advertising.
This subtopic is all about textile art like fashion design and illustration, costume design, constructed textiles, printed and dyed textiles, surface pattern, stitched and/or embellished textiles, soft furnishings and/or textiles for interiors, digital textiles and installed textiles. Therefore, anyone who sees themselves in the textiles industry would benefit from having studied this module.
This particular section offers those wishing to express themselves artistically with the opportunity to do with varying mediums and within different settings. For example, this module is made up of architectural design, sculpture, ceramics, product design, jewellery and body adornment, interior design, environmental/landscape/garden design, exhibition design, three-dimensional digital design and designs for theatre, and film and television.
Finally, budding photographers will no doubt be drawn to this area of study because it allows them to develop their skills and experiment with portraiture, location photography, studio photography, experimental imagery, installation, documentary photography, photo-journalism, moving image: film, video and animation, and fashion photography.
Your portfolio, i.e. the work that you will spend your class time and homework time completing over the course of the two-year programme, should be a good representation of your academic journey in this subject.
This shouldn’t be hard, because your sketchbook will naturally evolve along with your ideas and interests.
While presentation and aesthetics are obviously very important in this artistic subject, the content is equally as important. The examiner isn’t going to hold it against you if your drawing skills aren’t excellent but they will mark you down if you show little effort to record and annotate your thoughts.
If you are wondering how on earth you even begin your journey on the art syllabus, then don’t panic!
You will be given a theme, subject, task or brief which you will be asked to focus your attention on and to engage with in a personal way.
As a result, you should ensure that the pages in your sketchbook (from start to finish) respond in some way to this theme, eventually communicating your intentions for your final piece. If you do go off on a tangent, this is ok but just ensure that you make your thought process and pattern clear to the examiner.
One example of a theme you might be faced with is ‘reflection’ and you will be asked to interpret it as you wish. Photo on Visual hunt
You may be better at using one particular medium, but don’t forget to show a wide range of mediums and materials in your art projects from term to term. Even though you may feel that you are perfecting your style, using one single medium throughout your GCSE course and ending the art project with a piece created using this same exact material could come across very cautious.
The examiner wants to see you come out of your comfort zone and be bold and courageous whilst experimenting with new materials and mediums, learning something about yourself in the process.
That said, it isn’t wise to use a completely new medium during your final exam. If you have a particular medium or tool you wish to use, then make sure that you have shown in your portfolio that you’ve dabbled with this prior to entering the exam.
The assessment is not the time to be experimental!
You will have a number of months, to research the theme of your choice (or the theme set out by your course) and create a preparation journey in your sketchbook.
The final part of the examination project is a 10-hour exam where you will create your final piece, but what exatly are you allowed to do in that time under the exam settings?
You will be able to add to your sketchbook during the exam however you ideally want to be focused on your final piece and have already completed all the preparation you need ahead of the day of the exam.
You might be interested to know, however, that the following activities, according to the AQA exam board website, do not get counted as part of your exam time:
preparation of print materials, such as filing edges of perspex or metal print plates
stretching of screens, preparation of blocks and plates
mixing of photographic chemicals, washing and drying prints
arrangement of a still life. You can take the materials for a still-life group into the exam.
rest time for life models
the making of a bare model stage
fixing dye, dyeing yarn, washing and finishing of hand-woven fabrics or stretching of embroidery
casting and mounting of models and sculptures
drying of printing inks, oil paints, varnishes, glues or papier-mâché
drying and firing time for sculptural work
For ceramicists: the firing of the kiln is not counted in the time you’re given but preparing the clay and the shaping of the work is. Ceramic work should be fired and completed before you present it for assessment, and you’ll need plenty of time for drying-out and firing.
What you decide to work on during your exam should not be a decision you take lightly, and should be something that you have planned and put a lot of thought into.
In theory, you will have had an idea in your head from quite early on in the course and will have used your portfolio to identify a path towards this final piece of artwork.
Make sure that you are familiar with your chosen medium before you go into the exam. Photo credit: samstockton on VisualHunt
As you can probably expect, the 10 hours will fly by.
You can either set out an hourly schedule or guide or you can simply set out objectives for your first and second days. The exam more often than not takes place in your classroom so you can at least feel comfortable completing work within your usual learning environment.
In most cases, the exam is spread across two consecutive days to ensure uninterrupted creativity.
In a way, 2018 Art students are quite lucky because they have such a breadth of information at their fingertips. For instance, you can look at and seek help from numerous student websites, exam boards and forums with regards to your course, and a quick search on Google Images or Pinterest will result in a load of images and examples of others’ final art pieces.
However, as we have already mentioned, while it can be reassuring to see the work completed by others during their 10-hour assessment, it doesn’t always help you because your personal connection to the theme and your unique style will be so very different to everyone else’s.
In fact, you might find it quite daunting looking at other people’s artwork! I know I felt very self-conscious painting my A3 watercolour picture during my exam whilst one of my peers was working on a 6-foot sculpture right next to me! Once again, remember that everyone has a different response to a subject and a different way of expressing themselves.
If you are getting close to the exam period and you are starting to feel a bit on edge about your choices when it comes to your final piece, then run your ideas and concerns past your art instructor, your family and your friends to see if they can offer you some encouragement or constructive criticism.
Alternatively, you might like to speak to a private tutor who can help you to realise your best efforts.
A tutor will certainly not do work for you or put ideas into your head but, as creative beings and professional artists (in some cases), they can often help you to open your eyes that little bit wider and to step a little further out of your comfort zone.