For the legions of secondary school students preparing to sit exams this year, your GCSE exams are already in the works because you selected your subjects nearly two years ago.

Of course, some students have last-minute electives to pick; if you are such a student, this article has something for you.

If you are nearing the end of your Key Stage 3 development phase, you might be nervously eyeing available test subjects, wondering which ones would best suit your future career aspirations, your interests and your need for a strong pass in the most important subjects.

Two of those would be GCSE English Language and GCSE Mathematics. If you don’t make the grade on these two exams, you will be compelled to retake them.

Beyond the compulsory exams, how should you choose how many and which exams to take?

Superprof outlines reasons and strategies for choosing your GCSE subjects so that you can maximise your academic advantage going into sixth form or scouting for apprenticeships.

Not everyone wants a university experience, after all…

Choose Based on Subjects You Excel in

The UK’s annual exam season is stressful for pupils of all grades – those testing for their certificate of secondary education and those at Advanced level.

Adding to that stress is the growing expectation that everyone must have a university degree to land the best jobs – in the US, one can hardly find work that pays a living wage without a four-year degree.

Your GCSE courses can influence the type of work you do
Most people agree: your GCSE results will inform the type of job you can have Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

While the UK is more supportive of those who do not feel a university education is not for them – apprenticeships and internships are clear indicators of that, students are nevertheless battered on all sides by the prospect of higher learning and what it could mean for their future.

A growing proportion of students are foregoing UCAS, university and everything academic in favour of pursuing what they are already competent in.

Nothing is stopping you from doing the same thing but first, you must sit your GCSEs.

For instance, if you can speak a foreign language, why not sit the Modern Foreign Languages GCSE? You could round that subject out with Religious Studies and History, and there’s you with three electives already picked.

If you happen to be good at maths and feel limited by the GCSE Mathematics exam you are compelled to take, why not go the distance with Further Maths and Physics?

The bottom line: testing in subjects you already get good marks in will ease the stress of this life-defining ordeal.

Choose Based on What Interests You

You might think the previous segment and this one are two sides of the same coin; we beg to differ.

Let’s present the case of the student who always drew. During lectures, in idle moments, on any surface at any time, this pupil would doodle, draw and colour in his creations. Most of his sketches were quite good, too!

You might bet good money that he would focus on Design and Technology or Art and Design; if you did, be prepared to lose it all.

All of his frantic scribblings was only a means of focusing his attention; what really interested him was Microbiology.

He chose Chemistry and Biology for his GCSEs, added GCSE Physics and Further Mathematics, and then went on to study at a leading Russell Group university.

That just goes to show that, while you may enjoy one thing, what grabs and holds your interest might be something completely different and is a far surer bet for the long run.

After all, you’re not going to enjoy the same things all of your life…

Choose Based on Your Future Career

Some people are certain, from a young age, what the future holds for them.

They settle on a career path early in their lives and everything that they do, from earning their General Certificate of Secondary Education to university degree attainment is designed to take them where they’ve always wanted to be.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t occasionally need guidance along the way; you might find some tips to reach your goals in our companion article.

Those who are less certain of what the future has in store for them might envy those peers who know exactly what they want; a lot of that comes from the fact that people – your caregivers, teachers and society at large expect you to know what you want.

It is perfectly OK to not know what you want out of life right now; after all, you are still discovering your likes and dislikes. Nevertheless, you must conform to society’s norms; the big one facing you right now is that you have to pick exams.

All pupils must pick their perfect subjects for GCSEs
Picking for GCSEs is much more consequential than picking flowers! Image by Laura Smith from Pixabay

Perhaps the shortest, sweetest way to pick is one from each category:

  • Physical Education: schools and colleges require you to take it; as long as you’re at it, why not choose it as an elective?
  • Technical Subjects: this is a wide-ranging subject that covers everything from Food Technology to Computer Science.
  • Art: again, an umbrella term that covers Art Design to Media Studies
  • Humanities: History, Geography, Religion and more are considered Humanities
  • Languages: with this option, you may learn everything from a foreign language to English Literature.

Here’s an important tip: it is less about the GCSE subjects you sit than the grades you earn so choosing exams in each of these categories still leaves all possible career fields wide open!

Choose Based on Your Exam Board

As you well know, five exam boards provide all of the critical academic tests throughout the UK.

These boards, Edexcel, OCR and others generally compete for schools to test through them rather than their competitors. Now we add another crucial factor: that Ofqual mandates certain material to be tested, so every single exam awarding body covers the same material.

How they cover it and what resources they provide make all the difference; for instance, AQA has recently started restricting content to students.

Past papers and marking schemes are limited to two years, which means that you don’t have a whole lot to study with unless your teachers are generous and download/print them for you.

If you are dissatisfied with the options and exam selections your examination board offers, you may consider scouting around at other schools to see if they are using the same one as your school’s.

Of course, that advice only works in the parts of the country where different examiners are used; if you live in Scotland, for example, you will be tested/graded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Still, even you may have an ace up your sleeve: the IGCSE.

Cambridge International has compiled the CIE, a version of the GCSEs that is offered internationally. You, whether in Scotland or elsewhere, have the option of sitting it as a private candidate.

That means that you would have to pay for your exam registration and a fee for every exam.

Edexcel also offers an international version of their exam; a brief internet search (or talking with your teachers) will help you uncover exam centres near you.

No matter what, your school’s proposed exam board should be a factor in how you choose your GCSEs; their grading system, tiering and even how they schedule their exam dates all weigh on the outcome of your exams.

There is nothing wrong with asking for advice to get better GCSE grades
You may ask for GCSE advice from parents, teachers and any tutors you study with Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

The Don’ts of Choosing GCSEs

When the time comes for you to choose your GCSE subjects, you have a lot to consider… and a lot that you shouldn’t do. Let’s quickly cover those.

By all means, listen to caregivers, your school’s career counsellors and your friends but don’t let them decide for you which subjects you should test in.

Don’t choose any subjects just because they sound interesting, because some say they are easy to pass or because your mates are all going for it if you have no aptitude for them.

Don’t sweat the small stuff!

Think about this: at the fundamental level, you only really need to excel in two exams: GCSE English Language and GCSE Maths.

Even if you don’t do well on them the first time, you can always resit or, if push comes to shove, accept a Functional Skills award.

As for your other subjects: here too you have the option to resit or, if that subject doesn’t necessarily impact your future plans, you can simply drop it.

That’s why it is a good idea to select between eight and 10 GCSEs, in case you were wondering.

The best, most important advice that anyone could give you: keep your stress down. That’s easy for us to say, right?

Your Superprof knows well the ordeal you face and what it means for your future.

We also know that managing your time – establishing a study timetable and sticking to it, eating right, sleeping well and exercising regularly will help you attain the balance you need to earn the qualifications you want.

Considering that building your future life starts right now, could there be better GCSE advice than finding your balance?

Calling all students: help other GCSE students who don’t know what they want to do after school select their subjects.

Related articles:

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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.