For many of us, studying GCSEs (or O Levels) and A Levels was a long time ago. With that in mind, in this article, we're going to be looking at what the GCSEs and A Levels are like now and how they've changed.

Obligatory subjects at GCSE

During Key Stage 4, which is when students normally take national examinations like the GCSE, there are certain compulsory national curriculum subjects known as “core” and “foundation" subjects.

Which subjects are compulsory at GCSE?
Maths remains a compulsory subject at GCSE. (Source: 777546)

The core subjects include English, maths, and science and the foundation subjects include computing, physical education (PE), and citizenship. In addition to the core and foundation subjects, schools also need to offer GCSE students at least one subject from these four areas: arts, design and technology, humanities, and modern foreign languages. Similarly, they need to also offer religious education (RE) or religious studies and sex education.

GCSE Mathematics covers topics including algebra, ratio, proportion, rates of change, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and probability, to name a few and as it has been for many years, English, both language and literature, is a compulsory subject at GCSE.

While most GCSEs act as individual qualifications, when it comes to GCSE Science, there are a few options. You can study double award science or dual award science where your GCSE in science counts for two GCSEs. In this case, you'll study two topics per subject. While different exam boards offer different awards (AQA calls theirs Synergy and Trilogy), they still count the same.

If you decide to study the sciences separately, i.e. GCSE Biology, GCSE Chemistry, and GCSE Physics, you'll be awarded three GCSEs. In this case, you'll also have to take exam papers for each subject and will be awarded a GCSE in each rather than a Science GCSE that's worth two GCSEs.

Find out more about the GCSEs.

How GCSEs Have Changed in Recent Years

If you studied O Level or GCSE before 2015, you won't have taken the same type of examinations as children are taking now.

How have GCSEs changed?
The GCSE reforms have changed some key aspects of the courses and exams. (Source: tjevans)

The biggest change for GCSE students is the GCSE grades. While many of us will be used to the idea of grades being based on letters, new GCSEs are awarding students a number from 9 to 1 with the former being the highest grade and the latter being the lowest. With more grade boundaries, it's easier to differentiate the abilities of different students and quickly see which students have studied the new GCSE and who studied the old GCSE.

The way students study for the qualification is different, too. In the past, many subjects were modular but now they're designed with two years of study in mind.

Since the GCSEs have been reformed, there's less of a focus on “foundation tier” and “higher tier” exams and they can only be split into two exams if one of the paper limits a student's ability to show off all their knowledge.

Finally, one of the biggest changes is that resits are only available in November and students are only allowed to retake their GCSE maths and GCSE English language exams.

Generally, the reform timetable came into effect with core subjects (English language, English literature, and mathematics) rolling out in September 2015 and other subjects rolling out in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

This means that students who studied in those years may have different GCSE subjects with different grade schemes. For example, students who started their GCSEs in 2015 will have taken a new style exam for English and maths with a numerical grade but GCSE science, religious studies and business studies will have been graded with letters.

Find out more about the GCSE reform.

Subjects at A Level

You'd be surprised at just how many vocational and academic subjects are available to be studied for an A Level exam. In addition to core subjects like English language, English literature, maths, and science (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.), there are also plenty of art and design A Levels, humanities A Levels like history and religious studies, and other subjects like physical education, business studies.

What subjects can you study at A Level?
There's a surprising number of interesting subjects you can study at A Level. (Source: DariuszSankowski)

Since the GCE A Level is entirely optional, that means that all subjects are technically optional. Of course, when applying to a university through UCAS, there'll usually be certain A Levels that they want students to have.

For example, if you're wanting to move onto media studies at university, the university will probably set you a series of minimum grades to achieve and look for related A Levels. Similarly, a foreign language degree usually has the same foreign language as a requirement so it probably wouldn't be wise to take chemistry and biology A Levels if you want to study French at university.

Most students will study three or four A Levels but if you are going to study just three, make sure that the universities you want to attend don't have four A Levels as an entrance requirement!

Find out more about A Levels.

How A Levels Have Changed in Recent Years

Much like with the GCSEs, A Levels also underwent reform in 2015. This meant a few changes to how the courses were taught, the exams, and the grades.

What changed in the A Level reform?
It can be tricky keeping up with all the changes over the years. (Source: JESHOOTS-com)

Previously, A Level qualifications could be taught in modules but now the examinations won't take place in January. Similarly, other types of assessment are discouraged unless the skills being assessed are deemed essential. AS Level results also don't count towards an A Level in the same way they did previously.

Universities have also had a bigger hand in what content appears on A Levels. After all, when studying the GCE A Level, many students are doing so to meet the entry requirements they need for their UCAS application for university.

This means that past papers before the reform mightn't be useful for revising. You should check with the exam board for practise papers or a sample A Level exam to help with your revision. The exam boards in the UK include AQA, OCR, CIE, Edexcel, CCEA, ICAAE, WJEC. While the exam board will dictate the exam that you take and which body will be awarding your A Level, most subjects will include the topics regardless of who's issuing the exam and the qualification.

Find out more about the A Level reforms.

If you need help with your GCSEs, A Levels, or any other subject or skill, consider getting in touch with one of the many talented and experienced private tutors on Superprof. You can find tutors all over the country and the world who are helping students with one or several different subjects and skills. There are tutors for academic subjects like maths, English, and science as well as tutors for hobbies, crafts, and skills like yoga, life coaching, or even sewing.

Similarly, you can find tutors across a range of different budgets, too. On Superprof, regardless of the subject or skill, there are three main types of private tutorial offered by private tutors: face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials. Each type of tutorial comes with pros and cons in terms of cost, learning style, and effectiveness so it's up to you to carefully choose the right tutor and the right style of tutoring.

Face-to-face tutorials are between just the student and their tutor. This means that the tutor's focus is entirely on their student and the tutorial will be fully tailored to the student and their needs, allowing the student to get the maximum benefit out of the time spent with their tutor. While this is effective and allows students to learn quickly, it also comes at a cost. Since the tutor will be working tirelessly outside of the tutorials as well as in them to create bespoke tutorials for their students, they reflect this in their rates. In short, face-to-face tutorials are usually the most costly but also the most cost-effective.

If you find face-to-face tutorials outside of your budget or can't find any local tutors to your liking, don't despair, you can always look for online private tutorials. Thanks to the internet and video conferencing, students can now be taught from anywhere in the world. Since the tutors don't have to travel and can schedule more tutorials per week as a result, online tutorials tend to be cheaper than face-to-face tutorials. You'd be surprised at all the different subjects and skills that you can learn remotely.

Finally, group tutorials are between a private tutor and several students. While you won't get to enjoy one-on-one tutoring like the other types of private tutorials, this can be good for subjects like foreign languages where having several different students to talk to can be a huge benefit. With several students paying for the tutor's time, the cost works out cheaper per student per hour. Generally, group tutorials are the cheapest type available.

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.