Pandemic or no, with school in session or offering only online lessons, this year's exam schedule is set. Maybe testing centres will reduce the number of students taking an exam - meaning that this year's exam season may be much longer than in past years.
Another aspect that makes this year's GCSEs the subject of heated debate is the new regulations in England. We'll talk more about them in a moment but, for now, let us say that they dovetail neatly with the long-standing idea that these exams do not reflect what a student has learned - only what they've memorised, and that they are unnecessarily stressful and complicated.
If you're going to sit GCSEs this year, no doubt you have a few things to say on the subject. Won't you let us know your thoughts in the comments section below?
In the meantime, your Superprof lays out a few ideas for you to think about.
The Debate Surrounding GCSEs
With new laws just passed in England that say every student must stay in school until they are 18 years old, lawmakers, educators, parents and students alike are furiously debating the worth of sitting GCSEs. The average student is 16 years old when s/he sits them; that leaves two more years of formal education to endure.
Before this new law was passed, many students went on to prepare for their A-Levels while others sought out apprenticeships to jumpstart their life as a wage earner. For a substantial number of students in England, these new regulations mean little; they would have continued learning through some form of formal education, anyway.
Those new mandates mainly impact school leavers; some who are so fed up with school that they have no inclination whatsoever to pursue any more lessons. Others may take over the family farm or business, thus needing no further credentials while still others, perhaps of the genius sort, may go on to make their mark as an entrepreneur. For any of these options, earning decent grades on a satisfying number of GCSEs would have been enough.
Now, with the option of leaving formal education behind after the last mandatory Key Stage off the table, what's the point of sitting exams?
The Trouble with Scrapping GCSEs
Keep in mind that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have seen no change to their school leaving age regulations; only England has implemented those changes. Scrapping GCSEs throughout the UK would thus be unfeasible because, in other countries, they are still an integral part of the education system.
They are also deeply embedded in England.
If you've no stomach for further academic study - meaning that you pass on sitting A-Levels and are not contemplating a university degree programme, you still need GCSE results to secure an apprenticeship, let alone a decent-paying job. Furthermore, while you may snag a position in a respectable firm with only a handful of GCSE marks, studies show that those with lower marks generally earn less and are afforded fewer chances for advancement.
In other words, if you're up for promotion against someone who did better than you on their GCSEs, all other things being equal, you will miss out on the higher pay and greater prestige rising through the ranks could bring.
By this, we can see that, as integral as GCSE results are to the way we do business - hiring, compensating and retaining employees, scrapping them altogether is not going to be easy.
That's why you have to knuckle down, start studying and get the best marks you can. Your future depends on it!
Websites with GCSE Study Resources
Studying for your GCSE‘s can be a big challenge. The stress of preparing for your exams and the tremendous effort you need to make to revise can be overwhelming, particularly when your teachers are too busy to give you much one to one help. However, there are plenty of websites that can support you with your studies and even help you to cope with your exam nerves.
Revision websites like Bitesize and gcsEASE can provide some useful support, particularly if you are looking for study tips for a particular type of exam or assessment.
For example, you can find tips on Bitesize for speaking and listening exams for language courses, or advice on creating a portfolio for some of the vocational GCSEs supported on gcsEASE. However, there are also some good resources online that can provide more general advice on study skills and exam technique.
Learning how to make the most of your revision time and how to approach different types of exam questions can make a big difference to your stress levels and your success in your GCSEs.
Some of the exam boards provide support on their websites that can help you to understand what is expected of you in your assessments and exams. You can also find some good study tips on some of these sites.
The AQA website has some good advice on revision and what to expect on exam day, which you might find useful even if you are studying with a different exam board. Knowing what will happen in the exam room can make a big difference when you are sitting your first big exams.
The Education Scotland site has some particularly good advice written for students studying the Scottish equivalent of GCSEs - the Highers.
The tips for second/third level students will be very useful if you want to learn how to make the most of your time in class and how to use techniques such as mind maps to understand complex topics. This is the best place to start looking for study support as the site covers all of the main skills that you will need during your course. It can help you if you are finding it difficult to adjust to your GCSE workload or if you need help keeping up with the work you are being asked to do in any of your classes.
If you want some more help with your studies, the Open University website also has some good tips. Although some of the advice here goes beyond what is expected of you at GCSE level, many of the sections on skills like note-taking will be very useful. The advice on handling exam stress is also very good on this site.
Another good resource is the study guide created by the publisher Collins, which includes some practical advice on note-taking and other study skills, as well as some good tips on how to manage your time and cope with exam stress. This site will be very useful when you are getting ready for your exams, as many of the tips will help you to come up with a good revision strategy.
The practical study tips provided by these sites can be very useful, but if you are feeling stressed or anxious about your exams, you can also find some good support online that will help you to cope with your nerves.
The best place to look for help if you are feeling worried about your exams or any other problems that might be affecting your studies is the Childline website, which has some great advice on coping with your GCSEs. There, you can find tips that will help you relax, get a good night’s sleep before your exams, and boost your confidence and help you to think about the future. You can also call Childline to speak to an advisor if you would like to talk to someone about your worries.
If you are looking for more one to one support, Superprof can connect you to a personal tutor who will be able to support you through your GCSE’s. Sometimes it helps to have some individual attention, and when your teachers are too busy to provide it, an online tutor can be an important source of support.
Diversify Your Studies
As you likely already know, you are required to sit Maths and English GCSEs and complete an exam in at least one science subject: chemistry, biology or physics. Furthermore, you are expected to sit a Language exam - either modern or dead language and a humanities subject, such as Geography or History.
These five core subjects represent the bare minimum acceptable number of exams students may select and still earn their school leaving certificate. On average, students select eight subjects to test in; the more ambitious ones go for a maximum of 12.
Choosing more subjects to test in is not what we mean by diversifying your studies.
Across the population - from students, parents and educators alike, a common criticism of standardized exams is that teachers have no choice but to teach to the test.
Teaching to the test: covering only the material students will be tested on.
Let's say you've selected History for your Humanities subject. Your study material will cover the Normans, the Tudors and war in the 20th Century. Settling Australia, dealing with China and colonising India are all covered under the larger topic of how Britain became an empire.
In any case - but especially when reviewing for GCSEs, there is always so much more to any story than the measly blurbs printed in study materials. Likewise, between curriculum demands and scheduling expectations, teachers have neither room nor time to encourage thought-provoking discussions or critical thinking exercises.
In a sense, the way history is sometimes taught makes dramatic events seem like they happen in a vacuum. However, when studied in-depth, it's easy to see history more as a chain of causative events.
To truly gain an understanding of the subjects you study, don't repeat teachers' methods. Don't just study to the test; find materials outside of the GCSE study bubble - the materials and information designed to help you get a good grade on your exam. Go deeper! Find out why the Normans wanted England bad enough to die for it and why American university students resisted the Vietnam War.
Go beyond the bubble in every subject you will test in. That's the only sure way to earn a top grade in every one... because, like it or not, you have to sit these exams.
May as well do the best you can, right?
Preparing for GCSEs with a Private Tutor
The statistics don't lie: students who review for GCSEs - or any school exam with a tutor earn better marks.
The hiring of personal tutors is another ongoing debate on the topic of education. Some families can easily afford private tuition while others can barely afford to put food on the table. Some people feel that spending money on private tutors unfairly advantages students whose families can pay for extra lessons, leaving those who can't even further behind. It doesn't have to be that way.
The idea of having a private tutor only sounds extravagant. Have you seen some of the prices for an hour of tuition lately?
Depending on the subject(s) you need or want tutoring in and the level of education and experience you want your tutor to have, you may pay only a few pounds for an hour of lessons.
The rule of thumb for selecting a tutor is that s/he should have at least one level of education higher than you. So, as you're preparing for GCSEs, you could have a first-year university student or even someone in college, studying for their A-Levels as a tutor.
Even better: during these difficult times, as COVID threatens and lockdowns are the norm, tutors are giving lessons online, often at a discounted rate. How can they do that?
If your tutor doesn't come to your home, s/he won't have to add travel expenses to your hourly fees. Furthermore, with the trove of resources online and video chat utilities such as Skype or, better yet, Zoom - which includes an interactive whiteboard and tons of other features that make online collaboration a breeze, tutors don't need to invest in the latest materials to make their lessons more engaging and memorable.
Another point in favour of online tutoring: you can record your sessions and play them back later if you need to refresh your memory on what your tutor said. Note: it's easier to record on some platforms because they have that feature built-in. Others require you to download and install a companion app to record your sessions.
With all of that being said, let's be realistic. What are the chances that you will engage a tutor for English, a separate one for Maths and yet another for Geography? Do you even need to have a tutor for every subject?
Of course not! You only need a tutor for the subjects you have the most difficulty with. In fact, you may get by with engaging just one tutor. There's a reason for that.
Tutors are knowledgeable about their subject matter; nobody will argue with that. But the best tutors function more like academic coaches. They help their students develop study skills and thinking abilities, and teach memory 'tricks' so that you will recall information more easily come exam time.
As we mentioned in the last segment, engaging a tutor give you more than that: a good tutor help their students build self-confidence.
The biggest challenge to taking exams is doubting one's ability to do well - being downright fearful of failure. A dose of nerves is perfectly normal but being overwhelmed with fear is not. If, after reviewing until your eyes fall out, you are unduly worried about how you will do on your GCSEs, perhaps a tutor would be just the resource you need to succeed.
Superprof has tutors for every subject from maths to languages. There are even Superprof academic coaches who are trained and experienced in helping students prepare for exam season.
With Superprof, every tutor has their own page so you can see their level of experience and the subjects they specialise in. Most importantly, you can read testimonials from other students that that tutor helped.
You will spend days - weeks, months, even! - preparing for your GCSEs. With the resources listed in this article, hopefully, you will learn everything you need to know for a positive outcome on your exams.
And, of course, Superprof is standing by, ready to lend a hand. Good luck!