Always Learning


GCSEs – General Certificate of Secondary Education – are the main qualification taken by 15-16 year olds in schools and colleges. You can also take them if you want to gain a qualification in a subject you are interested in, at any age.

GCSEs – what are they?

The qualification mainly involves studying the theory of a subject combined with some investigative work.

They are usually studied full-time at school or college, taking two years to complete. Short courses are also available. Adult learners can take evening classes or teach themselves. There are no formal entry requirements and no age limits.

GCSEs are at levels 1 and 2 on the National Qualifications Framework, depending on the grade you get.

Why take GCSEs?

Derek Richardson, Head of general qualifications assessment tells us what a GCSE qualification is and why you might want to choose GCSE qualifications.

GCSEs are highly valued by schools, colleges and employers. They are the first step in providing access to a range of careers or further study. GCSEs have been used as a benchmark to judge student ability for more than 25 years.

What subjects can you study?

GCSEs are subject-specific qualifications. GCSEs are available in over 40 subjects ranging from Applied Business to Urdu. You can see what GCSE subjects are offered and what each course covers by reading the course details, which you can download from our GCSE specifications page.

How are GCSEs graded?


GCSEs are graded A* to G, although some papers are tiered according to ability and so don’t target the full grade range:

  • Higher tier: A*-D
  • Foundation tier: C-G

The A* grade was introduced to differentiate the highest performing students from other A grade candidates in 1994. If you don’t get enough marks to pass with a G, you will be awarded a U, which means ‘unclassified’.

How will I be assessed?

GCSEs are assessed by a combination of either exams or controlled assessment. The course specification will tell you how that subject is assessed.

If you are planning to complete your GCSEs in Summer 2013, you are likely to be studying a modular course. With modular GCSEs you can take exams as you complete each unit, throughout the course.

From Summer 2014, all GCSE exams will be linear. This means that if you're planning to complete your course during or after Summer 2014, you'll need to take all of your exams at the end of your course.

Controlled assessments are taken throughout the course with both linear and modular GCSEs.

What are controlled assessments?

Controlled assessments used to be called coursework and can include research, essays, projects, investigations, artwork, fieldwork, experiments or other practicals.

Does it matter what subjects I take?

Many courses at university or college will require you to take GCSEs in certain subjects. If you have a particular aim in mind you should check the requirements for that course and take the appropriate subjects.

What can I do once I've taken my GCSEs?

Getting GCSEs can provide you with a variety of options, for example, work, further study or an apprenticeship.

If you get five GCSEs at grades A* to C you can choose from a range of options for further study. For example, you could choose a level 3 qualification such as an AS/A level, Applied GCE, BTEC National, NVQ, a BTEC Apprenticeship or a mixture of these qualifications.

If you get fewer than five GCSEs at grades A* to C you would be likely to choose to study a level 1 or 2 qualification, such as BTEC First, NVQ, BTEC Apprenticeship, or a mixture of these.