How many GCSEs do most students do? When do students select which subjects to do? When should you start revising? Moving into the exam years in an English national curriculum school can be a big change, and knowing what to expect can really help.
While iGCSEs are more widely studied in the UAE, a significant number of schools do offer GCSEs (some offering both options).
The most significant difference is that GCSE course content has been designed with UK-based students in mind while iGCSEs were created for an international audience. Course content in subjects such as history and geography differ in particular, with GCSE topics being more UK centred.
Historically, assessment approaches differed, with iGCSEs being mainly assessed through final exams rather than coursework. However, due to changes in the GCSE assessment format in recent years, there is now minimal difference in this regard, and iGCSEs and GCSEs are largely considered equivalent, with universities and colleges generally not making any distinction.
GCSEs and iGCSEs are designed to be taught over two years, usually commencing at the start of Year 10, with final exams taking place at the end of Year 11.
Typically students will study between 9-10 subjects, but this may include non-GCSE courses, such as BTEC Level 2.
Students will select their GCSE subjects during Year 9, usually between January to April depending on the school, in preparation for starting Year 10. Ideally, this will have been something they have been guided on gradually, keeping in mind their abilities, interests and aspirations. Schools will provide support on this through information sessions, meetings with career counsellors, and information provided to students and their parents.
Some subjects will be compulsory while others are optional, and this varies from school to school. Generally speaking though, Maths, English Language/Literature and Science are compulsory across all schools.
Entering Year 10, with more focused learning and specialised subject areas can feel like quite a major leap for many students. Schools will often provide workshops and short courses on key areas such as time management and study techniques to support students in this transition, guiding them in developing the skills they will need to succeed.
It may sound surprising but our experts agree that it is advisable for students to get into a revision routine from the beginning. Catriona Olsen, Head of Senior School at online school Kings InterHigh, explained:
"Ideally students should start Year 10 as they mean to go on: regular revision and time spent on each subject. Students should schedule revision time at the end of each topic, while this information is still fresh in their minds. It is a good idea to make revision notes with some example questions and answers that can be revisited throughout Year 10 and 11 and before their mock and final exams."
While being assessed regularly can sound overwhelming, it is important that teachers can track each student’s understanding and progress in order to provide the right support along the way.
Catriona Olsen explained:
“Year 10 students should have regular summative assessments to allow them and their teachers to track their progress and provide feedback to ensure they are understanding the topics and committing their learning to their long-term memory.”
Ivan Rigney, Assistant Head of Secondary at Arcadia School, explained that in-class assessments take place every half term at Arcadia, with support and revision help given before each assessment point. This is followed by a consolidation week, where teachers go through assessments with students and provide support on their next steps.
Mr Rigney added that with each student studying for 9-10 GCSEs, it is important that the school plans and schedules assessments well, so that students are not overloaded and overwhelmed. Arcadia School ensures that students have no more than two assessments per day.
Mock exams are scheduled internally by individual schools, but are usually taken late in Term 1 or early in Term 2 of Year 11. Mock exams allow students to test their knowledge of the topics covered so far and experience assessment under exam conditions. This also allows teachers to identify areas of weakness for each student, and provide the support they need in preparation for the final exams.
Students will now have covered the course material and hopefully have the knowledge and understanding they need. Study leave provides uninterrupted time to really focused on revision. Study leave usually starts a week or two before the first exams.
Catriona Olsen explained:
"Preparation for exams requires time. It sounds obvious but a revision timetable is a must. A lot of students don’t do this and then find that they run out of time to revise.
Set aside time each week for each subject, being realistic to include other commitments and down time. Ensure you refer to the syllabus and use a personal checklist to make sure you feel confident with each learning objective/topic listed on the syllabus. To keep a clear head, think logically through each subject – break them down into topics – map it out."
GCSE and iGCSE exam schedules differ, but both are centered around the period of mid-May - June. Unlike GCSEs, iGCSEs have two exam periods, with some subjects offered in November and January, however the bulk of exams are in the May-June period.
GCSE and iGCSE results are usually released in mid to late August. GCSE results day has been confirmed as 24th August for 2023 results, whereas the iGCSE results day has not yet been published.
This is hopefully a time for celebration, however if results are lower than expected, students can request their grade reviewed by their exam board. They can also contact their exam board helpline for advice and guidance on the choices available to them, with the possibility of re-sitting exams at a later stage.