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A Guide to Choosing Your GCSE Subjects

Is it time to start thinking about choosing your GCSEs? Not sure where to get started? We’ve compiled a helpful guide to answer some of your most frequently-asked questions and get you started on picking those all-important subject choices.

Are there compulsory GCSE subjects?

In the UK, some GCSE subjects are compulsory and you must take them. These are:

  • Science (usually broken down into the three individual sciences; Biology, Chemistry and Physics - but this breakdown can differ between schools and ability groups).
  • Mathematics
  • English - English Literature and Language

Some schools may also require that you take additional subjects such as a Modern Language or Religious Studies - so make sure you check with your teachers before applying for your GCSEs.

How many GCSEs do you take?

The majority of students in the UK take around nine subjects at GCSE, though of course how many you take will depend upon your ability and the options available to you.

It's not uncommon for students to take ten or eleven GCSEs, usually as subject specialisms such as Further Maths. However, this should only be considered if you have a track record of working and hard and keeping your focus - studying for nine GCSEs is a big enough commitment, let alone adding additional subjects to your study schedule.

What are the available GCSEs options?

There are lots of GCSE options and most students will be able to choose from some of the following:

  • A Modern Foreign Language - French, German and Spanish are the most commonly taught languages, but some schools offer other languages such as Mandarin and Russian.
  • A Humanities subject - such as History, Geography, or Religious Studies.
  • Arts subjects- such as Music, Theatre Studies, Art or Media Studies.
  • Technical subjects - such as Engineering, Woodwork, Computer Science, Food Technology and Textiles.
  • Sports - Though it is compulsory to do PE in year 10 and 11, students can also choose to take the subject as a GCSE subject.


When do I have to choose my GCSEs?

In England, most students select the subjects they wish to study in Year 9, but some schools may even ask you to choose in year 8. So, whatever year you’re in, it’s never too early to start thinking about your options!

Which GCSEs should I choose?

This is a difficult question, and really one that is down to a combination of things, including your school’s selection of subjects, your own interests and your plans for the future (if you know them already!)

Your school’s selection of GCSE subjects

Obviously you can only choose the subjects that your school has to offer. Before you make any steps, you should speak to your school and see what subject options are available to you.

If they don't offer the options that you hope to pursue at A-Level or even GCSE, then you may need to consider whether moving secondary schools is the right option for you.

During this conversation, it may also be worth asking your teachers or tutor about what GCSE subjects they would recommend you take. They will have a good idea of what subjects they think you could excel in, and could be a great first point of contact to kick-start your thinking.

Your interests

What subjects get you excited at school? Do you enjoy solving numerical problems and applying formulas and would benefit from subjects such as Computer Science and Engineering? Or, are you more creative - prefer to perform, write or draw? And would instead excel in Drama or Art? Maybe you love learning about the past, using evidence to build arguments? In that case, Philosophy and History could be great options for you!

Whatever it is that sparks your interest, choose the subjects you enjoy and others that complement your skills and you’ll be more likely to excel in them.

Your plans for the future

Though your career may seem a long way off, it’s important to start thinking about what you may wish to do when you’re older. Start thinking about after your GCSEs - what A-Levels may you wish to study? Or what degree do you think you may want to study at university? Then work backwards to consider which GCSEs may be helpful in creating the right foundation for your future plans. 

Even if you have no idea what you want to do long-term, it doesn’t matter! Simply choose a varied selection of subjects that will allow you to keep your options open, and then that will give you the option to narrow down your selection further down your line of study.


Note: changes from 2015

It’s important to remember that from 2015, the UK government made a few changes to GCSEs, amid allegations that GCSEs were getting easier each year. Now, students have a lot less coursework to cover over their GCSE years and instead, take the majority of the examinations at the end of the two year course, rather than module by module.

Therefore, when selecting your subjects, you should carefully consider which ones you enjoy or seem to be achieving the best grades in. You will have a lot of exams to sit at the end of year 11, and you want to ensure you’re putting yourself in the best position possible to achieve the best grades. Your GCSEs will help to determine which A-Levels you study and thus your degree, and so you want to make sure you can do your best.

Gain an academic advantage next summer

We hope our GCSE guide has helped you in making those next steps a little less daunting. 

Don’t forget, if you ever want to sample a subject before trying it at GCSE level, we offer plenty of summer courses that will give you a taster of what to expect!

Spending two-weeks this summer learning about a new subject will gain you a competitive edge when you return to school. Plus, the busy socio-academic timetable of activities we'll have planned will help you build your confidence and a variety of soft skills that will help you thrive in the future.

Find out more about our summer courses - contact our admissions team to speak with an advisor.

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Start planning GCSEs! Compulsory: Science, Maths, English. Choose 9 subjects based on interests, school options, future plans. Changes since 2015, fewer exams, choose wisely. Get ahead with our summer courses.

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