More information on choosing subjects and courses in Year 8 or Year 9

It’s important to choose your options carefully

Before you can make your decisions there are some steps you need to take:

  • Think about yourself - subjects you like or dislike, do or don’t do well in
  • Think about careers and what you want to do in the future
  • Find out which subjects you’ll need for the careers you’re interested in
  • Look at careers information in school. Your subject teachers and careers adviser will be able to help
  • Find out what you’ll learn and the skills you’ll develop in each subject. Find out what topics you’d be studying, this could help you make up your mind
  • Ask if the course helps you to learn in the best way for you. Try to think about what will suit you. Do you like assignments, practical tasks or are you good at exams?
  • Choose a subject because you want to do it, not because your friends are doing it
  • Choose a subject for itself, not because you like or don’t like the teacher
  • Make positive choices, don’t think about ‘boys’ subjects and ‘girls’ subjects. All are open to you.


  • Some level 3 courses cannot be taken unless you do the GCSE first, so be careful not to close doors on certain subjects
  • Having a good spread of GCSE subjects will help prepare you for a greater range of jobs and courses. This is important if you are not sure about your future career
  • Think carefully about how choosing or dropping some subjects may affect you
  • Look in your school’s options booklet and on its website to find out more about the qualifications and subjects you can take at your school.

Core subjects

All schools must offer English, maths and science. These subjects are so important that almost all students have to study them and get a qualification in them. For many courses, apprenticeships and jobs after Year 11, you will need to achieve a grade 9-4 in English and maths.

Optional subjects

Some of the main optional subjects include: history, geography, art, media, design and technology, modern foreign languages, and vocational subjects such as health and social care. In most schools you will be given an options booklet, and information is usually available on your school's website. Many schools also have an options evening where you and your parents or carers can talk to subject teachers.

Making your decision

Read your school’s option booklet carefully and then:

  • List the options that interest you
  • Find out as much as you can about each subject - talk to your teachers
  • Think about the pros and cons of taking these subjects
  • Check that what you have chosen will help you with your future career plans.

Who can I contact if I want more information?

Confused or undecided? Ask at school or contact the Progress team.

General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE):
  • Most of you will take GCSEs
  • GCSEs are in subjects you have studied up to now such as music, history or English
  • GCSEs are now graded 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, U, with 9 being the top grade (they used to be graded A*-E). You may need to get certain grades for the course or job you want
  • Having grades 9-4 will increase your career options at 16
  • If you don’t pass English and/or maths you will need to resit these regardless of the option you pick for post 16 choices
  • You will usually take exams in all subjects and be internally assessed in your work
  • All exams in two year GCSE courses have to be taken at the end of the course. Marks for spelling and grammar will be awarded in the following subjects: English language, English literature, geography, history and religious studies.
Applied GCSE or GCSE Double Award:
  • These may be offered in work-related subjects such as business, engineering and IT
  • You will go into more detail about these areas of work and learn some of the skills needed for them
  • Double award GCSE science takes the same study time as two GCSEs. You will get two grades from 9-9 to 1-1.
Vocational Qualifications:
  • These are in broad work-related areas, such as health and social care, business, performing arts, engineering or media
  • You may study these at your school, another school or at a college
  • These are good if you like practical learning
  • Qualifications offered include BTECs at entry levels, levels 1 or 2 and Cambridge Nationals at level 1 or 2

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