GCSE chartHow to choose courses to study in Years 10 and 11

It’s important to choose your options carefully, as you’ll be spending the next two or three years studying them and your subject choices at 16 will also depend on what you choose now

You have a chance to choose:

  • Subjects you enjoy
  • Courses you know you can do well in
  • New subjects
  • Subjects to help your future career plans.


  • Some level 3 courses cannot be taken unless you do the GCSE first, so be careful not to close doors on certain subjects
  • Employers, colleges and universities will look at the full range of subjects you have taken. They look favourably on a balanced spread of subjects
  • Having a spread will also prepare you for a greater range of jobs and courses. This is important if you are not sure about your future career
  • To think carefully about how choosing or dropping some subjects may affect you.

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 before deciding
  • Find out which subjects you’ll need for the careers you’re interested in
  • Check out all your options now
  • Look at careers information in school. Your subject teacher, careers adviser and careers teacher will all be glad to help.
  • Find out what you’ll learn and the skills you’ll develop in each subject. For example, if you like both history and geography and don’t know which to choose, find out what topics you’d be studying for GCSE. 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.

Qualifications 14-16:

Look in your school’s options booklet and on its website to find out more about the qualifications and subjects courses you can do in your school.

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 ( 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 or in a few subjects 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
  • The GCSE grading structure is explained in the image above.

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
  • The Government has put in place new standards for vocational qualifications that are equal to GCSEs. Vocational qualifications will be known as Technical Awards. You can study up to three Technical Awards, alongside a minimum of five GCSEs.

The Subjects:

Every subject you study will give you valuable skills and knowledge for the future.

Most of you will study these subjects:

  • English - Skills in writing and speaking are important for everyone. They are particularly important if you’re thinking of writing articles, books or software, or going into law, sales, social work, marketing or publishing. You can take both English language and English literature
  • Maths - Good skills in maths are vital if you’re considering engineering, building, a career with science, finance, or teaching. However, the minimum requirement for many jobs, is maths GCSE at grade 9-4
  • Science - All students study science. Many young people will study single science or combined science GCSE, (meaning you will have two GCSEs in science). Science GCSE and combined science GCSE are a mixture of biology, chemistry and physics.

    You should check out entry requirements for science A levels with your careers adviser. Some schools or colleges may want you to take individual science subjects.

    Most schools offer separate GCSEs in chemistry, biology and physics. These are useful if you are thinking of careers in science, technology, engineering or maths.

    Research your career ideas before choosing a science qualification. Sciences are essential for engineering, laboratory work, food science, teaching, farming and health care jobs.

Religious education, citizenship, physical education, sex education and ICT

You will study all these subjects but you may not take exams in them.

Optional subjects vary from school to school - so check which subjects and qualifications your school offers. All schools must offer at least one subject from each of these areas:

  • Arts (such as art and design, music, dance, drama)
  • Design and technology (such as food technology, resistant materials, engineering)
  • Humanities (such as history, geography)
  • Modern foreign languages (such as French, Spanish, German)
  • Vocational or work-related subjects may include: business, media studies, ICT, performing arts and others.

Check which courses and qualifications your school offers as not all schools offer all of these options. The Government is also cutting down on the number of vocational subjects on offer. Vocational qualifications that are approved will be offered by a range of exam boards such as City & Guilds, Cambridge Nationals and BTEC.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a set of subjects that the Government has said are particularly important and is used to measure how well schools are doing. If you want to study subjects that are included in the EBacc you need to take GCSEs in English, maths, geography or history, a language and two sciences, which can include computer science. In some schools, taking EBacc subjects may be compulsory.

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 - talk to the subject teachers
  • Cut down your first list to a short list
  • Think about the pros and cons of taking these

Who can I contact if I want more information?

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

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