What are my GCSE options?

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Knowing what GCSE subjects to take in Year 9 can be tough. There are a range of subjects, so what exactly are your options? How should you decide which GCSE subjects are the best ones to take? How will the GCSE options available to you affect your future?

If you’re at the stage where you need to look at your GCSE options then this blog post is for you. We’ve put together this guide to help you choose GCSE subjects that will help you in your future career.

‘Thinking about your future career goals will help you choose your GCSE subjects’

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First, check out this video we made about what GCSE subjects you should choose:

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What are GCSEs?

GCSEs are qualifications that school children in the UK study towards when they’re 14 years old or in Year 10. GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education and chosen subjects are studied over two years with final exams taking place in Year 11. After choosing their GCSE options and completing their qualifications, school students are then able to decide whether they want to leave school education or continue studying towards A-level qualifications. Students have to stay in education or training till they're 18, although training could be an apprenticeship course taken as part of a paid job.

What GCSEs do I need to find a job?

When it comes to finding a job, most employers will look at your GCSE qualifications to see if the subjects that you studied are relevant to the type of work that they do. Although every job is different, most companies will expect you to have at least 5 GCSEs including English, Maths and Science from levels A to C. In some cases, students leave secondary school with 10 GCSEs or more.

The more further education (eg A-levels) or higher education (eg a degree) qualifications you have, the less important your GCSEs will be. However, it's impossible to know what the future holds so it's important to work towards the best GCSE results you can achieve.

What GCSE subjects are compulsory?

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Most employers look for 5 GCSEs, grades A to C

Although you do get to choose most your GCSE options, there are some subjects that are compulsory. These are known as core GCSE subjects and include:

  • Maths
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Welsh (if you live in Wales)
  • Sciences (either single, double or triple science)

The core science GCSE subjects are biology, physics and chemistry. You need to choose at least one core science subject as part of your options but you also have the opportunity to choose all 3.

You also have to do foundation subjects:

Although these are the main compulsory subjects, some schools do make other GCSE subjects compulsory, so you should double check with your school if there are any other subjects that you need to take in addition to the ones above.

What optional GCSE subjects can I take?

Optional GCSE subjects vary from school to school. Some subjects may be restricted, whereas others may not be offered at all. In some cases, if you really want to study a subject that your school doesn’t offer, you may be able to take the subject elsewhere like at college or in another school. In most cases, you’ll need to take at least one subject from the following four groups:

If you have a particular career in mind, you should do some research into what subjects employers in that industry look for. If you’re considering staying on at school to study A-levels, then you should also think about what subjects you’ll want to study then, as some schools require you to have taken a subject at GCSE level if you want to study it later at A-level.

If however, like most students in Year 9, you still don’t know what career you’d like to have, then you may want to consider keeping your options open. Sometimes, studying a range of different subjects can be a good way for you to decide what sort of career you’d like when you leave school.

For example, if you find that you really enjoy languages, then you might consider a career in tourism, or if you find that you love geography, you might want a career that allows you to travel.

GCSEs have changed

Over the last few years, the government has made some changes to subjects that will affect your GCSE options. These changes have more or less been phased in now (2020), and for a timeline of the changes, you can check out the information provided on the AQA website.

Here is a video we made which explains the changes briefly:

In brief, some of the changes that are taking place include:

Changes to subjects

Maths: GCSE maths will have more of a focus on problem solving and encouraging students to follow logical steps. There will also be more emphasis on remembering formulae.

English language: Replaces what used to be known simply as "English". This new course will focus on encouraging students to read a wide variety of high-quality literature and non-fiction texts from a range of genres from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

English literature: Studying literature will no longer be compulsory at GCSE level but studying English language will. The new literature course will focus on "classic" literature and unseen texts will also be added to the exam.

The new English literature and English language courses were introduced in September 2015.

Changes to grades

From 2017, maths, English literature and English language have been graded 9 to 1 instead of A*-G:

New grades

Old grades

9 A*
8 A* / A
7 A
6 B
5 C / B
4 C
3 E / D
2 F / E
1 G / F

These grades were extended to other subjects in 2018 and 2019.

GCSE options have also become more "linear", with more focus on the exams themselves rather than ongoing coursework. Students can only be take exam resits in English and maths.

How should I choose my GCSE subjects?

There’s no "right" way to choose your GCSE options, but it does help if you think about your future when making your decisions. For example, if you know whole-heartedly that you want to be a doctor, then choosing subjects related to that job like physics, chemistry and biology will certainly be useful.

What career do I want to have?

You should also consider whether your chosen career will require you to get more qualifications in the future. For example, in order to become a doctor, you’ll also need to have A-levels and then go on to study medicine at university. Although it may seem like a long way away, you might want to consider what qualifications you’ll need to get into university (if that’s your plan) because the subjects you take at GCSE level could have an impact.

Should I keep my GCSE options open?

On the other hand, if you don’t have a clue what career you want in the future (like most students in Year 9, 10 and 11), then you should probably aim to keep your options open. Studying a range of subjects will provide you with a good overview of different topics and different ways of studying, which can help you identify what subjects you’re best at. Talk to your careers advisor to see if you can get a feel for what kind of career you might like to do.

Should I take the same GCSE subjects as my friends?

A lot of students make the mistake of choosing the same subjects as their friends. Although being in the same classes as your friends has its advantages, you should bear in mind that everybody is different and everyone has subjects that they’re better at than others. Just because your friends are taking a certain subject, that doesn’t mean that you should take it too.

Should I choose my GCSEs based on my teachers?

Although it can be tempting to choose your subjects based on what teacher you might get, we suggest that you resist. Everyone has their favourite teachers but there’s no guarantee of who you’ll get for your GCSEs. You should base your decisions on the subject itself rather than the teacher who will be teaching you.

How will my GCSEs affect my future?

Graduate celebrating
The GCSE subjects you choose can help you find your future

As a general rule, the more qualifications you gain throughout your life, the less important your GCSE options become. For example, if you end up studying at university and gaining a degree, potential employers are more likely to be interested in what you studied there, rather than what you studied when you were 16.

However, everyone’s career path is different and you might decide that continuing in academic education just isn’t for you. If this is the case, you’ll want to have the best GCSE qualifications you can get in subjects that are most relevant to what you want to do.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that if you do leave school after your GCSEs, there nothing stopping you from going back into education in the future to study for A-levels.

Hopefully, after reading this post, you’ll have a better idea of what GCSE options are available to you. Take a look at the articles below if you need more help.

You might also like...

What options do I have after taking my GCSE exams?

How important are GCSEs?

What are A-levels?

Should I take triple science GCSE?

Image credits

Wellington College, Tychay, Ralph and Jenny




  • TobySavage
  • mitesh
    7 years agomitesh:

    Hi - there are certain subjects like maths and English which every student has to take. They give you very useful skills whichever career you end up in. If you can pick subjects that you enjoy and that will provide you skills with a career you want to pursue in the future then that would be ideal. So to be a sports person, you might consider doing PE, however you can be very good at a sport and not do PE. The best thing would be to read our Sport and Fitness career zone and speak to your careers advisor, who will be able to give you some more direct advice. 0 Like Report

  • Kailey36269
    7 years agoKailey36269:

    If you want a career that involves your interests and you need to take subjects that you have never studied before should you still take those subjects or not? Furthermore the fact that you don't like a subject and you need to take for your GCSE what should you do...? Not take that subject or give a try..? For example I want to become a sports person in the future and it said that you'll need to take IT and achieve an A-C in your GCSE to go further on, however I've not done IT before... so what shall I do? I'm not sure what to pick for my GCSE subjects..??? 0 Like Report

  • Art31099
    7 years agoArt31099:

    You may hear your teachers talking about The English Baccalaureate (EBacc). It is made up of five academic subjects: English, maths, history or geography, the sciences and a language. The government judges the school's performance on how many students ach 0 Like Report

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