GCSE Parents' Guide

A Guide To GSCE Examinations For Parents 

Successful GCSE examination results can provide your child with positive foundations upon which to build their future career and pursue higher education. In order to help your child achieve their full academic potential, here is a guide to GCSE Examinations. This guide will help consolidate your knowledge of the basic principles behind GCSEs as well as offering helpful revision techniques and examinations advice which can help your child succeed.

GCSE Examinations

  1. The Fundamental Principles of GCSE Examinations- a comprehensive explanation of the GCSE framework and the examination boards which moderate them,
  2. Changes To GCSE Examinations- information regarding the recent changes to the GCSE curriculum and how they may affect your child,
  3. Revision Techniques- some helpful educational processes and revision techniques which you can utilise to help your child prepare effectively for their upcoming examinations,
  4. Examination Advice- information about GCSE examinations procedure and a list of the equipment your child will need to take into their examinations with them.

1. The Fundamental Principles of GCSE Examinations

GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education and comprises of a two year academic study course which culminates in a series of summer examinations.

 Students are required to study ‘core’ subjects, such as English and Maths, which are then supplemented by their own choice of optional subjects. There are currently over 45 different GCSE subjects provided by a variety of different examination boards, ranging from Art, History, Geography and Sciences to more specialised subjects such as Ancient History, Latin and Engineering.

GCSEs are part of the National Qualifications Framework and at the end of the two-year course, candidates receive a grade for each subject upon which they have been examined. The pass grades, from highest to lowest for GCSEs are as follows: A* A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Grade U (ungraded/unclassified) is issued when students have not achieved the minimum standard to achieve a pass grade; the subject is then not included on their final certificate.

There are five examination boards which offer GCSEs, listed as follows:

All of these examination boards are self-sufficient organisations which are regulated by the Office of the Regulators of Qualifications (Ofqual) – a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Education. The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) acts as a single voice for the awarding bodies and assists them to create common standards, regulations and guidance.

Students receive their GCSE results in the fourth week of August (the week after A Level results). Traditionally, students go to their school to collect their results, although Edexcel allow for the option of an online results service.

2. Changes To GCSE Examinations

All pupils sit exams at the end of their two-year courses.  

Key structural features of the new GCSEs, as confirmed by confirmed by Ofqual, include:

  • A new grading scale: this system will use the numbers 1–9 in order to identify their levels of performance. 9 is regarded as the top level, and in the eventuality that a student’s performance is below the minimum required to pass a GCSE, they will receive a U,
  • Tiering: according to Ofqual, tiering will only be used for subjects ‘where untiered papers will not allow students at the lower end of the ability range to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, or will not stretch the most able’. English literature and English language will be untiered. Maths will be tiered with an ‘improved overlapping tiers model’, with a foundation tier covering grades 1-5 and a higher tier covering grades 4–9,
  • Linear GCSEs: all assessments will now be taken at the end of the course in the Summer. Re-sit opportunities in November will be available for English language and maths only,
  • Assessment by external exam: this will be the only method of assessment, will the removal of assessments such as coursework,
  • The first assessment of new two-year GCSE courses which start in September 2015 will be in June 2017,
  • New GCSEs in the sciences, history and geography, as well as languages, are scheduled to begin teaching in September 2016 with first assessment taking place in 2018. 

The content of these new GCSEs, as announced by the DfE, features:

  • Maths: this subject will be adapted to focus primarily on solving problems which require multi-step solutions. New topics will also be introduced such as ratio and proportions. Furthermore, students will be expected to learn key mathematical formulae by heart,
  • English Language: students will be required to study a wide range of texts and more emphasis will be placed upon spelling, punctuation and grammar. Previous ‘set texts’ will no longer be followed,
  • English Literature: this subject will no longer be compulsory. Moreover, its content will be adapted to focus upon four areas of ‘classic literature’ with the additional requirement of ‘unseen texts’ in the examinations.
  • History: weight given to Britsh History will increase from 25% to 40%. Students will study three eras: Medieval (500 - 1500), Early Modern (1450 - 1750). Modern (1700 to present day).
  • Geography: students will study geography of the UK in greater depth. Fieldwork will be compulsory with questions about the fieldwork included in the final exams.
  • Languages: all questions will be asked in the respective foreign language.

3. Revision Techniques


Efficient and well structured revision is the most important preparation your child can do in order to ensure their success in GCSE examinations. It is important that you work with your child to assess their academic weaknesses and strengths in order to carry out these revision sessions effectively.


In order to organise productive revision sessions which cater to your child’s specific academic needs, it is helpful if you can ascertain your child’s preferred learning style. It has been scientifically proven that there are seven different learning styles, listed as follows;

  • Visual (spatial): the use of pictures or images to remember and recall information,
  • Aural (auditory-musical): the use of sound and music to remember and recall information,
  • Verbal (linguistic): the use of words, both in speech and writing, to understand and impart information,
  • Physical (kinaesthetic): the use of physical actions to assimilate information, for example- associating facts or figures with body or hand gestures,
  • Logical (mathematical): the preferred use of logic, reasoning and systems to assimilate information,
  • Social (interpersonal): working best in groups or with other people,
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): preferring to work alone and use self-study.

As a result, it is important that you introduce your child to a diverse range of revision practices in order to ascertain which method is most effective for them at retaining knowledge. Popular revision techniques include; mind mapping; flash cards; making notes; drawing flow charts and diagrams. You could instruct your child on how to turn diagrams and pictures into words, and words into diagrams. Try as many different methods as possible to see which is most successful for your child’s learning style.

After revising a topic, it is crucial that you test your child to see whether their learning style has worked. There are a plethora of  valuable online functions, such as  past paper archives and revision tools and resources, which you can access in order to test your child’s knowledge. By doing so you can help to consolidate their confidence in their own academic abilities.

Secondary schoolteacher and Revise UK tutor Sally Sim advocates the importance of creating a comprehensive revision structure for your child. She states;

“Oral exams for languages are early on, so during Easter you should be prioritising those at the expense of whatever exam comes last, whether it’s religious studies or history…Work out your timetable so once you’re past that date you can ditch the subject and put a later one into that slot.” In order to find out your child’s exam dates, you can contact your school or search online via education.gov.uk/comptimetable.

When creating a revision timetable, it is fundamental that you prioritise topics which your child finds difficult. By visiting the examination board websites for each GCSE subject, you and your child can access curricula, marking schemes and example answers from previous exam years, complete with the original examiner’s annotations and marks. By doing so, you can create an efficient revision timetable which actively targets problematic subjects and allocates time towards developing a comprehensive understanding of these topics.

4.Examination Advice

During your child’s examination period, it is crucial that they are equipped with the necessary equipment in order to perform well during their exams. It is also important that they are completely aware of examination procedures, rules and regulations.

Listed below are the types of equipment your child will need to bring into their examinations with them, as well as a list of the prohibited items which they must leave at home:

  • Equipment: upon entering an examination, it is necessary for your child to be equipped with; pens, pencils, ruler, rubber, pencil sharpener, highlighters and spares, all of which must be visible within a clear pencil case or bag. Calculators are allowed for all examinations with the exception of the Maths non-calculator paper. It is worthwhile you check your child’s calculator works and has new batteries before entering the examination as it is not guaranteed that spares will be provided,
  • Prohibited items: the following items are NOT allowed to be taken into examination conditions; Mobile phones, IPods, MP3/4 players, reading pens, calculator cases or lids, all electronic communication or storage devices, correcting pens, fluid or tape. As students enter the room, these items are collected and a warning about unauthorised materials is read out. After this stage, if these items are found in your child’s possession they risk disqualification from that subject award. Items which have been collected as students enter the room are stored in the exam room by the invigilators and students can collect them after the examination. However, it is advisable that students do not bring any unnecessary equipment or items into school when sitting an examination,
  • Examination timetables: ensure that your child has copies of their examination timetable. This document will inform them of their seat numbers as well as acting as form of identification when they enter each examination,
  • Ink colour: it is advised that students write in black ink due to exam scripts being scanned and marked online. Black ink is more visible than other inks or pale coloured gel pens and reduces the risk of your child losing marks due to illegible handwriting or ink discrepancies,
  • Food and Drink: neither food nor fizzy drinks are allowed during examinations. Students are allowed to take in water, but it must be in a clear water bottle with all of the labels removed,
  • Illness or injury: if your child sustains an injury which impedes their writing skills, such as breaking their arm, inform the school as soon as possible and a scribe will be provided. If a student is too ill to sit an exam they may still be able to receive a grade,  provided that they have completed 35% of the assessment for the course. If this is the case for your child, you must contact the Exams Office immediately and present confirmation from a doctor of the precise nature of the illness at the time of each exam. The Exams Office will need to know when the illness started and how long it lasted in order to assess the validity of each claim,
  • Any issues during the examination: ultimately, if there are any problems during the exam, students can report these issues to the examination invigilator who will deal with the situation and provide the necessary help.
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