Guidance for Year 10 Pupils and Parents

What is GCSE?

GCSE stands for the General Certificate of Secondary Education.  At Key Stage 4 GCSE is the main means of assessing attainment.

Who are GCSE subjects for?

You!  They are designed as two-year courses of study for students primarily in Years 11 and 12.

When do I take my GCSE subject exams?

The usual age to sit the end-of-course exams is 16, but there are no hard and fast rules.  You can take it before or after that age; for example, some students will sit GCSE exams at the end of Year 11 but in general the exams are normally taken in May and June at the end of Year 12. Most subjects have modular exams and course work such as Mathematics, History and Technology to name a few.


What are Applied and Vocational GCSEs?

Vocational and Applied GCSEs, are qualifications that:

  • relate to work in a particular vocational area, such as business, ICT or technology
  • are a mix of theory and practical activities
  • can be mixed and matched with other GCSEs and a variety of different courses
  • are mainly assessed by coursework.

Why do I need to take GCSE subjects?

Sixteen is an important ‘decision making’ point in every young person’s life.  GCSE’s provide the stepping stones as you make your decision regarding what you will do at this crucial stage of your life. You may choose to stay on here at the College and continue your studies at AS/A2 level in the hope of gaining a place at University/Higher education.  Alternatively you may decide to leave school, take a job, start on a training placement or go to another institute of learning to pursue different courses.


How are GCSEs graded?

GCSE certificates are awarded for achievement at grades A* – G.  Grades A*, A, B and C are regarded as the grades that pupils must aim for in order to consider studying them at A-level.  To study a subject at A-level in St. Killian’s College, a pass at grade A*, A or B is usually required.

What is coursework?

Coursework is work that is integral to the course.  It is done in class and at home and is closely supervised by teachers.  It can take various forms such as assignments in Science, practical and project work in Art and Technology, and compositions in Music. Throughout your two years of study for GCSEs your teachers will set specific coursework for you to do. Your teachers will mark these topics and the marks will go towards your final GCSE results.

Why is coursework necessary?

There are many skills that can’t be tested by the traditional written exam – practical and oral skills.  Coursework gives you the chance to demonstrate the many abilities you have and so makes the final mark you receive much fairer.

Which skills and abilities are tested through coursework?

Your coursework assesses your ability to research, collect, compare and organise information; work in a group and make accurate records; use your powers of observation through laboratory and field work; plan and organise a long piece of work; use apparatus and machinery; communicate – and that means to listen as well as to talk; discuss, investigate, plan and design.  These are exactly the vocationally related skills that employers value.

Coursework also encourages students to work independently and assists in their preparation for higher level studies, such as A/AS levels.

It sounds as though I am going to have to take a lot of exams?

It depends on how you look at it.  Your ability will be tested throughout the two years – but your coursework performance will in some cases enable you to go into the examination well on your way to a good grade.

What if eight different teachers give coursework at the same time?

It is unlikely that this ‘scenario’ will arise as the teachers submit  proposed deadline dates and a timetable is drawn up.  If you can manage your time efficiently, you will have few problems with coursework.

Coursework is to your advantage!

GCSE has been widely praised for allowing candidates to demonstrate what they know, understand and can do.  Coursework allows a wider range of skills to be assessed than is possible in a written examination.  Evidence suggests that coursework assessment has the effect of increasing candidates’ motivation.


  • If you are a good communicator you will have the chance to prove it;
  • If you are a painstaking perfectionist you will have the time to perfect your work and so earn marks for it;
  • If you are a thinker you will have time to think;
  • If you are a problem solver you will get time to find the solution;


How to choose the right subjects

Because young people frequently change their ideas at this stage, most schools have put some restrictions on their choice of subjects ensuring that you keep your options open by not specializing too narrowly at an early stage.


Use the following guidelines to help you make your decisions:


(a)    The College’s subject requirements


(b)   Subjects that you like


(c)    Subjects that you are good at


(d)   Subjects that you may need for your career


(e)    Subjects that keep your options open


(f)     What your teachers say


(g)    What parents and friends say


What questions should I ask my teachers?

Your teachers will see it as part of their responsibility to see that you are entered for the most appropriate subjects and syllabuses available.  So, before opting for, or committing yourself to any course, make sure that you ask each subject teacher:



  • How much reading and writing is involved?


  • How much coursework is involved?


  • What percentage of the marks is given for coursework?


  • Is there an oral test?


  • Will I have to gather information for myself?


  • Are options involved?


  • What practical skills are involved?


  • How much laboratory or fieldwork is involved?


Armed with this information, you should be well placed to make your GCSE decisions.

Good Luck!