Your choices at 14

Choosing GCSEs: compulsory and optional

GCSEs are the main qualifications that young people do in key stage 4 (usually this is in Y10 and Y11 but some schools start in Y9).

You will be able to choose some of your GCSE courses but there are some compulsory GCSE subjects that everyone has to take.

GCSEs you have to do

Some subjects are compulsory at GCSE level and have to be taken by all young people. The compulsory subjects are:

  • English (English Literature and English Language or a single English GCSE)
  • Maths
  • Science (Combined Science or Individual Sciences)

Some schools make other subjects compulsory, so it is worth checking what you are required to do at your school.

Whatever you are planning to do in the future, it is now a requirement for you to retake both maths and English GCSEs until you obtain a Grade 4 in the new GCSE grading system.

GCSEs - Optional choices

Optional subjects vary from school to school but you must be offered at least one course in each of four groups of subjects…

  • Arts
  • Design and Technology
  • Humanities
  • Modern Foreign Languages

You don’t always have to choose one subject from each area, but remember that studying a range of subjects at this stage is useful so that you have a wider range of options for later study and career choices.

Different schools offer a different range of GCSE subjects from which you can choose. Because schools are not able to offer unlimited subject combinations, it’s possible that your choices may be limited. You will need to find out what GCSE subjects and combinations are available at your school.

You can find out lots more information about GCSEs here:

New GCSE Assessment and grading changes

In recent years the Government has changed GCSEs to make them more challenging - they think this will help young people to be better prepared for further academic or vocational study, or for work.

The new GCSEs have new content and are structured, assessed and graded differently from the previous versions.

In addition to the changes to the content of GCSEs, a different approach to assessment has been introduced…

  • New GCSEs use the numbers 1 to 9 to identify levels of performance, with 9 being the top grade (old GCSEs used letters with A* being the best)
  • Exams are the main method of assessment and course content is not divided into modules
  • Exams are taken at the end of the two-year course in May or June
  • There are fewer short-answer and more essay-style exam questions

OFQUAL video - Explaining the changes to GCSE grades

New GCSE grading structure

New GCSE grade structure
New GCSE grade structure

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