Pupil in a classroom

What GCSEs should you take?

Find out how GCSEs work and how to make your choices

One of the biggest decisions you have to make in school is choosing which GCSEs to study.

It’s an exciting time. But it can also be a worrying time. How can you make sure you make the best choices? And how will the GCSEs you decide on now affect your future study and career?

In this guide, we'll look at how you can make the best decision when it comes to choosing your GCSEs. 

You can use our quick guide as a checklist when you're choosing your GCSEs, or use our detailed guide to find out more about GCSEs and what you need to consider when you choose them.

Choosing your GCSEs – quick guide

  • Ask your teachers about the deadline for picking your subjects and set it in your calendar
  • Write out the kinds of jobs, careers or kind of life you'd like to have
  • Ask yourself what about them excites yourself and write it down
  • If you know what you'd like to do, write out an ideal pathway of how you'd get here

  • Find out which subjects are compulsory for your school
  • Write down a list of compulsory classes and subjects you'd like to do based on the job, career or life you want to have
  • If you're interested in vocational courses ask your teachers what's available and find out how you can combine them with your GCSE subjects
  • Review your first choices, have you picked too little or too many? Which ones do you care about more

  • Discuss your choices with your family, teachers or other people who you trust
  • Ask your school and search online for local options evenings, careers fairs and college talks so you can learn from as many sources as you can

After each chat or event spend some time thinking over your ambitions and subject choices:

  • Has new information made you reconsider your first plan?
  • How so and for what reason?

  • Put together a final list a week before the deadline and treat it as if you've made your choices.
  • Come back to it in a couple of days. How did making the commitment make you feel? If you've had second thoughts chat about them with someone close to you.
  • Make any final changes and make sure you submit before the deadline closes.

The pathway of choosing your GCSEs

Drag and drop the text boxes at the top into the correct order to show the pathway you can follow when you're choosing what GCSEs you want to take.

Choosing your GCSEs – detailed guide

You study your GCSEs over 2 years at Key Stage 4 in school years 10 and 11, with your final exams coming at the end of year 11.

They're an important part of your education. If you've got a plan, picking the right GCSEs can help you get to where you want to be so you can do the things you care about in your life.

But your GCSEs are not the be-all and end-all. Your choices now won't necessarily narrow your future options. Think of choosing your GCSEs as a chance to study more of what you're good at or what interests you.

When to choose your GCSEs

You'll likely choose your GCSEs towards the end Year 8 or start of Year 9 when you're 12, 13 or 14.

Your school will let you know when you have to choose your options and you'll get plenty of time to think it over. 

How many GCSEs to choose

You can choose 5–12 GCSEs and your school will advise you on the number of GCSEs to take.

You generally need to take at least 5 GCSEs to go on to A levels and other forms of further education. Most colleges, universities and employers prefer people to take around 9 or 10 subjects.

Vocational courses

Some schools offer additional options in the form of vocational courses, such as BTECs, in areas like sport, science, media and business. 

Vocational means it's more of a hands-on course where you gain practical skills and knowledge, either for a particular career or for higher education.

Your school will let you know if these are an option for you and how many you can choose alongside GCSEs.

Student looking at their notes

Making your GCSE choices

When you make your choices, start by finding out which subjects you have to do (compulsory subjects) and what subject options are available to you.

Subjects you have to do

There are 3 compulsory GCSEs that everyone has to take:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science

There may also be extra compulsory subjects at your school, such as humanities or a language.

Choosing your options

Aside from your compulsory subjects, the other subjects you study is up to you.

Once you know what subjects you have to do and what options are available, think about the kind of job, career or life you'd like to have. 

If your school holds them, go along to offer options evenings, careers fairs and college talks. And start looking at college, university and career websites to get an idea of your future options and find out what qualifications you need. What GCSEs do you need to study certain subjects at college or sixth form? 

Also think about what subjects you're good at and what subjects you enjoy. These subjects are likely to make good choices, even if you're unsure of your future direction because it's more likely to lead you to a career that interests you and uses your strengths.

Consider how you'll learn and be assessed too. GCSEs aren't just exams – there's coursework and practical assessments too. You should chat with your teachers to find out how exactly you'll be marked in the subjects you might choose.

Don't pick a subject because your friend is doing it – you might not even be in the same class.

Getting help

It’s important to make your own decisions, but it’s also wise to get opinions from an older brother or sister, parent or carer, or teacher – someone who knows you and can give you good advice.

You can also ask your school if they run any options evenings, careers fairs or college talks so you can learn more about your choices.

It's worth looking at college, university and career websites to get an idea of your future options too. If you want to work in a particular industry like engineering or childcare, focus on subjects that you might need.

Finding that extra info will help you figure out which subjects you'll need to go on to college, university or another vocational course.

Ways your parents can help

Parents and carers can be a great help when it comes to choosing your GCSEs.

They can offer you advice and support so you can come to the best decision for you. Your GCSEs are the first of some important steps you'll take over the next few years. Having your parents on board can make things a lot easier. So it's best to sit down and talk with them about what you want and the kind of help you'd like.

Your parents or carers can help by:

  • Listening to your thoughts and ideas about the future and finding out more information about how you can get there.
  • Offering their advice and opinion on your options but remembering that they're there as a guide, not to make your choices for you.
  • Reading all the literature and information available from your school, other websites, colleges and universities so you're all well equipped for how your choices can help you in the future.
  • Helping you write your pros and cons lists if you're struggling to decide between a few different subjects
  • Taking you to school options evenings, careers fairs and college open days so you can hear from knowledgeable people
  • Encouraging you to go to university events – many universities run free outreach events so you can see if it's right for you

If you're not sure what to do

It’s OK if you’re unsure about what GCSEs choose. 

In this case, it’s a good idea to pick a broad range of subjects – including some you really enjoy – to keep your options open.

If you're interested in science then you could take any or a combination of:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

If you're a more creative type you could take subjects such as:

  • Art and Design
  • Design and Technology
  • Music
  • Drama

Or if you want to work with people from around the world taking a modern foreign language can be super helpful. Each school is different but you could take subjects like:

  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Mandarin

If you're still not sure, go with your gut feeling. By the end of your GCSEs, you'll probably have a much better idea of what you enjoy and what your career path could look like.

GCSE grades

Once you've completed your GCSE exams you'll be given a final grade from 1 to 9, with 9 being the top grade.

You might be more familiar with the past grading system of A to U. Use the table below to see how the past grades compare to the new ones.


Old grades New grades
  9
A* 8
A 7
B 6
C 5 (strong pass)
4 (standard pass)
E 3
F 2
1
U   U

Other articles you might like

This site uses cookies. Click here to view our cookie policy message.

Accept and close