GCSEs and your options

What are GCSEs?

As I’m sure you all know, GCSEs are academic qualifications that are studied over a two year period, throughout Year 10 and Year 11. GCSEs changed a few years ago, and grading is now based on numbers rather than letters. These grades range from 1 – 9, with 9 being the highest you can achieve.

You can see in the table below where GCSEs fit into your overall education. As Level 2 qualifications, you must sit your GCSEs in order to progress to further education (Level 3).

Why are GCSEs important?

You’ll hear people say ‘your GCSEs are so important’ a lot over the next few years. Although you may not understand it now, you’ll soon realise that these qualifications are extremely important both in terms of the subjects you choose, and the grades you get. Your GCSEs will have an impact on a lot of the decisions you make after you leave school – for example the sixth from/college you attend, the subjects you can study at Level 3, the subjects you can study at higher education and university, and the career you can go into. We’re going to look at this in more detail below…

  1. GCSEs can determine the sixth form/college you go to… All school 6th forms and colleges have entry requirements. These are minimum grades that you must achieve in order to go on to study at that place. They use entry requirements and your GCSE results as an indicator of how well you will do in your A-Level or other advanced studies, and as you may go to a sixth form/college that you’ve never been to before, this will be the only information they have about you.
  2. GCSEs can affect which subjects you are able to study in further education… For some further education courses, you must have already studied specific subjects at GCSE – e.g. you need to have taken GCSE French to do a French A level. This is to ensure you have the right amount of knowledge in the subject, to begin the next level of teaching. Some sixth forms and colleges will specify the grade you must have got at GCSE in order to do it at A-Level too!
  3. GCSEs are used to assess whether you are suitable for a higher education course…Universities and higher education providers will look at your GCSE and A Level or other Level 3 results when deciding if you have the academic ability to succeed on one of their courses. Most higher education providers will look for at least a 4/5 grade in English and Maths; and some will specify the grade you must have got in a specific subject at GCSE, in order to study with them.
  4. GCSEs can affect the career that you end up doing… Once you’ve finished your A Levels and/or completed your degree, employers will sometimes still look at your GCSE’s. They are part of your educational journey, and are therefore sometimes included on CVs and applications. Certain professions will require certain grades at GCSE level (particularly English and Maths!).


Choosing Your GCSEs

Choosing your options can be a very exciting time! It’s the first time you’ll have had any choice in what you learn, and knowing that you won’t have to continue studying some non-core subjects that you’ve not liked or found difficult throughout school. However, as we’ve seen in the previous section (‘Why are GCSEs important?), these decisions are very important. You must be sensible, realistic and take your time to research and really think about them before finalising any choices.

Watch this video – by the National Careers Service – to get a good understanding of your GCSE subjects, and what you should/shouldn’t do.


  • Choose something that you enjoy – you’re going to be studying these subjects for the next 2 years (at least) – and if you enjoy it, you’re more likely to do well.
  • Choose something that you’re good at – if you’re good at something, you’re more likely to enjoy it, and keep yourself motivated.
  • Talk to others about your decisions – you have people around you that are there to support your decision making, and it’s really useful to talk to them about your options (teachers, careers advisors, parents, carers, siblings, friends) – they shouldn’t make your decision for you, but can be a great source of advice and alternative perspectives.
  • Research into your goals and ambitions – if you know vaguely what you want to do as a career, what you want to study at university, or even what you want to do at A-Level, then you should research into this course/profession and ensure that you are taking the relevant GCSE subjects.
  • Keep your options open – if you aren’t sure about what you want to do after your GCSEs, then choose subjects that will open doors for you, whatever you decide to do after school. A good balance of different subjects will keep future options open, give you a good overview, and will help you realise what you are best at for decisions later in your education.


  • Choose something because your friends are – although this may make your lessons more fun, having your friends around won’t help you when you have to sit an exam in that subject. It’s therefore important not to choose something simply because others around you are. It also means that when you see your friends outside of lessons, you’ll have more to talk about, and you may even make new friends!
  • Choose something because you like the teacher – you may not have the same teacher next year, and without that teacher, will you still enjoy the subject? Teachers will leave schools, or may not teach you when you change year groups, so you should never base your decisions on the teacher.
  • Choose something you don’t like, because someone told you to – it’s great to get advice and support from other people, but it’s also important that you are the one to make the final decision, as you’re the one that will be studying the subject!
  • Choose a subject because you think it’ll be easy – no subjects are easy, so don’t pick a subject for this reason!


Now we’ve focused on why your GCSEs are important, let’s start to think more about your future beyond GCSEs and even A Levels or BTECS. Click on the boxes below to see how higher education can help you improve your skills in the future. 

Higher education and skill development

How does higher education help improve your skills?

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