Choosing GCSE Topics

First and foremost, we all want our children to be happy, now and longer term. Part of a parents’ role is ensuring children have the right opportunities and options further down the line for them to achieve their potential and find a job they love, not just tolerate. One of the more important decisions they will make in an academic sense is which GCSE options to pursue. This milestone typically comes during Year 9, when they are around 13 to 14 years old. Seems scary to be thinking about what they’ll be when they grow up already? Maybe, but it’s worth putting time and effort into guiding your child at this time.

What GCSEs they study, and what grades they achieve, will affect their choice of sixth form college and what A Levels they are able to study for. They may affect eligibility for a university course; and even the universities to which they can apply. They may even impact on longer term career choices. So what do you, as a parent, need to know?

Firstly, there is a core of subjects that all pupils must study. These are largely non-negotiable:

  • Maths
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Sciences

‘Sciences’ covers physics, chemistry and biology, which can account for either three separate GCSEs or the Double Award, which equates to two GCSEs. The latter still covers the three sciences, albeit in a different way, and will not disqualify your child from studying physics, chemistry or biology to A Level, provided an appropriate level of achievement is attained.

So that fills five or six of the options. Most children will study for between eight and ten GCSEs, and the remaining slots can be filled as you and they decide. However, they must be offered at least one option in each of four so-called ‘entitlement areas’. These include the arts, design & technology, humanities, and modern foreign languages; although they aren’t obliged to select one from each of these categories. How to narrow it down? Try the following:

  • If your child has a specific university course in mind, look at university requirements and on online forums for advice on which additional subjects to take. Many universities like to see well-rounded students, so for some, a mixture of languages, an arts subject and their preferred humanities subject, either history or geography, will work well.
  • If they do not know what they want to study further at A Level or equivalent, opting for a broad range will also keep their options open. The GCSE courses will help them learn more about preferences in learning styles and strengths – for instance, design & technology subjects can be more practical; history or geography more theoretical and essay-based.
  • Does your child have a passion for particular subjects? They have to study and achieve in these subjects for two years. It will be demotivating studying for a subject they actively dislike.

What should you advise them against? Essentially, discourage decisions based on personalities such as a like or dislike of a particular teacher; or on what subjects friends are choosing. Two years is a long time in anyone’s life and situations change. Better to make a list of pros and cons, and make the decision objectively!

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