GCSEs - Level 1 and 2

Students 18plus 040GCSEs - General Certificate of Education

GCSEs are the qualifications most young people take in Years 10 and 11 - Key Stage 4. They are usually studied over two years but in some schools  GCSEs start in Year 9.
  • GCSEs are offered in a range of subjects such as, history, geography, French, design as well as English, maths and science. These are currently graded 9-1 or A*-G - see below for more about the grade changes.
  • Some schools offer Applied GCSEs in vocational subjects such as engineering, business, and health and social care. 
  • To start a GCSE you don’t usually need any qualifications.
  • A small number of additional marks will be awarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar for GCSE English literature, geography, history and religious studies. 

Having good grades in GCSEs will increase your career options, particularly if you can pass enough to reach Level 2 - 5 GCSEs at grade 9-4 or A*-C.


Case study


"You have to be really careful choosing your options because the subjects you pick that day, are the subjects you'll be doing for the remaining years in high school. Make sure your options are based on the subjects you see yourself making exceptional progress in and of course, the subjects you enjoy". Tariq (69kb PDF).

Read more from Tariq

There have been changes to GCSEs in England:

  • Year 11 students taking English language, English literature and maths GCSEs in 2017 will be awarded grades 9 to 1.
  • New GCSEs in other subjects were introduced in September 2016 for students in Year 10 taking exams in 2018.
  • Assessments for most new GCSE subjects are by exam only, which are taken at the end of the course.
  • The last GCSE changes will be introduced in September 2017 for students taking exams in 2019.
  • There are different assessment/criteria for GCSEs in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Students taking 'new' GCSEs will get one of nine grades - 9 to 1 (rather than one of eight grades A* to G) or they will be unclassified (U), which means they will not get a GCSE qualification.

  • Grade 9 is the highest grade.
  • For many jobs you should aim to get a grade 4 or higher.
  • Grade 4 and grade 5 are equivalent to the 'old' grade C. Grade 4 is a standard pass and is the minimum grade many employers look for. Grade 4 is also the pass mark required for learners not to have to re-sit maths and English post-16. Grade 5 is a 'strong pass'.
    See the grade comparison chart on GOV.UK

Look on GOV.UK for facts about the reforms, including a timetable of when individual subjects change.

Some schools offer:

  • The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) a set of subjects used by Government and universities to measure how well schools are doing. Subjects included in the EBacc are GCSEs in English, maths, geography or history, a language and two sciences – which can include computer science.
  • IGCSEs are internationally recognised and are similar to GCSEs. See Cambridge International Examinations for more information.

Adult Education offers one year part-time GCSEs in maths and English.

Look on GOV.UK for more information on the reforms to GCSEs and A levels.


Page updated April 2017

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