This spring, 13 and 14 year olds in Year 9 around the country will have to decide which subjects they wish to start pursuing at GCSE level in September.
I remember many years ago the day I received my GCSE subject choices form. It seemed an important and difficult task: four columns of subjects, and I was only allowed to underline one in each set.
How on earth was I going to just choose four?
And did my choices really matter?
In short: yes, it does matter which GCSE subjects you choose. From my experience, here’s why.
1. Keeping your options open
I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life (who does at 13?), and this is one piece of memorable advice my tutors gave me.
By selecting a range of subjects, especially if (like me) you’re not sure what you want to study after your GCSEs, and/or don’t know where your career path lies, you’re not shutting off other avenues you may wish to pursue later on.
Also, universities and employers tend to like individuals who display strengths in a number of areas (or “well-rounded” as many of my teachers liked to put it).
So to keep doors open for yourself, try to choose one second language, one Humanities subject, one Arts and one Social Sciences.
However this isn’t always easy, because you should also be...
2. Enjoying your GCSE studies
While keeping your options open is a good idea, it should be balanced with your enjoyment of each subject.
If you don’t actually like the subject itself, then you’re just going to end up hating every second of your classes.
Want to just pick the same subjects your mates are doing? or just the ones where you like the teacher? Don’t.
Again, this will only cause resentment further down the line.
If there are subjects on offer that you haven’t studied before, e.g. Politics, then ask the teachers for a copy of the syllabus to see what you’ll be studying, and have a chat with them to find out whether it’s a subject you might enjoy.
You don’t want to spend the next two years being miserable, so it’s important to do your research and make sure you pick subjects you’re enthusiastic about. This will keep you motivated and help you achieve the best grade you can.
Personally, I couldn’t stand French (I think my teacher may have had something to do with this, but that’s another story).
I enjoyed German though - it was easier to understand for some reason. So I plumped for this as my language choice.
3. Playing to your strengths
Some, if not most, of the kids I went to school with wanted to do as well as possible in their GCSEs.
One sure way of achieving this is to think about the subjects you’re good at - if your best attempt at Art involves drawing matchstick men, then it’s probably best to avoid chalking up an underwhelming grade.
So give yourself the chance to get the highest grades possible by choosing subjects you excel in.
Since I was born without a grain of creative or musical talent, and had no hopes of becoming the next Mozart or West End star, Art, Drama and Music were easily tossed on the rejection pile.
4. Signing up for a manageable workload
There are elements of coursework and exams in all GCSE subjects, so don’t choose too many if you do not feel academically able to study for more than 8 or 9 in total.
Your school or college will allow you to take anywhere between 4 and 9 extra subjects on top of the compulsory Maths, English and Science.
I took 10 GCSEs in all, and found the workload to be more than enough!
As well as German, I took History and Geography because I was doing quite well in them in Year 9, and really enjoyed them.
I also picked Business Studies because the syllabus sounded interesting, and wanted to study another academic subject that would challenge me.
5. It's your choice
Ignore the kids at school or college who say “it doesn’t matter - you only need to get 5 passes”. Maybe it doesn’t matter to them, but if you want to go places, your GCSE choices should be given at least some degree of thought.
Choosing your GCSE subjects may seem daunting, but hopefully this advice explains what to focus on when making your decisions.
By all means, talk to your parents, teachers, relatives, mates, etc. but remember - it's YOUR choice, and only you know what you are good at, and what you will enjoy continuing to study further for the next two years.
N.B. This post was originally published in January 2013 but has been updated to reflect recent changes.
Got any more tips you would like to add? Or any feedback on my post? Please leave your comments here or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more tips and advice on GCSEs, please see the following resources at Studential:
- Choosing GCSE Options
- GCSE Results Day
- GCSE Revision Tips
- Should I go to Sixth Form or College?
- Stepping Up From GCSEs: Top Tips For Transitioning To A Levels
- Post GCSE Options
The following websites also contain useful information about GCSE options: