The GCSE replaced ‘O’ Levels and CSE’s in 1988. In the UK GCSE’s are usually studied in Year 10 and 11, the last years of senior school. Students usually take a number of different subjects, some of which are compulsory and some are chosen according to the students’ strengths and interests. The exams are usually sat in the last term of year 11, although gifted pupils can often sit the exam earlier. Grades have been A* to G but will shortly be replaced by new grades 1-9. GCSE grades are usually taken into account when applying for sixth form or college courses at age 16+.
The new system of grading
The traditional A* to G grading system for GCSE will be phased out by 2019 and replaced with a new grade scale numbered 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest grade. English Language, English Literature and Mathmatics were the first to change to the new system in the summer of 2017. Another 20 subjects will have the 9 to 1 grading in 2018, with most others following in 2019.
Why are they changing?
The new qualifications are a result of a process of reform which started back in 2011 According to The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), the government department that regulates qualifications and exams, the new grades are being brought in to signal that GCSEs have been reformed and to better differentiate between students of different abilities. The new GCSE content will be more challenging, with fewer grade 9s expected to be awarded than A*s Thy will also be "linear” which means they are exam focused with all exams coming at the end of the 2-year course. This differs from the previous "modular” courses, which assessed using both exam and course work.
Comparing the two grading structures
Although there is no direct read across from the old to the new grades, grades 9,8 and 7 range from A* to A, 6,5 and 4 range from B to C and 3,2 and 1 range from D to G. The governments definition of a good pass will be set at grade 5.
IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education)
The International GCSE was first introduced approximately 25 years ago mainly for overseas pupils, with English as a second language, could take the exam. The syllabus includes coursework as well as exams, whereas the revised GCSE is now mostly exams and little coursework assessment.
Assessment takes place at the end of the course and includes written, oral, coursework and practical assessment. Grades are A*-G.
Subjects are the same as for GCSE but also include a larger variety of foreign languages.
Many independent schools now enter pupils for this exam – possibly because they have many pupils from overseas whose first language is not English- and also because a large number of schools were disappointed at how the GCSE English exam was marked in recent years with controversy over grade boundaries.
Schools will generally offer either GCSE’s or IGCSE’s so check the school website or speak to the school admissions officer for more information.