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  • Writer's pictureGuest Post

How to help your teenager choose their GCSE options

Choices, choices, choices.

It is that time – the time when your child is set to make the first, of many, important choices of their life, their GCSE options.The hardest, but probably most difficult part of this process is that you need to now let your child lead the way. Yes, help and guide them but don’t live your life through them. They will have to sit through the lessons for two maybe even three years (in some schools) submit the work and sit the exams, not you.

Learning and examinations have changed enormously since you sat them so you too will need to appreciate the changes that have happened in examinations and embrace them with your child. There is nothing worse, for anyone, but especially children to hear the dreaded….’in my day’ line. Ultimately if their heart is not in it and the ‘choice’ was forced onto them then this may well come around to bite you hard.

Whether done in an evening, online or face to face the best piece of advice is to hone your inner Scout and ‘be prepared’.


Firstly, establish which exams are the certain ones. Most schools it will include Math, English Language and Literature and Science – this maybe separate sciences or the duel award. This information should all be readily available on your school’s GCSE website – if not ask, don’t be afraid even if your child is still a year off making their choice. If the ‘options’ (read on for more information about these) are not set in stone the non-negotiable ‘core’ subjects will already be known and even having the choice from the current year will help lead your discussions until the subjects are finalised.

With the core subjects already dictated you will be able to establish how many options your child has and an idea of the subjects that are offered by the school to start working out your child’s GCSE suite of examination subjects.

Get started

Key facts to establish for all exams – you can use the core subjects as test runs:

  1. What examination board is being used? Cambridge, Edexcel or AQA for example.

  2. The code of the examination. Normally a 4-digit code that dictates the specific exams. Exams do change and there maybe two English Language exams running under the same examination board for example. It is important you know the one your child is going to be sitting as this can dictate set texts used, exam requirements and coursework etc.

Once you have this information look up the exams on the relevant examination board’s website and read through the examination specifications. Here you will find key information such as the length of the exam/s, total marks per paper or coursework element, the syllabus that your child will be learning etc. further down the line these sites you will be able to access past and specimen papers that you and your child can view including the mark schemes – invaluable for revision.

Ready to go

Start with all the optional subjects and see what you can instantly reject. Subjects your child either really does not take a shine to or that does not play to their strengths. This is where having the information about the examinations comes into play as it helps with the more creative subjects. For example, Art, Design and Music all require considerable time outside the standard lesson time and require portfolios of work/concerts it is worth discussing this prior to making the final choices. If your child is not that creative or almost too creative would all that outside work prior to the examination be too much to take on.

Loving/hating teachers…

As much as a Teacher can make all the difference and create the perfect learning environment for your child it is crucial that they do not base a choice of a subject on a certain teacher teaching them. Things change and you and the school are unable to promise that a certain teacher will remain or that your child will be in the class that they teach.

Speak to people

Speak to those that have been through the process. Get your child to speak to fellow students in the upper years to ask their honest opinion on subjects. As a parent speak to other parents that have been through the process ask for their experience. Most importantly speak to the teachers. When you are at a stage of thinking you are down to the final choices ask for a meeting with them or use your parent’s evening to discuss, with your child, how the teacher believes your child would cope studying that subject for GCSE.


Rank the choices. It would be wrong for you to think that your child can get their top picks of all subjects. Therefore, it is important that you rank the choices so you have reserves and know which subjects would replace others if their ‘first’ picks did not work. Schools use a variety of systems for GCSE options from popularity of subjects to options blocks. To avoid having to go back to the drawing board once you discover your first choices were not viable have your reserves in the wings to make this final part as painless as possible.

Future planning

If your child does have aspirations such as to be a doctor, lawyer etc. it would be worth looking into the requirements and subjects required not only for the next stage e.g. A Level but also University or further education entry requirements. It would be difficult to discover that to take Biology at A level there was a requirement for Biology as a separate Science at GCSE and have to delay or take an additional GCSE at a later stage.

Take your time

The sooner you start the easier and more pain free the process will be. GCSEs are a big milestone for your child and you as a parent. Don’t pile on the pressure embrace the process.



Charlotte Duncan,

Teacher and mother to two lovely boys


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