The Parents' Guide to Every School Year

A Parent's Guide To Key Stage 4 (GCSEs)

Year 10/11 (GCSEs)

GCSEs are a massive step up in your child’s education. The workload will increase, both in amount and complexity. Your child will also start feeling under more pressure than they ever have done previously in their school lives.

They’ll find that their social lives take a bit of a back seat, particularly towards the end of their GCSEs as the work ramps up.

They’ll also have to revise properly. Most kids won’t have done this before, and so they’ll require some guidance.

Add to this the fact that your child is going through puberty — hello moody teenagers! — and you have a cocktail of stress and anxiety.

This isn’t meant to scare you; GCSEs can also be extremely rewarding — but it’s important you and your child understand that things are going to get a little tougher over the next couple of years.

Below we’ve answered some of the common questions and concerns that parents have about their child’s GCSEs.

When should my child start revising?

There isn’t a concrete answer for this, as different kids learn in different ways. Generally speaking, cramming as much information as you can right before an exam is a bad idea. Our brains don’t retain information like that.

We would recommend that your child starts revising in January of Year 11. They’ll be refreshed after the Christmas break, and they will now have a good few months in which they can prepare.

Earlier than that and you run the risk of burnout. Later than that and you risk some last-minute cramming.

What if my child doesn’t want to revise?

Unfortunately, you can’t force your child to learn. Sure, you can lock them in a room and take away their phone, but you can’t make them actually take in the information.

Instead, you need to reinforce the importance of getting good GCSE grades, and encourage a healthy and effective approach to revision.

The best thing you can do is try to figure out why your child isn’t revising. A lot of the time it isn’t that they’re “lazy”, but that they’re scared of failing.

That fear of failure can often mean kids give up before they’ve even started.

That’s why it’s best to encourage and motivate learning in your child. Make sure they’re comfortable, reassure them that it isn’t the end of the world if they fail, and reward them after a large revision session.

Here are some other GCSE motivation tips.

What do the GCSE grades mean?

Previously, GCSEs were graded from A* to F, just like any other exam. GCSE grades, however, have recently changed to a number system.

At first glance this can be a little confusing but once you get your head round it it’ll make more sense.

GCSEs are now graded on a scale from 9 to 1.

The chart below shows how the new grading system maps to the old one.


When do GCSE exams take place?

While the exact dates can vary from year to year, GCSE exams usually take place from mid-May to mid-June.

Check with your child’s school for the exact dates.

Your child will also receive a more detailed timetable as exams approach.

When is GCSE Results Day?

The actual date of GCSE Results Day changes every year, but it’s generally the third Thursday of August.

Looking Ahead

Just in case GCSEs weren’t stressful enough on their own, your child will also have to start looking ahead to their A-Levels.

They’ll start studying for their A-Levels in Year 12 (though some schools will start preparing your child for their A-Levels after they’ve finished their GCSEs!).

That means you and your child will have a lot of things to think about towards the back-end of the GCSE period.

How many A-Levels should my child take?

Generally, kids take 3 or 4 subjects at A-Level. Universities will usually be looking for 3, and a lot of employers will assume that your child has that many as well.

Having said that, some children will take 5 A-Levels (often including General Studies) or some will take 2 if they’re struggling with the workload.

Ultimately, 3 is a good number. It won’t spread your child too thin, but it’s enough for them to apply to university.

Which A-Level subjects should my child choose?

There’s no absolute answer to this, as it largely depends on what your child wants to do after school.

If your child is wanting to study a specific course at university, then they’ll generally be expected to study that subject at A-Level. Different university courses will have different requirements, and these are usually available to your child when they do their research.

If your child isn’t going to university, but has a specific career in mind, then certain A-Levels will be more applicable than others. For a budding accountant, Maths would be a logical choice. For a wannabe English teacher, not so much.

Finally, if your child has no idea what they want to do with their lives (and that’s completely fine by the way!) then they should simply choose subjects that they enjoy and/or are good at. A-Levels are tough enough as it is, so your child might as well choose subjects they like!

When does my child choose their A-Levels?

There isn’t a national date by which your child has to choose their A-Levels. Generally, your child’s school will set their own deadline. Your child will be made aware of this well in advance.

Officially speaking, your child won’t make a concrete decision about their A-Level choices until after GCSE Results Day. That’s because there’s a chance that their GCSE results will impact their A-Level choices.

However, most kids will provisionally choose their A-Level subjects towards the end of Year 11.

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