How exams are changing header graphicHow exams are changing header graphicIn association with WJEC, Pearson Edexcel, AQA and OCRIn association with WJEC, Pearson Edexcel, AQA and OCR
We have worked with UK exam boards and the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) to produce this guide. The JCQ represents the UK's six largest exam boards.
Your GCSE courses are changing.


That includes what’s taught as well as how your work is marked and graded. Everything is changing, but it’s not all happening at once.

It's important to get your head around what's happening, so we've put together this simple guide to take you through all the changes.

We put questions from the TSR community to Michael Turner, director general at JCQ, to get all the detail on how GCSE course changes will affect you.

How are GCSE courses changing? Are they harder?

The content of new GCSE courses has changed - but that doesn't mean they are necessarily more difficult.


The idea is that they will test your knowledge in a different way, giving you more opportunity to show off your analytical skills and preparing you better for A-levels.

"The reformed GCSEs will maintain the high standards of the UK education system," says Turner. "The course content has been updated to meet the needs of UK industry and the modern workplace. They are not necessarily harder or easier than legacy specification GCSEs, but they are different.

"The new GCSE courses are going to include more detailed and analytical content so students will be able to show a wider range of skills and knowledge and really show what they can do.

"For example there will be more reading in English literature and more topics to study in maths.

"The government believes that a good reformed GCSE grade will show that you have more skills and knowledge than the previous exams and will equip you better to progress to A-levels or other further education."

To check the detail for a specific subject, the best place to look is the relevant exam board’s website where you can look at each course specification.



When do all these changes happen?

They’re happening now. If you're doing GCSEs now, you’re already studying some of these new courses.


"The first reformed English language, English literature and maths GCSEs will be sat in England in the summer of 2017," says Turner.

"Students receiving their GCSE results in August 2017 will see a mixture of A*-G and 9 to 1 grades on their statement of results.

"The second phase started in autumn 2016 and first awards in these subjects will be summer 2018.

"The final phase of reformed 9 to 1 GCSE subjects will be available for first teaching from the start of September 2017."

More on GCSE exam changes:

How GCSE exam assessment is changing

From A* to 9: how GCSE grades are changing

How GCSE resits and reviews are changing

Back to exam reform home page

Can I do the new GCSEs in one year?

While this is theoretically possible, it would be very tough. The courses are designed to be taken over two years and some schools are teaching them over three.

"The qualifications are designed as two-year courses," says Turner. "Students must enter 100% of the assessment in the final examination series when they claim certification.

"Since June 2014 all GCSE qualifications which are available in England are assessed terminally, with students taking all their assessment units at the end of the course. If you have any questions about the length of a course, speak to your school or college."

What if I live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?

Students in Scotland are unlikely to be affected as they don’t study GCSEs.

In Northern Ireland and Wales, GCSE courses are being reformed but to a different timescale than in England.

"Students in Northern Ireland and in Wales will find that their reformed qualifications are introduced on a different schedule and grading may look different," says Turner.

That means that in Northern Ireland the A* - G grading is being retained but A* will reflect the English grade 9 and there will be a new grade of C* which will be the equivalent of the new English grade 5.

For students in Wales the A*-G grading will remain unchanged. Students in state schools will follow WJEC specifications in Welsh, English and maths but schools will have the option to select other GCSE courses from any board.

More on GCSEs in Wales

More on GCSEs in Nothern Ireland

Will I be disadvantaged if I move from one country to another in the UK?

No. Arrangements have been made to prevent any kind of disadvantage in this circumstance. Check with your school if this affects you.


"Despite the differences between the education systems in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, a regulatory framework has been agreed to ensure the qualifications and grades of students wishing to cross a national border to continue their education, and/or to enter the workplace will be understood by FE Colleges, HE institutions (universities) and employers," says Turner.