Home Student & Career Tips Facts and Duration of a GCSE Course

Facts and Duration of a GCSE Course


This article contains information on the Facts and Duration of a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) Course

Facts and Duration of a GCSE Course

The General Certificates of Secondary Education are the major qualifications taken by 14- to 16 year-olds in schools and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But you can enrol in order to bag a qualification in a subject you are interested in at any age. GCSEs [1] are normally studied full time – taking two years to complete. However, adult learners can take evening classes or teach themselves. Short course GCSEs are also available in selected subjects.

There are no formal entry requirements and no age limits for GCSEs.

GCSE courses majorly involve studying the theory of a subject in conjunction with some research work. Each qualification is at Level 1 or 2 on the National Qualifications Framework, depending on the grade you attain. Highly valued by schools, colleges and employers GCSEs are the first step towards a range of careers or further study. GCSEs have been used as a benchmark to judge student ability for more than 25 years.

What does GCSE offer?

GCSE offer courses in English and Welsh schools, to year 9 and year 10 students, with the course, generally lasting until the end of the 11th year. In Northern Irish schools, to Year 11 students, this generally lasts until the end of that year or the end of the 12th year. Also available to private candidates.

Exams come up annually between May and June. A series in November is also available for mathematics and English.

GCSE was introduced as a substitute for the former O-Level (GCE Ordinary Level) and CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) qualifications.

Format of GCSE

Students usually take at least 5 GCSEs in Key Stage 4, in order to satisfy the long-standing headline measure of achieving 5 A*-C grades, including English, Mathematics, and Science. The exact qualifications taken by students vary from school to school and student to student, but schools are encouraged to offer at least one pathway that leads to qualification for the English Baccalaureate, requiring GCSEs in English language, English literature, mathematics, 2 science GCSEs, a modern or ancient language, and either history or geography.

Subject of GCSE

The list of currently available GCSE subjects is much shorter than before the reforms, as the new qualifications in England all have core requirements set by the regulator, Ofqual, for each subject. In addition, there are several subjects where only one board offers qualifications, including some that are only available in one country of the UK for that reason.

Core subjects

These are the requirements for achieving the English Baccalaureate headline measure in league tables, from 2017 onwards. The Baccalaureate itself does not garner a certificate for students. Other subjects, especially religious studies, citizenship studies, computer science, or physical education are compulsory in some schools as these subjects form part of the National Curriculum at Key Stage 4.

  • English: both English Language and English Literature.
  • Mathematics.
  • Science: GCSE Science (Biology, Chemistry etc).
  • Languages: one GCSE in a modern or ancient language
  • Modern languages: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Panjabi, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu.
  • Ancient languages: Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Latin
  • Humanities: History or Geography
Other subjects
  • Sciences and Mathematics:
  • Astronomy
  • Geology
  • Psychology
  • Statistics
  • Humanities and Social Sciences:
  • Ancient History
  • Citizenship Studies
  • Classical Civilisation
  • Religious Studies
  • Sociology
  • Philosophy
  • Business and Enterprise
  • Business Studies
  • Economics
  • Design and Technology:
  • Design and Technology
  • Electronics
  • Engineering
  • Food Preparation & Nutrition
  • Art and Design
  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Film Studies
  • Media Studies
  • Music
Other subjects:
  • Physical Education
Northern Ireland (CCEA) only:
  • Agriculture and Land Use
  • Applied ICT
  • Business and Communication Systems
  • Child Development
  • Construction and the Built Environment
  • Contemporary Crafts
  • Digital Technology
  • Further Mathematics
  • Government and Politics
  • Health and Social Care
  • Home Economics
  • Hospitality Irish
    • Irish
    • Gaeilge
    • Journalism in the Media and •Communications Industry
    • Learning for Life and Work
    • Leisure, Travel and Tourism
    • Motor Vehicle and Road User Studies
    • Moving Image Arts
    • Short Course Religious Studies
Wales (WJEC/CBAC) only:
  • Information and Communication •Technology
Welsh (compulsory in Welsh schools):
  • Welsh Language (first language)
  • Welsh Literature (first language)
  • Welsh Second Language.

GCSE results are released by the examination board in August, for the previous exam series in April to June of the same year. They are usually published one week after the A-Level results, on the fourth Thursday of August. The examination results are sent to centres due to the release to candidates and the public. Examination results are published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the main GCSE awarding organisations. Some boards/schools post results online, although many still require students to attend in-person to collect their results from the centre they sat for the exams.

Outside the UK, The international version of the GCSE is the IGCSE, which can be taken anywhere in the world and includes additional options relating to coursework and the language the qualification is pursued in. All subjects cleared in the fifth of the European Baccalaureate are generally the same to the GCSE subjects.

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education is an English language based examination synonymous to GCSE and is notable in the UK as being same to the GCSE for the purposes of recognizing due attainment. It was developed by University of Cambridge International Examinations. The examination boards Edexcel and Oxford AQA also offer their own versions of International GCSEs. Students normally begin studying the syllabus at the beginning of Year 10 and take the test at the end of Year 11. Unlike pre-2017 GCSE, coursework of any kind is not a compulsory component.

The qualifications are based on individual subjects of study, which means that one receives an “IGCSE” qualification for each subject one takes. Typical “core” subjects for IGCSE candidates include a First Language, Second Language, Mathematics and one or more subjects in the Sciences.

In the UK there has been controversy over the fairness of private school students taking the exam as an alternative to GCSE.

Fee for GCSE

The GCSE is free to students in schools. For those resitting and for private entries, this incurs variable fees, and schools pay per student entry.


[1] Everything you need to know about GCSEs. (n.d.). Learndirect.com. Retrieved December 23, 2023, from https://www.learndirect.com/pillar/everything-you-need-to-know-about-gcses

Don’t miss out on current updates, kindly like us on Facebook & follow us on  OR leave a comment below for further inquiries.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here