GCSE Results Day (20th August 2015): Some plain and simple advice…

Last week was A-level results day, and that can be very stressful – students who failed to meet their offer usually will either have to re-sit their A-levels, or will have to find an alternative (easier) course. Many of those students will have to make a dramatic change in their career direction as a result…

GCSE results day isn’t usually so dramatic. Students will be firstly looking to see that they achieved good grades in the subjects they want to take at A-level. Many schools and colleges will stipulate that you must have a grade ‘B’ or above if you want to carry on a subject to A-level. That’s pretty good advice. In maths, if you struggled to achieve a grade ‘B’ at GCSE, then you are highly likely to find yourself completely out of your depth with the larger and more demanding syllabus and the greater pace of learning at A-level. Maths learning is cumulative; so any weakness at the GCSE level will present itself again during A-level study.

At Math’scool, we generally ask for a student to have achieved an ‘A’ or ‘A*’grade at GCSE to join our A-level course. There are of course exceptions, but to count yourself as an exception, you need a clear reason why you underperformed…

Secondly, students will be thinking ahead to their university applications, which will be made in just over a year’s time. The top universities will expect mainly A*/A grades at GCSE. The most popular courses (not necessarily the most difficult ones) at the top universities will require almost a full hand of A*s. If you’ve achieved that, then you can start thinking about the most competitive courses.

Looking in detail at your UMS scores and looking at the grade boundaries issued by the exam boards (Edexcel’s GCSE Grade Boundaries) – if you find you were just a few UMS below the grade boundary for a higher grade, then it is definitely worth paying to getting your paper remarked. Generally speaking, marks tend to vary more in subjective GCSEs (like English) than in objective GCSEs (like maths); but we still find students seeing an increase of up to 6 UMS in maths. Remember, when you get your paper remarked (hoping for a higher grade), it is possible to end up with a lower grade – which is why remarking should only be considered if you are near the grade boundary for a higher grade…

You can ask for your script to be returned to you – but if you do this, then you can’t get it remarked. You have until 20th September to decide if you want to get it remarked. After the remark, you can request your script.

Congratulations to the Math’scool students who have done exceptionally well. Results in so far suggest the vast majority will have achieved the coveted A* grade and, so far, all have been A* or A grades. GCSE Maths is getting harder (Bristol Post: Experts predict a fall in the maths pass rate), but actually, that helps our students who have prepared for challenging questions.

Finally, deciding upon your A-levels: There is a strong trend away from ‘easy’ A-levels (The Guardian), because universities largely ignore them. That said, a common mistake is still to pick an incoherent mix, such as Physics, Psychology and Geography. This is often as a result of sticking to subjects that you ‘like’, rather than subjects that are good for you. Perhaps an analogy with food is apt here. Only ever eating what you like is likely to lead to health problems, and actually, foods you don’t particularly like at age 16, you often grow to love…

The best way of deciding what A-levels to study is to look a few university prospectuses (it doesn’t really matter which university at this stage). Then start looking at the courses on offer. You might find some interesting and challenging courses that you’d never thought of before (Maths and Philosophy is a rare choice among my students; but, one Christmas, I ran into an old student who was studying that – and I can honestly say, I’ve never been so enthralled. She clearly loved her subject). Next, find out what A-levels are required and what A-levels are preferred for that subject. That should be listed in the prospectus; but if not, a quick email to the admissions department will get the answer for you…

Do this for a few more undergraduate courses, and you’ll soon notice a pattern of the same A-levels appearing again, and your decision should then be obvious.

If you are torn between two quite different faculties (i.e. Science or Economics), then you find it is almost impossible to select a set of A-levels that best prepares you for both. The truth is that, even at this early stage, you have to narrow down your options and start to focus in on one path. That’s why you’ve dropped from 10 subjects at GCSE, to just 4 subjects at A-level…

For more detailed advice about selecting you’re A-levels, read this article