Sep 08

Fleet Tutors guide to tough new GCSEs

More challenging GCSE courses are beginning to be taught in secondary schools up and down the country, starting with mathematics and English.

The tougher qualifications involve some generic changes that apply to all subjects. All papers will be taken at the end of year 11 (a return to so-called “linear exams”), so there are no opportunities to secure module marks as students go through the course, as was the case for a number of years previously.

Coursework and practical assessments play a much smaller part in the new GCSE courses even in practical subjects the weighting of non exams assessment is reducing to 60%.  For the majority of subjects all of the marks are won or lost in the examination hall, which means preparation for the assessments, is paramount.

Exam questions will be less predictable in content and with “less scaffolding”; pointers in the papers about what examiners want to see.

To deter schools from putting students in for GCSEs before they are ready or entering them multiple times, grade from only first sitting of GCSEs will count towards the schools’ results.

The new GCSEs in English language, English literature and mathematics have been taught in classrooms since September 2015, for first examination in June 2017. They will be the first subjects to be awarded the new numerical grades of 1-9. Over the next three years, this grading structure will replace the current A* to G grades.

Tougher specifications in 18 other subjects, including physics, biology, chemistry, history and geography, will be taught in schools from this month and examined in 2018.

English Language GCSE

New English language GCSE at-a-glance

  • All candidates will sit the same exam papers (in previous years there were “tiered” papers for students of differing ability)
  • Speaking and listening, which is internally assessed by the teacher, will no longer count towards the final grade.
  • There are no set texts – students are expected to read “a wide range of texts” – 19th, 20th and 21st century
  • 20 per cent of marks are allocated for the students’ range of vocabulary and sentence structures, spelling and punctuation.

English Literature GCSE

New English literature GCSE at-a-glance

  • The emphasis is on “classic literature” and learning “substantial whole texts in detail”. It must include Shakespeare, a 19th century novel, a selection of poetry since 1789 and fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards
  • The Exam is “closed book”, i.e. set text are not allowed in the exam hall
  • Students must also tackle “unseen” passages from studied texts. Questions on comparison count for 20 – 25% of marks
  • 5% of marks for vocabulary, sentence structures, spelling and punctuation.

Maths GCSE

New maths GCSE at-a-glance

  • GCSE mathematics has a foundation tier (grades 1 – 5) and a higher tier (grades 4 – 9). Students will sit three question papers.
  • There is more content at both foundation and higher tiers than previously. For instance there is a new content area called, “Ratio, proportion and rates of change”. Some content has shifted from higher to foundation and some content that would have been studied at GCSE level is now part of Key Stage 3.
  • More problem solving, reasoning & interpreting, often requiring multi-step solutions
  • The total exam time will be a minimum of four and a half hours for both tiers.
  • Of this, between one-third and a half must be completed without access to a calculator. Candidates will have to memorise more formulae than previously
  • Each content area counts for the following (the higher tier weighting is in brackets); Number 25% (15%), Algebra 20% (30%), Ratio, proportion and rates of change 25% (20%), Geometry and measures 15% (20%), Probability and statistics 15% (15%)

What do students need to do to get a good pass?

The information provided by Ofqual so far is broad-brush and in the form of “grade descriptors”.

In English language, for instance, students achieving Grade 5 in the 50 per cent of marks given over to writing will have to:

  • communicate effectively, sustaining the reader’s interest
  • produce coherent, well-structured and purposeful text
  • vary sentence types and structures and use vocabulary appropriate to purpose and effect
  • spell, punctuate and use grammar accurately with occasional errors

Candidates aiming for a Grade 8 will have to do that bit more:

  • communicate with impact and influence
  • produce ambitious, accomplished and effectively-structured texts
  • use a wide range of well-selected sentence types and structures and precise vocabulary to enhance impact
  • spell, punctuate and use grammar accurately so that writing is virtually error-free

In maths, to achieve grade 5, candidates will be able to:

  • perform routine single and multi-step procedures effectively by recalling, applying and interpreting notation, terminology, facts, definitions and formulae
  • interpret and communicate information effectively
  • make deductions, inferences and draw conclusions
  • construct chains of reasoning, including arguments
  • generate strategies to solve mathematical and non-mathematical problems by translating them into mathematical processes, realising connections between different parts of mathematics
  • interpret results in the context of the given problem
  • evaluate methods and results

Grade 8 will require similar skills but successful candidates will have to generate “efficient” strategies to solve problems, interpret and communicate “complex” information “accurately”, construct “substantial” chains of reasoning and “convincing” arguments and “critically” evaluate methods.

Grade descriptors for a variety of subjects can be found here: