General Certificate of Secondary Education

The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic qualification in a particular subject, taken in England, Wales,[1] and Northern Ireland. State schools in Scotland use the Scottish Qualifications Certificate instead. Private schools in Scotland may choose to use an alternative qualification.

General Certificate of Secondary Education
A mock-up of an English Language exam paper's front page
TypePrerequisite to a school leaving certificate
Knowledge / skills testedVaries depending on subject, but in almost all GCSE subjects general knowledge, fundamental writing and numerical skills are tested.
Year started1988 (1988)
Score / grade range
  • England: Grades from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest
  • Wales: Grades from A* to G, with A* being the highest
  • Northern Ireland: Grades from A* to G, with A* being the highest. There is also a C* grade
Restrictions on attemptsAll units for a single subject must be taken in one examination series. Only the first attempt of a student is recorded for school league table purposes, but students may take a subject as many times as they like.
Countries / regionsEngland, Wales and Northern Ireland
LanguagesEnglish, Irish a and Welsh b
FeeFree to students in schools. Resits and private entries incur variable fees.
^a Irish-medium exams are only available in Northern Ireland, from the CCEA exam board. ^b Welsh-medium exams are only available in Wales, from the WJEC exam board.

Each GCSE qualification is offered in a specific school subject (e.g., Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Art, Design and Technology). The UK government has drawn up a list of preferred subjects known as the English Baccalaureate and the Progress 8 benchmark metric is calculated on the results in eight GCSEs including English, Maths and Science.[2]

Studies for GCSE examinations take place over a period of two or three academic years (depending upon the subject, school, and exam board), starting in Year 9 or Year 10 for the majority of students, with examinations being sat at the end of Year 11 in England and Wales.[lower-alpha 1]

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