The guide to choosing GCSE subjects

For many students in year 9 (ages 13-14), this is the time of year they will need to start thinking about which GCSE subjects they want to study at Key Stage 4. Often there’s a wide range to choose from and deciding can be overwhelming for students, especially when they’re only just starting to think about their future. At Tutor Doctor we know how important it is for your child to choose classes they will enjoy but also have a good balance of subjects- after all they have to study them for two years! We’ve put together an essential guide to choosing GCSE subjects, which will not only help your kids make an informed decision but will also provide parents with all the important information so you can discuss their choices with them.

Are GCSE options really important?

The simple answer is yes! The optional subjects chosen in Year 9 will have an effect on decisions your child makes later on in life. It can also influence and shape their likes, dislikes, interests and potential careers they want to pursue when they get older. That’s why it’s so important for them to choose a broad and balanced set of GCSE’s, as well as pick subjects that they will enjoy and be able to achieve the best possible grades.

What choices do students get?

Your child’s school will provide them with lots of information about their pending GCSE choices for Key Stage 4, but it can be confusing so here’s the basics.

Core Subjects

Firstly, there are a few restrictions on pupils’ choices, so they don’t have free reign when choosing all of their GCSE’s. All schools have something known as compulsory subjects that have to be studied at GCSE level. One of the main reasons for these core subjects is to ensure all students cover a range of basic subject areas so they are fully prepared for further learning and future work prospects. These usually include:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Some schools have other compulsory subjects, often relating to what area the school specialises in.

Optional Subjects

Moving onto optional subjects, these do vary from school to school and some have much more choice. Being able to make these decisions allows students to start making their own educational decisions and explore areas of interest for further education. One thing to bear in mind is that regardless of how many subjects your child has to choose from, they must be offered at least one course in four subject areas, otherwise known as ‘entitlement areas.’ These are:

  1. Arts (including art and design, music, dance, drama and media arts)
  2. Design and Technology
  3. Humanities (history and geography)
  4. Modern Foreign Languages

Vocational Courses

If your child doesn’t want to choose a traditional GCSE, many schools now offer vocational qualifications, which is a more practical kind of learning. Remember substituting a vocational course may be the right decision for some young people, but always make sure the course matches your child’s career aims and academic ability. For more information on vocational courses, look here.

Things to consider

What GCSE’s are needed for higher education?

Students that are already thinking about specific courses at college or sixth form should be aware that highly competitive A-Levels subjects, BTEC’s and Diploma programmes will be VERYinterested in what GCSE’s subjects were studied. If this is the case, make sure your child checks beforehand whether any particular GCSE’s are required and ensure this is taken into consideration before they make their final choice.


Making sure you both sit down together and look at the course material carefully is super important and is sure to help your child make a more informed decision. This means looking closely at what topics are covered in the syllabus and the type of examinations involved. Different subjects also involve different learning styles, so this is something else to consider. For example- history is much more theoretical whereas textiles is more hands on! Getting your child to pick something that meshes their preferred learning style is certainly a smart move!

What is your child interested in?

Finally, it’s extremely important that your child really enjoys the GCSE subjects they study at Key Stage 4 and don’t choose something for the sake of it. Doing appropriate research (as mentioned above) is a great way to spark up interests and they’ll probably start to discover what excites them- after all learning should be fun! It’s also very easy for kids to get caught up in making decisions based on what their friends are doing or depending on what teacher is teaching a certain option. Making sure they avoid these pressures and embrace their interests is vital if they want to succeed.

Tutor Doctor’s Top Tip: If your child is struggling to decide between a few subjects, a pro and con list will be more than helpful!

If you or your child has any doubts, seek advice from teachers at school or a careers advisor.