GCSEs, or General Certificates of Secondary Education, are a series of exams taken by students across England and Wales when they are 16 years old.

You may remember them as being marked from A* to G, with A* being the highest possible grade. However, this has changed recently to a 9 to 1 scale of marking, with 9 being the highest grade available.

A wide range of GCSEs are available for you to choose from, including ‘humanities’ subjects such as geography and history, and more science- and maths-based subjects.

GCSEs can have a large impact on your future job prospects, so thorough preparation and understanding is key. Luckily, we have many guides to help you along the way.

History of GCSEs

GCSEs were first introduced in 1988, replacing the previous O-Level qualifications. The GCSE system was seen as a strong improvement, due to the inconsistent results of the O-levels.

Originally, GCSEs were graded between A and G. However, the A* grade was added to the system in 1994, to differentiate between high and low A grades.

Traditionally, grades A* to C were considered to be ‘good passes’. It was common for colleges and sixth forms to ask for at least five of these from a student, for them to be given a place on a course.

It is likely that colleges and sixth forms will judge a student on their progress between Year 6 and Year 11 before offering them a place on a course.

New changes to GCSE grades

Since the recent changes, GCSE grades are now awarded using numbers, as opposed to letters. These range from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest possible grade to reach.

A mark of 9 is the modern equivalent of an A*, and is reserved for the most outstanding exam results, usually those within the top 10 per cent nationally. Anything above a 4 is considered to be a ‘good pass’, with this being the same as a C grade was previously. Anything below a 4 is still considered to be a pass, but is not as prestigious as the higher numbers.

U grades are still possible at GCSE level, and are the only grades considered to be a ‘fail.’ However, it is very rare for these to be awarded, so if you get around 10 per cent of the marks available, you should generally be okay.