Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Simple guide to GCSEs...

EXAMS! This word fills us 'normal' home educating parents with terror, it drives us to tears and keeps us awake at night. Not because exams are not achievable, but because the whole system of specifications, exam boards, exam centres, booking procedures are like a black art designed to confuse 'normal' parents and make them believe only a trained specialist can navigate it all.

So as promised to several friends, I am going to write here a starter guide. Keeping it as simple as possible. Its not going to include all the information, but this wiki page is a full guide. So my aim here is to just calm your nerves and get you heading in the right direction.

1)  Pick a subject... Go for IGCSE (international version of GCSE), as this means you can avoid practical papers (mostly, except languages) IGCSE are accepted by colleges. If you are worried whether your chosen IGCSE will be accepted for future activities, go check the requirements for future activities your teen might have in mind.

2)   Pick an exam board......I do this by having a good look at the subject course books available for the subject. You could pop to WHSmiths for the hands on feel, or Amazon you can read reviews. I have made mistakes with texts books, bought some and taken a look at them and instantly disliked them, some are SO boring you want to fall asleep within seconds, others grab your interest and suck you in, so it may take a few tries to find the ones for you. There really is not enough difference between the exam boards to matter which you pick, so by choosing the one with the most user friendly material is one great way to decide.

3)   Find an exam centre....Best way is to ask local home educating friends, who have already used one, this is because they vary greatly in quality and price. Failing this go to the exam board websites (see the wiki page above). The exam boards have links to schools that will let private candidates sit with them. You can talk to the exam centre you pick, you won't need to book the exam until about 4 months before your child wants to sit the exam, its worth chatting in advance to the exam centres, just in case they have special conditions or problems with your chosen subject.

4)  Plan your work... If you are using tutoring (online, distance or personal) your tutor can help with this. If you are going to study the subjects on your own, I find the best way is to look through the full coursework book and work out when you would like to take the exam, i.e two years (can be a lot less, we did ICT in 2 months). Then divide the books chapters to give you time to cover the material and allow a month or two at the end to thoroughly revise. Revision can be done using past papers, as many as possible works best. You might want to stagger your exam subjects, we did a few a year for several years, this spreads the cost and the stress.

5) Don't abandon your teen... Most home educators have several children to work with, all I can say is there are some phases when you will need to work more with the teen who is working towards exams, than your perhaps younger children.  I had a whole year where my oldest child had most of my time, but now he is in College and my youngest has all my time. So it works out in the end. I have also heard of parents getting annoyed at their teen for not focusing and pushing it along themselves. I have found they need help to dig in to a subject, get enthusiastic. You need to get passionate along side them about the subjects they have chosen, find interesting trips and documentaries to supplement basic book work. You may need to change your lifestyle to adapt to having more serious work to do, please adapt, this is only a season and it passes quick. Let your younger kids join in with age appropriate versions of the course work, i.e biology, looking a cell structure, everyone can have a play with microscopes and slides and learn.

6) DON'T PANIC... having a good cry can help from time to time, just focus on the small steps right in front of you, this will help you when you want to hyperventilate.  It does feel like climbing a steep mountain.

But having reached the top, the view from up here, makes it worthwhile.


  1. Wow, thanks. This makes the whole process that we might have looming in the next few years seem so much more approachable!

  2. Glad it helped Neia. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed when I started this process, I sat and cried. I was hoping this might help reduce the panic for others.

  3. I'm feeling a lot less panicky having read this. Thank you!

  4. Wow, this is just what I was looking for. THANK YOU!

  5. Thankyou so much for posting this SallyS. I have had to read through all homeschooling info on exams etc several times just to get my head around the jargon....but this is very clear :)

  6. Thanks for the valuable information we have just started looking at the whole exam process and found it a bit daunting your article has helped

  7. Thanks sally, very reassuring, simply positive and helpful :-)

  8. hi I'm worried were to start and to get him to do his exams as he don't like writing things down feeling so anxious and stressed about it all

    1. Bless you, does he need to do the exams? May be take small steps, download a few exam papers and choose may be one question and have a look at it together, gradually work through questions together to get a feel for what an exam would be like, it takes time, but a little each day adds up.

  9. This morning I was feeling 'bad' for focusing too much on my eldest child's studies and not enough on the younger ones. This has really reassured me. Ages and stages. As long as they are all loved and happy if one needs more support academically because he's at a different place in his journey then I guess it's ok!!! I was thinking maybe I need him to be more independent, but now I'm feeling I need to be more supportive! Thank you so much for your post!