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Parent & Carer guide to GCSEs: What to expect and how to support your teen

If you have a child about to start their GCSEs, there are probably any number of questions spinning around your mind. Aside from the obvious one (where has all the time gone?) you might well be wondering about how best to support your teen through this time.

This article aims to provide a short introduction to the important role you can play to support your child through the GCSE years. We know first-hand what it’s like to support children through exams; it’s tough work! Many of us feel like we sat the exams ourselves! But we know you’ve got this!


How GCSEs have changed

In recent years, GCSEs have changed. In short, the new courses include much less coursework (or controlled assessment) than before, with only some of the more practical subjects like Dance, Art and Drama containing this element of assessment. Most exams will now also be taken at the end of a two-year course. In many subjects there have been some changes to the content studied, and students will be required to answer more essay-style questions too. There is also a 9 to 1 grading system.


GCSE grades

The 9 to 1 grading scheme was introduced by the Department for Education in the hope that the new GCSEs will “better differentiate between students of different abilities”, by allowing greater differentiation for the top levels.

The table below shows how the new GCSE grades compare to the old ones – although the DfE is clear to point out that each grade cannot be directly compared, there are places where they can be aligned.

GCSE grade comparison chart

Exam boards

Make sure you know what Examination Board and specification your child is studying for each of their subjects (get your child to ask their teacher or check the school website). In short, there are several main government-approved Examination Boards that provide GCSE courses and exams for students. Each subject at your child’s school will have chosen one of these courses to follow.

Make sure you know if your child follows the AQA History course or the Edexcel one, for example. It means that throughout your child’s time studying GCSEs, you can go onto the exam board website and download all sorts of free resources to help support your child’s learning, including specimen and past exam papers, mark schemes and example answers. Knowing the right exam board also means you will know which Revision Guide your child needs for each subject.

Supporting your child with revision

Here are some simple pieces of advice from the Oxford Revise Team that we hope will support both you and your child through GCSEs.

    • Show them you are interested: Take time to listen and understand their goals without piling on too much pressure. Your child’s school may well put on a GCSE Guide for Parents and Carers session which would be very useful to go to.
    • Help to create a calm home environment and quiet space to study: This is easier said than done but where possible try to create quieter times in the day where your child can study without too many distractions.
    • Ensure they have Revision Guides for their subjects: We recommend Oxford Revise guides obviously 😉. They contain EVERYTHING students need to know, the strategies to help them recall the information they need, and shed loads of practice to ensure they are confident and exam ready.
    • Plan a revision timetable together: Help your child create an overview of what they need to revise and break each subject down into manageable chunks. Use a Revision Planner such as this one from the Oxford Revise Team to help to keep revision manageable and to give your child confidence and feelings of control. Set definite start and finish times for revision sessions and have a clear goal for each session.
    • Encourage lots of breaks: Taking breaks is crucially important. Make sure there are lots of opportunities to recharge those batteries, including with fresh air, exercise, and friends.
    • Support healthy routines: A healthy, balanced diet is particularly important during exams times. Getting enough sleep and exercise is crucial too – walking, swimming, playing footie – it doesn’t matter what type but any kind of exercise is good for clearing the mind, relieving stress and giving energy levels a boost.
    • Look out for signs of stress: Exams can be an anxious time and with GCSEs there are so many different subjects, and so much content it’s very natural to be worried. However, you know your child best so look out for signs of stress such as becoming tearful, withdrawing, experiencing poor sleep, losing appetite etc. and seek help from your GP if you are concerned.
    • Get involved with quizzing: You don’t have to be an expert or have GCSEs yourself to help! Testing your child using retrieval questions in Oxford Revise Guides is a helpful way to test knowledge – and the answers are all there in the books for you! Other things you can do in the home include some revision classics like sticking Post-It notes to the fridge door or mug cupboard. Oldies but goodies for a reason – reading over that quote or definition every time you make a cup of tea does help the knowledge to stick.
    • Help with motivation: It’s worth thinking about a motivational treat that might help your child to navigate this period and keep focused as best as they can. This doesn’t have to be anything expensive or elaborate but something to keep in mind for the tougher periods of revision. It could be a special meal, a night out with friends, or a trip to see family, whatever your child would enjoy and help them to keep motivated.
    • Preparing for results day: Results day can feel like a huge weight on your shoulders as well as your child’s. Jubilation, anxiety, disappointment – a whole heap of emotions can be wrapped up in that day. Prior to results day, help to reassure your child that whatever the results, that you love them, are proud of them and will be celebrating everything that they’ve achieved over the last 11 or so years of schooling, no matter the results. Help them to see the bigger picture – exams are important, but they aren’t everything and can be taken again if necessary.