GCSE choices

(29 Posts)
MerlinFromCamelot Thu 02-Jan-14 11:55:44

Happy new year to all if you.

Now that the hols are over DD will have to make her GCSE choices in the next few weeks. Problem is that I'm mortified that she will be making the wrong choices. She has changed her mind 4 times over the Christmas holidays!

Now what? We are having a parents evening later this month. Do schools normally make recommendations regarding choices, should I approach the school myself about this? Any advice as how go help DD make the right choices would be very much appreciated. I'm well aware that she will make her own choices, I just think it is worrying that she changed her mind so often and so close to decision day.

Please help.

Thank you

hench Fri 03-Jan-14 23:42:18

Agree work experience is most important for would be vets, which means it has to be something you plan to do over several years rather than something you decide on the spur of the moment. The limited sample of 3 vet students I know all had straight A* GCSEs (or very close to that) as well, so I did assume this was also required - this may be wrong, but I expect it helps, especially if applying before A level results and from a high achieving school, less critical if applying post A levels or with mitigating circumstances.

Whilst GCSE choices are usually not too critical, the careers (Vet and architect) that the OP said her dd was considering are two of the few where you do need to be a little bit careful over subject choices imo.

lljkk Fri 03-Jan-14 19:18:29

Lots of Unis offer Vet science without requiring A/A* in every GCSE subject.
Look here.
Work experience is the deal breaker for Vet Science not GCSE marks.

MerlinFromCamelot Fri 03-Jan-14 10:48:10

Thank you for your advice, feeling much better now.

NoComet Fri 03-Jan-14 01:31:02

DD1 really enjoys art, but she would think lunch time in the art room was fun, not work.

Music she finds hard work and also geography.

She is her parents child, science just makes sense, she finds herself explaining it to her class mates.

MillyMollyMama Fri 03-Jan-14 00:37:24

At our school, the spread of GCSEs was considered important so the additional choices were not random. Never forget that Universities quote the minimum required. On a Vet Med course hardly anyone will have the minimum. Also they are looking at far more than A level results because ALL the candidates will have the required ones at A or A* grade! I would ensure your DD does do an MFL, or two which keeps MFL A levels wide open, Geography or History or both and an art type subject, eg music, art, DT as well as the 3 sciences, maths, English language and literature. Also if you like art, it can be enjoyable and it is not necessary to do every subject because it is needed for a degree. Lots of art courses like art A level but people always post on Mumsnet saying what a slog it is. Some people find it very worthwhile! I do, however, think a mix of well respected subjects is best. You could also look at RE which my DDs found interesting.

Actually curlew, although very high grades ARE required at GCSE for Veterinary Science, even Bristol's course specifies "only" 6 A/A*s:

General information on subjects/grades required for entry:
A wide spread of subjects required at good grades, to include Mathematics, English Language and 2 sciences. Minimum of 6 grade A*/A is normally expected.

Obviously, the more subjects at high grades the better, but as students usually take a lot more than 6 GCSEs, taking one or two purely for enjoyment or from interest, without being sure (and who can be in Year 9!) of top grades, is no big deal.

Please don't exaggerate the importance of GCSEs - for most degree courses it's A level grades that really matter. In the case of Vet Science at Bristol, their typical offer is 3As at A level, to include Chemistry, Biology, and one other academic subject (which doesn't have to be science/maths related!)
For university entry requirements, look at different courses via www.ucas.com

BackforGood Thu 02-Jan-14 23:55:17

Everyone I know who has done art has commented on just how time consuming it is. Other than that, as long as she has the core subjects all there, nobody is going to be too bothered if her 10th GCSE was one subject or another, tbh.
As regards to "Do schools normally make recommendations regarding choices?" seems to depend on the school.
At ds's school it almost seemed like the different subject teachers were in a market place, reaching out to try to persuade ds to do their subject. When I went to dd's there was absolutely no persuading or even encouragement to do the subjects - in fact the science teacher was really offputting about doing a 3rd science. You might logically assume that is to do with the chances my dc have of getting good grades, but it's quite the opposite - ds got no A*s, whereas dd is expected to get several. ds was borderline pass for a couple of his subjects, whereas dd isn't expected to go below a B in any. Just seems to be a different approach by the schools. My experience is that schools aren't that honest with youngsters about the 'value' of comparative GCSEs, vs BTECs, NVQs, etc. , but possibly that's just my experience.

curlew Thu 02-Jan-14 23:42:29

If she wants to be a vet she needs as many As and A*s as possible- and nothing below a B. And preferably none of them. So pick any "fun" subjects accordingly.

lljkk Thu 02-Jan-14 20:51:42

They get so few choices I don't think it's possible to completely balls up.
In addition to choosing ones she thinks she'll enjoy, Maybe come up with a strategy like
1 she's always wanted even if not so sure now
1 she only started wanting very recently
1 that will be good for jobs
1 that will be good for university
1 that goes well with the others.

That's 5, and hedges her bets in all ways.

Coconutty Thu 02-Jan-14 20:07:13

DS has found art very intense but has enjoyed sports science (PE).

Creamycoolerwithcream Thu 02-Jan-14 19:59:52

I'd day drop art if she's not that good at and definitely do a humanity.

Whathaveiforgottentoday Thu 02-Jan-14 19:54:35

If she's thinking of vet training, triple science is strongly recommended. I wouldn't recommend psychology at GSCE, much better to pick this up at A level which is why not many schools offer it at GCSE.

I would concur with what others have posted: get her to choose subjects that she enjoys, which should lead to A level subjects that she will enjoy. She can probably afford to do a subject or two for pure enjoyment & not worry too much about the final grade...

If she has the choice, and is considering science/psychology/vet careers, I would strongly recommend taking the 3 sciences at GCSE. Most students find the jump from GCSE science to A level sciences a big step up, and it's easier from a triple science base.

Would agree with hench about the dangers of taking new subjects at GCSE, although in my experience few schools offer psychology, economics etc until A level anyway.

She can't make really disastrous decisions at this stage, so try not to worry too much smile

longingforsomesleep Thu 02-Jan-14 18:14:37

I'd also be wary of PE. DS did it as a 'soft' option. He dithered between that and history but we assumed that because he's very good at sport and science, PE would be easy. He got almost full marks on the assessment and said the exam was an absolute doddle - couldn't think where he'd dropped any marks. But he got a B for the exam and an A overall - having been convinced it would be an A*. I know they're still good grades but he got A or A* in all his other exams - PE was the only B.

MerlinFromCamelot Thu 02-Jan-14 18:14:26

Plot thickens, had a look on the school's website. They don't offer psychology??? confused

circular Thu 02-Jan-14 16:54:45

As well as new subjects being risky, be prepared for normal subjects that may not be what they seem. DD found his with geography, totally different to work covered in yr7 to 9, not helped by having a change of teacher too.
Try and look through the GCSE syllabus.

As parents evenings tend to be so manic, probably not worth trying to see teachers for subjects your DD has definitely decided against. When we did ours (DD now yr12, doing AS) I asked every teacher for subjects DD was considering whether she was capable of getting at least an A grade.

Do you also have a yr9 options evening (should be before the parents evening) where general presentations and advice, and talks on individual subjects available?

hellsbells99 Thu 02-Jan-14 15:37:21

curlew sums it up well!
DD1 did art. She did more work for that subject than the rest put together. Found it very boring and repetitive. She did get an A* but at the expense of other work and has not taken it at AS level.

curlew Thu 02-Jan-14 14:56:05

Based on dd's experience I would avoid Art. If you have talent, it is hugely frustrating, if you haven't- it's a slog. Whether you have or not, it's a huge about of work.

MerlinFromCamelot Thu 02-Jan-14 14:38:11

Thank you all. I think the art may prove hard work for her. She enjoys doing it but she is not great at it, I hope she is not underestimating that she is going to have to work really hard at it and put in a lot of hours. MFL for example comes really natural to her, sadly over the last year she has really started to hate French.... not sure why as she is not finding it difficult and has good grades. (Second to highest one in the year at the end if year test last summer) She didn't like the teacher but you always going to have teachers you like and those you don't. That's life. So now French is out, or so it seems. I'm worried that she is going to drop subjects she could do well in for unknown subjects. I really hope it will all work out for the best and that she will be able to cope.

hellsbells99 Thu 02-Jan-14 14:02:42

Hi op, try and get your DD to stick to mainstream subjects if she is academic and likely to do well. As Hench says - Art is an awful lot of work but often required for architecture (although I think a portfolio can be submitted). Look at possible choices on uni websites and check out the requirements. Pick out subjects that keep doors open, your DD enjoys and likely to get good grades in.
Would recommend triple science if planning on science A levels (just makes life easier), a MFL and a humanity (although not essential if your DD knows that she will not go down this route - our 6th form will also allow A level history with gcse in some circumstances).
As hench says - teachers are after 'bums on seats' and may not give impartial advice. DD2 is currently looking at A level choices and nearly all her teachers are trying to convince her to do their subject.

hench Thu 02-Jan-14 13:32:45

for vet courses, getting very high GCSE results (nearly all A*) is actually rather important as it's stupidly competitive. At the parents evening ask the teachers what are my chances of getting an A* in this subject and press for an objective answer. This isn't a bad question to ask, vet aspirations or not, as teachers are usually very keen to get bums on seats in their classes, without regard to whether a child might have got a better result doing a different subject and honest answers to this question may give you a better idea of where your dd's strengths really are.

I may be wrong, but I think art is almost required for architecture (but not that useful for just about anything else except maybe being an artist).

Separate sciences is strongly adviseable if she wants to be a vet (but from the sound of the school this may well be compulasory).

hench Thu 02-Jan-14 13:10:48


A lot of children don't do as well as expected at PE - it's not just about being good at sport, a lot depends on how the school structures the teaching and how much choice they give over the 4 assessed sports and how much time they devote to teaching the theory element (sometimes the theory is taught in PE lessons so the child ends up doing less PE than they would have done otherwise). The marking is a bit strange which means a very small change in raw score on the exam can result in a very big grade difference which means odd outcomes are quite common.

art is another one children do often regret - it's notoriously high workload and difficult to achieve the highest grades. Several dc I know have been put off art for life by it, but if you enjoy doing a lot of art work it can provide a nice contrast subject. She shouldn't choose this if she thinks it's an easy option, only if she actually wants to do a lot of art work.

psychology as mentioned in previous post is one to be a bit careful of too, another language would be safer (in terms of knowing if you were going to enjoy it or not and leaving more options open later), but probably more work.

I think the above subjects are all fine if she is sure she will enjoy them and isnt doing too many (ie not enough more mainstream subjects), but they do all come with the risk of less predictable grade outcomes than more mainstream humanities subjects.

hench Thu 02-Jan-14 12:54:37

It's not easy to make wrong choices for GCSEs since the schools normally arrange things so that whatever you choose is fairly sensible. Your dd should choose subjects that she will do well in which in the main will be those she enjoys best and is most interested in.

Her choices may be considered to be wrong with hindsight if you find that she really want to do a particular subject at A level and hasn't done the requisite GCSEs. This isn't all that common though - wanting to do history A level when you didn't choose the GCSE would be an example. Another would be wanting to choose a science A level when you have done science BTEC instead of GCSE double science (but schools are very unlikely these days to let you choose the BTEC if you are able to do GCSE) or in rare cases not doing separate science GCSEs (a few schools now make this a requirement to go on to science A levels, so this one is worth checking).

Another reason she may feel she has made a wrong choice with hindsight is if she ends up really loathing a subject or doing really badly at it or both. This is often a problem with poor teaching (or a teacher-child mismatch) rather the subject itself, and could happen with any subject even core ones that she has no choice over. The advice in this situation is generally to suck it up and do the best you can (so it's not really the end of the world, just a bit annoying). However, choosing a new GCSE subject like economics, psychology, sociology or law when a child doesn't really know what is involved is riskier for this, so be more careful with these subjects (especially since the GCSE in these subjects is not required to study the same subject to A level, so alternative more mainstream subjects actually keep more options open so are probably generally better choices).

The final consideration is whether to choose EBACC subjects or not (if the school allows you not to, which many don't now), which usually boils down to whether to take history or geography, and a language. The advantage of doing EBACC is that it gives a good spread of respected subjects, but aside from that it benefits the school more than your child, so if your dd passionately hates and is bad at languages for example, she may well be better off choosing something else and getting a better grade at.

MerlinFromCamelot Thu 02-Jan-14 12:54:33

By the wrong choices I mean picking a subject and regretting it when it is to late to change.

I appreciate there are only 5 choices, DD is very good a MFL and Latin so initially she was going to do long PE (very sporty so that sound sensible) art (not very good at it but enjoys it). She was also going to pick 2 languages (1 is compulsory at her school) and history.

Then we went to no MFL apart from the compulsory one. No Latin and short PE instead of long PE. She now wants to do DT, psychology and one other I can not remember as it changes all the time to be honest.

In terms of what she wants to do, she no clue really. A month ago it was primary school teacher, then an architect and at the moment it is a vet....but things change quickly around here... As such I think it is a good idea to keep options open so she has a bit more time to think about it. I was not educated in the UK and to be honest I'm feeling a bit lost in this system. I think I may need to find someone who can guide DD to make the choices that are right for her, not the school league tables, not what mummy would chose etc... But don't know who to approach at the school.

Patents evening will be before the final choice is made, but I don't know what the format of PE will be to be honest. Last time it looked a bit like speed dating, which is great, unless there are serious issues to discuss, which I think this is.

Thanks for your advice.

treas Thu 02-Jan-14 12:20:04

Ds had to make his choices in Yr8 - now studying them in Yr9.

We just encouraged him to choose a broad spectrum. He was placed in the academic group so was required to choose EBAcc subjects so had to choose a language and a humanity. Some in the academic group didn't do a language but that was after discussions with their teachers.

In the end he chose 2 humanities, a language and a creative subject so has given himself a broad subject base for later course selections.

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