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Articles > Student Life March, 22, 2016

How important are GCSE grades?

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GCSEs are the be all and end all for most 16 year olds; they can influence your A-levels, which university you go to, and also what career path you take. But just how important are they? This article will help you identify what you should be thinking about when weighing up the importance of your GCSE grades.


1. Your GCSE grades could largely influence which sixth form you go to

Entry requirements for school and college sixth forms vary – ranging from four to five Cs, with perhaps Bs in the subjects you want to study, through to at least six As for the most selective colleges.

Sixth forms and colleges only have your GCSE grades to judge you on academically, but we (and they) know that once you’re studying subjects you have chosen and are interested in, you’re more likely to excel. So don’t worry too much about your C grade in religious studies or if you didn’t shine in languages, because unless you want to study those at an advanced level, they probably won’t mind.

Many sixth forms use a scoring system, based on GCSE grades, to predict how well you’re likely to do (and from that, decide whether or not to accept you). The lower your GCSE grades, the lower you’ll be scored – which could limit the number of colleges and sixth forms open to you. Aim for your ideal school or college, but there’s no harm in having a safety net – so research a couple of back-up options, too.

Student studying for exams


2. Grades can dictate what you do next: A-levels, BTEC or something else?

Having all Cs or below could also limit your qualification options – there’s a chance you may not be able to study your desired subjects at A-level or as an Advanced Higher, for example.

If you have your heart set on a particular sixth form college or course – this is the time to revise to make sure you walk into that interview (if you have one!) nice and confident.

However, if your circumstances mean you’re unable to take the original qualifications you had planned, there are alternatives, including courses such as BTECs which tend to have a more vocational, practical steer.

3. The majority of universities check your GCSE grades

You may need at least Cs in GCSE English, maths and science depending on your course. Some university courses go further and ask for specific subjects at GCSE, with certain grades.

An economics degree at the University of Leeds, for example, specifies that you must have a B in English language and an A in Maths under your belt, while a psychology degree at the University of Bristol asks for ‘maths, English and science at grade B, but grade A preferred’.

Incoming A-level changes from September 2015 will also have a knock-on effect on the role of GCSE grades. Given that schools and colleges will be dealing with the reforms in different ways – with some offering AS-levels and others not – it’s likely that universities will increasingly see GCSE grades as an important factor when making offers.

4. The competition for top institutions is fierce

Some of the top academic universities will be asking for very high A-level grades – AAB or higher – for most courses. You can check out individual entry requirements by looking up a course on the Which? University website.

Because of the assumed connection between your GCSE and A-level results, it’ll be down to you to prove you’re able to achieve top grades. Bs and Cs at GCSE are suggestive of Cs and Ds at A-level – which won’t be enough to get into some unis.

The more competitive the universities and courses are the more high-achieving students apply. Some courses actively state this in the prospectus – the Department of Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) says: ‘Most have already achieved excellent GCSE grades including the majority at A* and A’.

But who says you can’t be one of them? If you don’t think you’ll be able to achieve those top grades alone, get a tutor a couple of times a week, or form a study group with some friends in the same class.

5. Career-related degrees come with requirements

If you have a career in mind that requires you to do a certain course at uni, your GCSEs could have a knock-on effect on your chances of getting into your desired field of work.

GCSE grades can impact the A-level subjects you take, which can be used to assess your eligibility for a university or course. This can then influence the kind of career path you take.

  • Engineering courses such as chemical engineering: you’ll usually need A-levels or equivalent in chemistry and maths, and physics for other engineering courses, which in turn means you’ll need to have good GCSE grades – in this case, at least BB in science and a B (if not an A) in maths
  • Medicine: competitive courses like medicine may ask for a whole suite of good GCSEs. The University of Birmingham’s medical school, for example, specifies ‘normally, applicants must offer A* grades in each of English (either English language or English literature), mathematics and all science subjects. Integrated science (double certificate) is acceptable as an alternative to single sciences. Overall GCSE performance will be considered.’
  • Social work and secondary school teaching: these professions won’t consider you without at least a C in maths and English language at GCSE
  • Nursing and primary school teaching: Cs in GCSE English, maths and science.
Student exam hall

Photo by Pete

Worried about your results?

The majority of us have worries about how well we’re going to do in exams, but that’s no reason to let those fears become reality. Speak to someone and get the help you want! A teacher, a careers advisor, your parents, a tutor, these are all people who want you to do the best you can. So don’t be shy, be determined and tell them exactly what help you want.

Resits: English literature, language and maths GCSE resits take place in November. If you’re willing to work hard, study for these (perhaps in the evening, perhaps through a different college) alongside the rest of your timetable and improve that grade. If you need to resit more subjects, you may need to wait until next summer.

Bear in mind that for very competitive degree courses such as medicine, universities might not accept GCSE retakes, so if you have an idea of what you want to study at university, spend time researching the entry requirements of a range of courses to see what’s open to you.

Remarks: If you’re not happy with an exam result and you think it may be incorrect, it’s important to first talk to your school or college. Students can’t make enquiries directly with their examining board, so it will be up to them to decide if you’ve got a strong case or not.

This article was originally published on Which? University. Got any tips of your own to add? Share them with the community below!

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  1. Katie Byrne

    I find it unfair that GCSEs are used as a measure of intelligence. You could be extremely clever, but have a bad memory/have a bad day and completely mess up your exam. On the contrary, you could mess around the whole year, wing it and miraculously do well. I think it’s incredibly unfair to measure people’s intelligence this way.

  2. Emily Jackson

    I think GCSE’s are just a memory game. The exams are based on remembering everything you learnt and spitting it onto the page.

    • Johanna Stroud

      I completely agree with you there. Although even at A level there is still often an awful lot of memory work involved: which doesn’t seem particularly fair for those of us who aren’t so gifted at remembering facts and figures.

    • Osob Aden

      I totally agree with you. I had retake both my maths and English but I struggled with the maths a lot. I guess it’s because I find it hard to remember algebra and other equations. But working on past papers is useful because sometimes they use 2 or 3 same questions from last year’s papers. I’m telling the truth. I got lucky when those questions were on the paper.

  3. Christine Addae-kyereme

    I think…every little helps when it comes to exams. Speaking from experience I know people improve the most between this time and the actual exam so on my blog I have put up all my annotated specifications for all the IGCSE sciences. Feel free to have a look, make comments and request specific topics. Year 10’s can also use it for revision next year or earlier in the relevant sections. Just a little reminder before you guys break into the major revision over Easter. So spread the word! The blog is

  4. Jack Edwards

    I had to work hard for my GCSE grades and know that I deserved them. However, the exam boards weren’t great with the marking – my Biology GCSE papers, for example, were sent off and went up by 6 marks. SIX MARKS. Sort of makes me wonder whether I deserved a higher grade in any more of my subjects, but unfortunately I’ll never know!


    I think…GCSEs you are tough to how to answer to get the marks, A Levels are learning a lot and appling a lot more independently to the question!!! Making it more harder and difficult at the same time.

  6. Carla

    I think GCSE’s are stupid, a letter on a piece of paper does not determine your intelligence. Everyone should have the opportunity to do what they want to do.

  7. Kayla Conway

    I think… GCSEs for me were stressful! As they are for many other teens. I think they are an unfair playing field and only test a students memory and not their ability.

  8. youcef souici

    well , it seems important , but i think there is many people that they are out there can do better if they do just one thing which is “believing in theirselves”

  9. Sarah Bentley

    I think…they are important if you want to get into the A level courses that you want to study. Also English, Maths and Science are important when looking at some jobs and universities.

  10. Marcus Randall

    My personal opinion is GCSE’s may not seem like a big deal at the time, I think this because we literally learn for 10 years and the truth is, it’s boring because we want to learn the subjects we want to learn but without learning and getting prepare for you GCSE’s it would be quite hard to do your dream job (isn’t impossible).
    So with this in mind, GCSE’s are extremely important for your future and can have a massive impact on your life. The grades you get are of great importance to you, it gives you a chance to show everyone how clever/intelligent and how great you are (Your still amazing if you don’t have any)
    The entry requirements for college are (example) normally, you must obtain a minimum of 4 to 5 C’s, sometimes with at least B’s in the subjects that you wish to study. Your educational performance and your GCSE’s are usually good indicators that show how well you will do in your A-levels (whatever levels you do).
    And not only that your results can also determine the kind of qualifications you will take next, so University or work.
    Take my word for it or not, GCSE’s are often used to determine if you are suitable for a University course. Most of the university courses are keen on looking for at least C grades in English, Maths and, sometimes, Science.
    In my final decision, the grades that you achieve are of great importance as they can have a huge effect on your life, in the future.

  11. Katie Pritchard

    GCSEs aren’t the be-all and end-all because there are so many different options people can choose if GCSEs didn’t go their way or exams aren’t their thing. However, they are still really useful as it’s the first real experience of studying for and sitting an exam. For most people that choose the route of uni/ other higher education, they are necessary and you should do well to help you in the future. Most teenagers are too young to decide exactly what they want at 16 so it’s good to have the option and sit such a wide variety of subjects.

  12. Caitlin Povey-Carter

    I think… Your GCSEs results are the first real test you have at life and they are the first real thing you really have to try for. You can do so much with or without them! You can get to wherever you want to be in life and I believe it shouldn’t be determined by one letter on an exam paper. If you do well that’s excellent! If you don’t it’s the trying your best that’s important.

  13. Ashon Williams

    I think.. its important but its just a memory game it din’t determine whether you were the smartest or not just how good your memory is

  14. Lewis Armitage

    I think it’s pretty terrible how kids are forced to regurgitate information they’re promised they will need in their future lives, they run themselves into the ground, form disorders then they get to college and realise GCSE’s don’t even count when applying for UCAS!

  15. Natasha

    I think…u always get the chance to resit most exams if u donsoodontit them first time keep at it its not.the end of the doing my english gcse for the 5th time lol

  16. Demi

    I think…GCSEs are just a game all you have to do is remember stuff you learnt and write it down on a peice of paper


    I think GCSE’s grading scheme is not the right tool to measure someone’s intelligence, it only reflects memorizing ability of the students.

  18. Hollie Jones

    I think that GCSEs are important to enable you to further your education and give you a sense of achievement if you get good grades. However I find it unfair for those that are amazing in class and then have their mind go completely blank at exams

  19. Tanzina Islam

    How can you use GCSE’s to depict everyone’s rate of intelligence? The saying goes, If you tell a fish to climb a tree it’ll spend its whole life thinking it’s stupid.

  20. Ziah

    GCSEs are important but you need to consider what career you would like to go into. This will tell you how much your GCSEs are actually worth.

  21. Manaal Ali

    I think… this is really true. At our school GCSE exam results are given the highest priority, training us for at least three years which all o level courses take. It’s scary to think this exam result really does affect our future chances at getting into great universities.

  22. Kimberley Fearnhead

    I think… GCSEs are only incredibly important should you wish to go to universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, which require you to get 8 As at GCSE – other colleges tend to adhere to lower grades anyway to make up for lack of students in that year.

  23. Shahrin Islam

    I think GCSEs are the first real exam students have to take which is all based on their memory. The grades are important as maths, English and science are essential when it comes to jobs and career paths. To get to college decent grades are needed for GCSE, but it’s a walk in the park compared to the future exams such as A levels.

  24. Leah Comrie

    I think GCSEs are important for the future, howverever in some ways for me as a 16 year old, I feel like they are not important. I have been studying but at end of the day the only GCSEs that matter to me are Maths, English Language, Art, and Media Studies. I haven’t even decided in what I want to do for the future, yes I plan to stay in full time education at college to study graphic design but what happens after that I don’t know.

  25. Hakim Lockwood

    I think…that every stage of education is important. Regardless of GCSEs of A Levels, the thing with education is that it needs the build up. Take maths for example, you will learn the very basic of addition and subtraction to the more advanced algebra or integrations and differentiation and so on. Some people might say that “oh maths is not important, so does an education”, the thing is, Maths evolves around us everyday, every minute without us knowing, we use maths so much that we don’t realise it. So does an education. Education is what makes the world a better and peaceful place to live in. Without education, we wouldn’t know what to do if there is, say, a market failure or what should we do if there is a budget deficit or surplus. What might have happened if the is underproduction of public goods. But then again, people will not be very innovative or can create a new idea if they memorise everything. Much like the current education system, where we are expected to write down every single detail that we’ve learned from the book rather than take the time to analyse the problems properly. We are very much equipped with this toolkit of knowledge rather than exploring it ourselves. I’ve read an interesting article the other day where one university in canda, it’s business school, was funded by this very large business and said that business students are the future generations. But, a shocking events have occurred that led the business to shift it’s funding to the school of philosophy and basically suggesting that the future depends in the hand of philosopher. The thing is, business students, economic students are all equipped with this “toolkit” memorising what to do if this happens or that happens, without realising that every situation have to deal with different ways. Just like how Adam Smith and Plato both used division of labour but for different purposes. Anyway, I have to end this, it’s getting long.

  26. Kirsten Wright

    I think…they are are only important to some people as it depends what you want to do. Obviously if your goal is to go to university, then yes they are important. However, for many they are not important at all. For me, sitting GCSE final exam was not an accurate representation on how clever I was. After numerous months of studying it all depends on that one day. It is more of a memory test if anything especially for English based subjects.

  27. Nicole Locker

    I think…GCSEs are just a way to show other countries that we are good enough, it’s a target that can be measured and used in competition. I personally got low gcse get I’ve managed to complete several diplomas, nvqs and going into my last year at uni soon so to me gcse don’t mean much at all X

  28. Maria Rodrigues

    I think it was a great article and ut wa very informative

  29. Amy Spink

    I think GCSEs are only really a test on how well you can remember a bunch of information. I don’t feel GCSEs are a good reflection on how intelligent a person really is, it just shows their dedication towards revision and attempting to remember a variety of different information. They are incredibly important when it comes to applying for further/higher education although it is unfair for those people who are extremely talented yet lack the good memory skills to produce the grades that reflect that in exmas

  30. Harvey Wilson

    I think GCSE’s are like asking a fish to climb a tree. It’s not for everyone. But yes, they are important as it gives you a chance to get on the food chain for college and later on University. Doing well in your GCSE’s will give colleges an idea of your skills and abilities to learn.
    If you can remember, memorise and put it all on paper you’ll be fine. Along with the ability to understand the questions as they make up silly question to really catch you out.

  31. Yasmin Avtar

    I think…GCSEs do not reflect a persons intelligence. It is basically testing knowlegde given by the teacher. A-Levels require deeper research which is up to the student to undertake. Greater understanding is needed in A-Levels and they are HARD!

  32. Daniel Routley

    I think GCSE’S are initially important but you also have a lot of chances even if you don’t do well with GCSE’s. You can go out and find connections, use sites like LinkedIn, look to work for free in certain jobs for a short while to get a referral and build skills. My college offers a Level 2 course of the course I’m doing currently and also allows people to come to level 3 after the first year, so even students who missed out on GCSE’s can do the course they wish with a bit of hard work. After a short while working however, GCSE’S start to become null-void. As you start to specialise in different areas, things like 6th form and University over-shadow GCSE’s with people even going out of their way to remove it from things like Resumes. Work experience also starts to build up so people will want as much space as possible to shorten the resume for Employers.

  33. youcef souici

    well , could be

  34. Katie Pritchard

    I think…

  35. Lewis

    I don’t think GCSE’s are very important at all, I did rather well in mine coming out with A’s in both Maths and English and a total of 15 GCSE’s but when it came to applying to college all I really needed was 5 GCSE’s of A-C grade … so all that work was pointless. The only situation where they count are if you’re going for a top university, which for 90% of the population, isn’t the case.

  36. gill

    I wonder.what sort of courses are possible for someone with dyslexia, who may be bright and have a leaning towards science, but who will find it extremely hard to pass English gcse at all

  37. Jade Stephens

    I think…it’s about who you know these days not what you have.

  38. Maddison Hillman

    I think GCSE’s are all about memory and not your intelligence. However you need to work hard at them for you to be able to have a stepping stone into further/higher education.

  39. Marcus Randall

    My personal opinion is, GCSE’s may not seem like a big deal at the time, I think this is because we literally learn for 10 years and the truth is , it’s boring because we want to learn the subjects we want to learn but without learning and getting prepare for your GCSE;s it would be quite hard to do your dream job (isn’t impossible).

    So with this in mind, GCSE’s are extremely important for your life ahead and can have an massive impact on your life. The grades you get are of great importance to you, it gives you a chance to show everyone how clever/intelligent and how great you are (your still amazing if you don’t have any, take it from me).

    The entry requirements for college are (example) normally, you must obtain a minimum of 4 to 5 C’s, sometimes with at least a C in ‘English’ and ‘Maths’ in the subject that you wish to study. Your educational performance and your GCSE’s are usually good pointers that show how well you will do in your study level (A-levels).

  40. Scarlett Hope-gates

    GCSEs are harder in certain subjects that others but all teachers say that same thing. If you don’t get an a or a* in the exam you won’t have any idea what to do if you take that subject at a level. This so isn’t true. I got a c in business and am taking it at a level and I’m predicted a b, GCSEs don’t determine everything that will happen at college

  41. Rubaiyat Quader

    GCSEs are easy, revised two weeks before the exams and still got all As and A*s, same for anyone as long as you pay attention and engage in class discussions.

  42. Greeshma Tom

    I think GCSEs are important however they are only an indication of how well you have revised or areas you are either strong or weak in.

  43. Stephen

    I think that GCSEs doesn’t for fill the needs required my a large number of our future generation. These tests are no longer tests. They assess how best your teachers have payed out the format of each exam and less about the shear knowledge behind the subject. From my experience these grades are dictated by the way in which they are answered and not the information learnt. Schools up and down the country are not teaching but testing for the format of a given exam board. And if a school changes the exam board through the GCSE years, like the school I attended the grades over our year was dramatically affected. This form of grading needs to change and these grades should never dictate an individual’s life’s achievements. Everyone learns differently, embrace it.

  44. Matthew Cox

    I think..
    GCSE,s are just there to remember what you have done throughout school. Then you have to transfer it to the exam and also half the stuff we learn inst even on the paper as a question.

  45. mehreen

    I think…that Gsce are unfair cause you may be really clever but you have a bad day which means you don’t get the grades your wanted which could determine if you go college or not so they should consider this.

  46. Jack Stoned

    I think…what Emily said is very true and now in A levels the exams have become less factual and require more application especially for some specific subjects.

  47. Christine Addae-Kyereme

    I think..GCSE’s can often be about what you remember and what you know. However in many aspects of life it is important to be able to retain a bucket load of information all at one time (which may or may not be useful later on in life).It’s the A levels that truly test how well you understand your chosen subjects and they often hold more weight than the GCSE’s anyway. So in the end it all balances out or at least I think it does….

  48. Anna Moore

    I think… ULTIMATELY, GCSE’s are just memory tests. If you don’t know the material, you don’t get the grades. However, the exams get you to apply your knowledge to other situations, which in my opinion, is a pretty fair way of testing how intelligent someone is. In the real world if you don’t know anything about anything it would be dreadful!

  49. Jack Rhodes

    I am resitting my English GCSE this year, I am willing to do as much as can possibly be done to get the pass! The reatake I am doing is more enjoyable and the teacher feels more dedicated to me!

  50. Dylan McGarel

    I think…GCSE’s are important. They allow an insight on what A-Level you are capable so studying and what predict grade you could get. I don’t think they are the end all of exams as you area young age and may not understand the importance of the exams but I do believe that the are 1 of the most important set of exams you will sit bar your A-Levels or end of year uni exams.

  51. Laura Hayward

    I think that GCSEs are extremely important and vital in allowing you to extend your knowledge of the subjects that you are interested in (by attending college). This would then allow you to move forward with your education and in the long term, get a well-paid job. However, I feel that students should be given the option to choose whether they do English, Maths, Science and/or R.E (compulsory subjects that everyone has to do). I believe this because there are some students who do not want to go down a career path in any of the area due to the fact that it does not interest them. Because of this, I don’t believe that students should be made to take subjects for GCSE which they will never need in the future or at college. Although it is important to have basic literacy and numeracy skills, so I feel that students should take these subjects up until they are about to choose their GCSEs. This new-found freedom will allow students to have more time to revise the subjects that they actually enjoy and will find useful in the future.

  52. Minal Shah

    I think GCSE’s are just a memory test of everything you’ve learnt. Also, it’s unfair to assume that people who get B’c and C’s at GCSE’s are suggested to get C’s and D’s at A-levels as some people may be more A-level orientated.

  53. matthew meakin

    I think that GCSE’s are very important into showing people that you are able to work well in subjects that yo like as well as ones you might not. I wasn’t a fan of Welsh from the very beginning and I know that not many people in English schools are. However, I stick to it and passed. I believe that this has shown that I am able to succeed with a subject that I don’t like. I think that this shows determination.

  54. Pip Peters-Cheale

    I think GCSEs are important in terms of teaching people about commitment and work. Then you can use these qualifications for college applications.

  55. Tom Edwards

    If some admissions bods are saying “there are no hard and fast rules”, doesn’t that mean it’s pretty much entirely subjective and deeply unfair?

  56. Elise Hill

    They are needed to an extent, especially maths and english, but it’s mainly if you want to do alevels. Whereas if you wanted a college course they don’t really matter, because you can just work your way up. It all just depends on what you want to do in life.

  57. Louise Latham

    GCSE’s aren’t crucial to getting into university but they can be important, GCSE results can be considered when universities are looking to give out scholarships or unconditional offers.

  58. Lucy Bettison

    The only GCSE’s that have affected what I can do are my English, Maths and Science. And because that added up to 4 GCSEs I only needed another at C to get into college.

  59. Michael Rowarth

    Yes it’s good to achieve to the best of your abilities in GCSE’s, but they are only a small stepping stone in getting you to university. They determine whether you can get into a 6th form/college or not and universities usually only ask for a C in Maths and English anyway. But it is important to have good GCSE results because it shows consistency through your school career and may heighten your chances of getting to you first choice of university.

  60. Terri Brown

    GCSE’s and other important examinations are not ‘be all and end all’.
    It is fulfilling to achieve good grades as it does show that our hard work and dedication to the subject has paid off; unfortunately the contrary does happen. As long as you are passionate and have hopes for the future, there is nothing that you can not be.

  61. Alizeh Ali

    While I don’t have anything against universities asking for Maths to a certain grade they should allow for any language at GCSE level as long as the applicant is fluent in english. I know of a friend of mine who’s brother got a D at English GCSE but got a really high grade in French.

  62. Yasmin Taki

    I agree that GCSE’s are definitely an important part of the education system particularly in the sense of being a guide towards the path of studying for A Levels. Furthermore, when applying for university this can definitely help. When applying, universities may ask for your GCSE grade in both English and maths and it is seen as highly important to achieve at least a C grade. Therefore, GCSES’s are an important part of life in terms of education and your later career.

  63. Megan Ellis

    I think…GCSE grades are important in the sense that you do need to show some general understanding of subjects and if you are able to do well at GCSE, when you go on to college, if you do, it may be slightly easier. Also, for competitive colleges and universities, good GCSEs will give you an edge over others. However, I do agree that it is just a memory game and if your memory isn’t the best, you are at a disadvantage to others. Also, some subjects that you need to get into college e.g. English language may not be your strongest point. Not everyone is good at English but they may be very good at maths or art so GCSEs shouldn’t have a particular focus on a few subjects.

  64. Ella Mcallister

    I think…gcses are important for the future. You need the gcses to go in to work or to go to college or uni. I think everyone needs to complete these and get good grades

  65. Sameera Mahmood

    I think…GCSEs are important of course, but it isn’t always the end if you don’t do too well in your exams. There’s always a second chance, you can usually resit subjects and even start at a lower level in your chosen course when you go into college