Which GCSE Subjects are Compulsory? Purple blog banner. Students studying for their GCSE exams.

Which Subjects are Compulsory at GCSE?

If you’re studying for your GCSE exams, the chances are that you’re taking a boatload of them all at once. You’re probably taking at least 9 subjects, which means over 20 papers packed into the last few months of year 11. I wouldn’t blame you if you started to wonder: are any of these subjects compulsory, anyway? After all, you don’t need all these grades if you’re going to do something practical, right?

Well, as usual, things are a lot more complicated than that. The truth is that only three of the subjects you take are mandated by the government. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to drop all but those three, though! There are multiple good reasons why you need to keep up with more subjects than that – even if you want to go down a more practical route.

There is a great deal of value to doing as many GCSEs as you can cope with. It will help you to learn essential skills and knowledge. Plus, you’ll stand out when applying to colleges, universities and careers in the future.

However, sometimes, it is also helpful to know you won’t be trapped into doing the same subjects over and over again until you pass them or turn 18. Sometimes, you just want the reassurance of knowing you can drop that exam you hate once you’ve tried it. We’re not going to all be good at every subject. Sometimes, we just need to leave a few behind for our own well-being.

Here’s a guide to which GCSE subjects are compulsory and why it’s so important to take more than that.

Which GCSE Subjects Are Compulsory?

At GCSE level, there are only three subjects that are compulsory for you to sit exams in: maths, English and science. However, that doesn’t mean you’d leave school with three GCSE qualifications!

Each of the subjects gives you a different number of qualifications at the end. Here’s a breakdown for you:

  • Maths is worth one GCSE. However, you can do an optional GCSE or Level 2 in Further Maths to add to that!
  • English is made up of two separate qualifications: language and literature. English language is the only compulsory one, but most schools teach literature at the same time. It’s an easy way to get an extra qualification, so why not? Plus, if you pass literature but fail language, you don’t have to keep retaking the language GCSE. Basicaly, it gives you better odds.
  • Science can either be made up of two or three qualifications. It depends on how good you are at science and what your school has to offer, really! You either take combined science and leave with two GCSEs or triple science and leave with three.

So, just by sitting your compulsory subjects, you could leave school with five, six or even seven qualifications! Pretty amazing, if you ask me!

That sounds like a lot already, right? That might be enough for you, but your school isn’t off the hook yet. They have a legal obligation to offer other subjects like humanities and art for you to choose from. You don’t have to pick all of them, though.

Then, there are no compulsory subjects at A-level. So, you can take whatever you’d like. Well, for the time being, anyway. Unless Rishi Sunak changes things and forces maths on everyone.


Which GCSE Subjects Do You Have to Keep Retaking Until You Turn 18?

At the moment, you have to keep retaking maths and English until you pass them or you turn 18.

However, that doesn’t mean you can drop them in year 13 as soon as your 18th birthday rolls around. If you’re in full-time school education, you still have to follow the “under 18s” rule. So, anyone in sixth form at age 19 still has to sit those maths and English exams until they pass!

The good news is that you might not have to resit English language GCSE. If you got a grade 4 or above in literature, you’re fine!

What about if you’re unhappy with a grade in another subject? Or if you just want to try out maths or English again?

Well, resits are offered in pretty much every GCSE subject out there. I can’t think of any off the top of my head that wouldn’t allow it! Whether or not you can retake it will come down to the sixth form you’re studying at.

Many schools don’t offer resits for funding reasons. The government funds schools that are doing resits for people who failed maths and English. However, the funding isn’t there for other subjects. In fact, schools would even have to pay for maths and English resits out of pocket if the students passed but just wanted to try for a better grade.

Some schools are happy to pay that extra cost. For others, though? Well, their budget just can’t cover it. Or, they don’t have the required teachers to help you through. If either is the case, you might need to pay extra or go to a private company.

If you’ve failed English or maths GCSE, check out my post on what steps you should take.

Are Both English Language and Literature Compulsory?

English literature is not a compulsory subject, according to the government. Out of the two, the only one you have to do is English language! So, some schools might focus on language if they think taking both is too much for their students.

However, if you can take both, I highly recommend that you do! There are so many reasons why it is in your best interest to take both. Here are some of them:

  • It is easy to teach English language and literature together. In fact, the exam boards expect schools to do that, so they have guidelines on how teachers can prepare you properly for both in two years.
  • It is much easier to teach and revise for English literature. You know most of the texts you’re going to have to write about in literature. So, your teacher can prepare you much easier! In your language exam, you’ll get all new unseen texts. That makes it harder to revise for.
  • If you pass English literature, you don’t have to keep resitting English language. That makes your life much easier, to be honest. Since it’s easier to prepare for literature, you can focus harder on passing that. Then, you might not have to do English again – unless you love it, like I do.
  • It doubles your chance of never having to take English again. If you have a bad day and mess up an exam, you still have the chance that you’ll do well in the other subject. Then, no one can force you to touch English again.

If you can take both, do it. You’ll thank me in the long run.


Do You Have to Keep Taking GCSE English Language if You Pass Literature?

There is a lot of misinformation online about whether you have to resit English language if you pass English literature. I can tell you right now: as long as you get at least a grade 4 in one of them, you don’t need to take English ever again.

If you fail English language but pass literature, you don’t have to retake English at all. However, if you fail both, you have to retake English language. You don’t get to choose which one you’d rather do.

I got this information from the government website itself, so you can be sure it’s accurate.

However, lots of colleges, unis, qualifications and employers have their own rules. As I said in my blog post about the importance of English, failing your GCSE in this subject could close quite a few doors for you. So, if you do pass literature and your school is still offering you the chance to take language, it might be worth taking it anyway.

The thing is that English language and English literature classes should offer you different skills. Well, in theory, anyway. In my opinion, English language has way more to offer in terms of skills at a GCSE level. There’s a reason why it’s a compulsory subject, after all!

Lots of schools get away with giving students talking points they have to use in a literature exam. The students just repeat the analysis that their teachers drummed into them for two whole years. They don’t have to think for themselves. They don’t have to learn how to analyse.

With language, on the other hand, students have to think for themselves. Your teacher isn’t going to know what texts will come up, so they have to teach you reading comprehension and analysis. That’s really valuable in the long run.

So Why Do We Do So Many Different Subjects?

There are only three subjects at GCSE level that are compulsory for you to take: maths, English and science. Out of those three subjects, you only need to do maths and English over and over again if you don’t pass them. So, why do we take so many others at GCSE level?

Well, it’s to help you stand out and give you the best range of skills and options for your future as possible. The more you do when you’re studying for your GCSEs, the easier it should be for you to get an idea of what you want to do with your future.

It opens a whole lot of doors for you in the long run, too. For example, learning a language is a great way to boost your applications when applying for a job. It doesn’t matter the industry. There will always be a use for bilingual people. Or, it can help you to move abroad to follow your dreams.

Generally, having a broad understanding of lots of different subjects will help you no matter what you want to do in your life. That’s why it’s worth opening your eyes and learning as much as you can while it’s free.

Plus, you can find out what you definitely don’t want to continue later in your education career. Some subjects seem amazing when you’re in year 7-9. Then, you start your GCSEs in them and realise they’re just not for you. If you only do a few subjects, you don’t have as many options to pivot and change your course for A-levels.

Whatever you choose, remember that your GCSEs will prove useful to you. It proves that you’re hardworking and dedicated. So, why not?

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