A subject-by-subject guide to how the new exams will work

Exam hall


• Students will be expected to show their understanding of locational knowledge, with case studies set within the context of the region, country and wider world

• More emphasis on the human and physical geography of the UK. In physical geography, students will need to show they understand weathering, slope movement and erosion; coasts and rivers; and climate change. In human geography, students should demonstrate they understand the causes and effects of urbanisation; and should use two case studies from an economically advanced country, the other from a poorer or emerging economy.

• The interactions between people and environments, change in places and processes over space and time, and the interrelationship between geographical phenomena at different scales and in different contexts.

• Range of skills needed for use in fieldwork, in using maps and geographical information systems and in researching secondary evidence including digital sources

• Overall, exam questions will emphasise knowledge and understanding in relation to real world contexts.

English language

• The new specification aims to ensure that students read well and write effectively.

• Greater focus on good spelling, punctuation and grammar. Marks allocated for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar will increase from 12% to 20%.

• A greater range of writing skills will be required – students will be required to describe, narrate, explain, instruct and argue, and be able to write for impact, organising and emphasising ideas and key points.

• Formal speaking skills will be separately reported, removing the risk of over-marking by teachers.

• Students will have read texts from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries in preparation for an ‘unseen texts’ exam component.

• Critical reading: recognising and drawing inferences; reflecting critically on text.

• Evaluation of a writer’s choice of vocabulary, form, grammatical and structural features.

• Comparing texts: comparing two or more texts critically.

English literature

• Students will be expected to study a greater range of high-quality, challenging texts from key periods in the history of English literature.

• Digital texts – blogs, email and web texts – will not be included.

• Students’ reading should include whole texts.

• Detailed study of a range of intellectually challenging and substantial whole texts must include:

– at least one play by Shakespeare

– a selection of representative Romantic poetry

– at least one 19th-century novel

– poetry from 1850 to 1980

– British fiction, poetry or drama since the first world war

• Students will be examined on their ability to evaluate ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’ texts.

• No more than two texts should be selected from each of prose, poetry and drama.

• Writing: clear, coherent text; accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar.


• Controlled assessment to be reduced but still remaining to provide effective assessment of practical skills.

• Increased emphasis on recall of essential knowledge such as formulae in physics.

• In biology students will need to demonstrate they can understand cell biology as well as electron microscopy, stem cells; enzymes; the human circulatory system; the development of medicine; climate change and its effects; photosynthesis; eco-systems; and human reproduction.

• In chemistry students will need to demonstrate understanding of concepts including: atomic structure and the Periodic Table; the properties of metals; bulk and surface properties of matter including nanoparticles; chemical equations; acid, alkalis and the pH scale; recycling; greenhouse gases and changes to climate over time; and agricultural productivity.

• In physics students will need to demonstrate they can understand energy; speed, velocity and acceleration; forces and friction, levers and gears; wavelengths and frequency; light as rays and as waves, refraction, and electromagnetic waves and magnets; electricity; and lens action.


• Greater focus on the history of Britain (from 25% to 40% of content) and students will be expected to show an understanding of chronology. But students should also show an understanding of the history of the wider world.

• Students will no longer be able to follow GCSE courses that are narrowly focused on one period of history or have a narrow focus on one historical theme.

• A greater weighting on the selection, recall and application of historical knowledge and understanding.

• In particular students should study a substantial and coherent element of British history and/or the history of England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland (minimum 40%). This must include at least one in-depth study chosen from the Medieval (500-1500), Early Modern (1450-1750) or Modern (1700-present day) periods.

• A substantial and coherent element of the study of the history of the wider world (minimum 25%), from the same periods as above.

Ancient language

• The new exams will ensure students develop and use vocabulary, syntax and grammar of their chosen language to read, understand and interpret the ancient languages (Latin and Greek), and develop and understand classical literature.

• Students will also be expected to identify and explain the derivation of English words from the ancient language.

• New specifications will mean there will be new assessment objectives of linguistic competence (50%) and cultural competence (50%).

• Greater emphasis on the ability to use the language.


• GCSE specifications in maths should enable students to develop fluent knowledge, skills and understanding of mathematical methods and concepts.

• Students should acquire, select and apply mathematical techniques to solve problems, reason mathematically, make deductions and inferences and draw conclusions comprehend, interpret and communicate mathematical information in a variety of forms appropriate to the information and context.

• Students will need to apply the four calculation operations to integers, decimal fractions, simple proper and improper fractions, and mixed numbers. They will also use powers, roots and reciprocals.

• There will be questions on algebra, including the laws of indices, co-ordinates, perpendicular lines, exponential and trigonometric relationships, as well as ratio, geometry and measures, and probability.

• Exams will be more challenging – students will have to apply their knowledge and reasoning to provide clear mathematical arguments.

• There will be fewer single-step questions and more non-routine problems.

Modern languages

• The new specifications will ensure modern languages students can communicate well with native speakers, both speaking and writing. They should also develop awareness of the culture and identity of the countries where the language is spoken and broaden their horizons.

• Equal weighting of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Each will now be 25%.

• Introduction of abridged or adapted literary texts Literary texts can include poems, letters, short stories, extracts and excerpts from abridged and adapted essays, novels, or plays from contemporary and historical sources.

• Requirement to translate sentences and short texts from English into the assessed language.

• Oral exams will be key parts of the new GCSEs.

• The new GCSEs will provide the basis for study at A-level, as preparation before a university degree course.


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