How important are your GCSE results?

Timothy Hoffmann

The importance of GCSE results is debated widely in the press and amongst students and teachers. In the article below, we hope to give you a clearer picture of how your GCSE grades may impact what you can study during the IB, at university and beyond.

The first major decision that your GCSE grades affect are the sixth form that you attend. Most sixth forms have entry requirements, ranging from 6 GCSEs at grade A*-C, through to 11 A-A*s, with most lying somewhere in the middle. GCSEs act as a good, and one of the only, indications of your IB success, so selective schools will place entry criteria onto their sixth form. As you will be studying maths, science, languages, English and humanities as part of the IB, it is beneficial for schools and students that these entry criteria are in place to ensure you are a good fit for the school and its IB curriculum.

Having said this, you may be taking a new subject as part of your IB Diploma, such as Economics or Global Politics, that you were not examined on as part of your GCSEs. Schools are likely to look for subjects requiring similar skills (such as Maths or History) and use these grades to predict how well you will do in these new subjects. Moreover, some students may have the chance to achieve higher results in a better school if they gain a sixth form place. This makes predicting how well students will do a hard task for admissions teams, and so GCSE grades may only be one of a number of factors that are considered when looking at potential applications.

If you are looking to choose a sixth form that offers the IB Diploma, we have produced an e-book that compares all of the IB schools in the UK. Please feel free to contact us for more information.

Once you have chosen your school or college for sixth form, your GCSE grades may also impact the type of qualification you are able to take. IB Diploma schools may also offer the IB Career Program (IBCP), a more employment-focused course that prepares students for the workplace. A similar route students may choose to take is via a BTEC qualification. Like the IBCP, these are work-specific qualifications that are typically taken by students looking to move into the world of work following sixth form. These qualifications are accepted by universities, so students who choose to go down this route should see the equivalent UCAS tariff needed to attain a place on their course. Alternatively, if students do not want to study at university full-time, they can still study for a part-time degree whilst they work or undertake a degree-apprenticeship; a more formal qualification where they can study for a Bachelor’s degree whilst working part-time with an employer. Degree apprenticeships are available after the age of 18 and typically require a qualification equivalent to the IB, but this also includes previous apprenticeship work and BTEC qualifications.

The next big stage that GCSEs affect is the number of university options a student has. Some universities expect a minimum number of GCSEs from their applicants, and use this as a filtering mechanism in their application process. The University of Edinburgh requires a minimum of a pass (grade C/4) in GCSE English for its courses; whilst the University of Manchester requires a pass in GCSE Maths as well as English. However, Cambridge University explicitly state that there are no GCSE requirements for their courses, as they consider “all applicants individually” and the “context” of their GCSE performance. It is crucial to remember that it is harder to achieve high GCSE results at some schools, and this will be taken into account when you make your university, apprenticeship or job application. Similarly, a strong set of IB results will usually outweigh any negative performance at GCSE level, and show that you are willing to work to achieve results are setbacks.
If this should apply to you, it is possible for your academic reference to explain how you have improved from GCSEs to IB. Similarly, showing a strong character in your personal statement, entry examinations and participating in super- and extra-curricular activities will all improve your application. It is also possible to take additional courses at university if you do not meet the subject requirements. For example, University College London require all graduates to have attained the equivalent of a grade C in a modern foreign language (MFL) by the end of their undergraduate study. However, if this was not achieved at school, you can take a module at the UCL Centre for Languages & International Education to satisfy this requirement (and broaden your language ability).

Specific university courses may also look at your GCSE scores:

  • Engineering will expect to see good Maths and Science scores at GCSE level; for example, University of Bath require “strong Maths and Chemistry GCSE grades” for their Chemical Engineering course.
  • Medicine courses are likely to look for students with high GCSE grades. The University of Birmingham state that applicants normally offer 7 GCSEs, with English Language, Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry (or dual award) at grade B/6*
  • Social work and secondary school teaching (PGCE) courses are likely to require a minimum grade C in Maths and English GCSE to be admitted, given that clear communication in these fields of work is vital.

*For specific information on medics, please see the Medic Portal website

However, it is important to remember that GCSEs recede in importance once you achieve the next level of qualification. They start to descend down your CV, with University degrees, apprenticeships and workplace qualifications replacing them. You can think of GCSEs as unlocking one of several doors to the next stage of your education, with plenty of other doors available without this key. A final thought from Dr Steven Jones: “The key message for any students disappointed with their GCSE results is don’t give up!”

For more information on the importance of GCSEs, Which? Produce a very helpful article:
https://university.which.co.uk/advice/gcse-choices-university/how-important-are-my-gcse-grades#unicourse