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Guide to British examinations

If you are not familiar with the British examination system, it can be a little confusing. Read this guide if you are not sure what the difference is between the exams, or why and when they are taken.

General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)

What are GCSEs?

GCSEs are the main examinations taken by UK students to complete the first stage of secondary or high school education.

Once you have completed your GCSE programmes, you’ll be ideally placed to progress to A-level or equivalent.

What subjects can I study?

There is a broad and exciting range of GCSE subjects to choose from. Some subjects at this level are compulsory and others optional.

For example, at Bellerbys College you’ll study 3 core subjects and then choose up to 3 from a list of further options.

  • Core subjects: Mathematics, English, and Computer Studies.
  • Optional subjects: Accounting, Art, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Economics, Geography, Natural Economy and Physics.


What do GCSEs consist of?

Depending on which subjects you choose, you’ll receive lessons taught in the classroom or laboratory. In some cases you’ll also take part in educational field trips.

You’ll be expected to complete homework and independent or group research projects.

To ensure that you make progress, regular testing is also a feature of most GCSE programmes.

How will I be assessed?

For each GCSE subject that you take, you’ll receive a final grade from A* (highest) to G.

Your GCSE result will depend on the outcome of one or more methods of assessment:

  • Exams that are externally marked and graded.
  • Continuous assessment during your course. For example, coursework assignments and practical experiments.

Please note: The proportion of coursework to exams will depend on the subject, and the timing of your exams and coursework will vary.

What do my GCSE grades mean?

They are a measure of your achievement at UK secondary or high school level. Also, they assess your ability to progress to A-level or an equivalent standard.

Some universities specify minimum grades in certain subjects as part of their entrance requirements. Later on, some companies will only consider your application if you have achieved specific grades in particular subjects.

What else will I gain from studying GCSEs?

Studying such a broad range of subjects will help you to decide what you are really interested in. If you want to progress to A-level, studying GCSEs will give you the ideal grounding. You will develop:

  • Your ability to think critically
  • Research and analysis skills
  • Study techniques
  • Team working ability

    Advanced Level (A Level)

    What are A Levels?

    A levels are studied typically between the ages of 16 - 18 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, although mature students are also encouraged. They remain the most popular route into UK higher education institutions.

    How many subjects do I take?

    To gain entry to a top UK university you’ll need 3 or 4 good A Level grades, although if you’re exceptionally talented you can take 5 subjects.

    What subjects can I study?

    There is a broad range of A levels for you to choose from, including Business, Science, Arts and Humanities subjects. At Bellerbys we encourage you to study the subjects you'll enjoy. However, we recommend the following choices in preparation for specific degree areas:

    • Science, Medicine and Engineering: Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
    • Business, Humanities and Law: Maths, Economics, Accountancy, Business Studies, English Literature and Psychology.

    At Bellerbys you can also choose any of the following as one or more of your 4 subjects:

    • Art, Geography, Graphic Design, History, Information Computing Technology, Law, Photography, Politics, Sociology and Media Studies.

    What do A Levels consist of?

    Each A Level consists of 6 units which are studied in two stages:

    • Stage 1 – Advanced Subsidiary (AS) level: You’ll study 3 modules and upon completion you’ll be awarded an AS Level.
    • Stage 2 – A2 level: You’ll study the second set of 3 units which will take your AS level to a full A Level.

    Please note: When you have completed the A2 Level, your AS Level grade is transferred to one A Level grade. If you decide not to continue to A2 Level, you can keep your AS Level grade. This can still be used as part of your application to university.

    What do my grades mean?

    For each A Level subject you take, you’ll receive a grade from A – E. The entrance requirements for the university courses you’ve applied for will be expressed as either:

    • Grades: AAB, BCC or CCC for example.
    • A UCAS Tariff score: 360, 300 or 280 for example. You can translate your predicted A Level and AS Level grades into UCAS tariff points below:
    A Level
    AS Level

    Many companies will also evaluate your application for a job on the basis of your A Level grades, as well as your degree.

    What else will I gain from taking A Levels?

    In addition to academic study, the aim of A level study is to develop important competences: Independent thinking, study skills, team working, research and analysis. It will also help you to decide what you would like to study at degree level.

    Foundation programmes

    What is a Foundation course?

    Foundation programmes are designed to lead to acceptance onto a degree course at university. They typically last between 9 months and 2 years.

    Why should I study a Foundation programme?

    If you can answer yes to any of these questions, a Foundation course could be for you:

    • Do you need to improve your English or academic study skills before degree level study?
    • Do you lack the formal qualifications needed to enter a British university?
    • Do you require knowledge of a particular academic subject area to gain entry to a degree?

    At Bellerbys we specialise in educating international students and can prepare you to succeed alongside UK nationals at university. Upon completion of the Bellerbys Foundation programme you will possess:

    • A command of the English language necessary to excel at degree level.
    • Important skills such as independent thinking, team working, research and analysis.
    • A strong academic grounding in your chosen subject area.

    We can also offer guaranteed entry to a degree course of your choice at one of our 33 partner universities.

    What Foundation subjects can I study?

    Foundation courses exist in a wide variety of subject areas including Business, Science, Arts and Humanities. At Bellerbys we provide counselling to ensure that you select the right Foundation course. We offer 7 subject pathways:

    • Art & Design.
    • Business, Accountancy, Economics.
    • Engineering.
    • Humanities, Media Studies, Psychology.
    • Law.
    • Science, Pharmacy.
    • Information Technology.

    What degree can I do afterwards?

    The degree choices available to you will depend on which Foundation subject you studied.

    At Bellerbys the 7 Foundation subject pathways lead to more than 250 different degree programmes at 33 universities. We will also give you expert advice on university application and organise visits from universities.

    What does the Foundation programme consist of?

    You’ll take core modules for all subject routes. This will give you the essential language proficiency, study skills and cultural awareness needed to succeed at a British university:

    • English 1 and 2 - academic reading and writing, listening.
    • English 3 - Study Skills including academic speaking.
    • Core Mathematics (not part of Law, Humanities or Art & Design route).
    • Computer Information Technology.
    • Introduction to British Culture.

    You will also study specialist modules that relate to the subject route you have chosen.

    How long does the course last for?

    The Foundation programme is an intensive course which lasts for 9 months.







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