How many GCSEs subjects do you need?

The Basics

Most students in the UK take between 8 and 10 GCSE subjects. The core subjects that are compulsory for all students are:

  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Mathematics
  • Combined Science or separate Physics, Chemistry and Biology

In addition to these core subjects, students choose 3-5 optional GCSE subjects depending on their interests and abilities. Popular optional GCSEs include:

  • History
  • Geography
  • Modern Foreign Languages (e.g. French, Spanish, German)
  • Computer Science
  • Art and Design
  • Music
  • Drama
  • Physical Education
  • Religious Studies

So in summary, most students take 8-10 GCSE subjects made up of:

  • 4 compulsory core subjects
  • 3-5 optional subjects

Is there a minimum number of GCSEs you need?

There is no legal minimum number of GCSEs you need to take. However, most schools expect their students to take between 8-10 GCSEs to give them a broad base of skills and knowledge.

Many sixth forms, colleges and employers look for students who have taken at least 5 GCSEs at grades 9-5 (A*-C under the old grading system) including English and Maths when considering applications. So taking less than 8 GCSEs may limit your options after Year 11.

Is there a maximum number of GCSEs you can take?

There is no official maximum number of GCSEs a student can take. Some students choose to take 11 or 12 GCSEs if they have a broader range of interests and academic abilities.

However, taking a large number of GCSEs can put students under a lot of pressure in terms of workload and exam stress. Most educators recommend sticking to 8-10 GCSEs so students can give each subject the time and focus needed to achieve their full potential.

What are the most common number of GCSEs taken?

The most common number of GCSEs taken by students in the UK is between 8-10. Let’s look at some statistics:

  • Around 15% of students take 8 GCSEs
  • Around 45% of students take 9 GCSEs
  • Around 25% of students take 10 GCSEs
  • Around 10% of students take 11 GCSEs
  • Only around 5% of students take 12 or more GCSEs

So in summary, around 85% of students in the UK take between 8 and 10 GCSEs.

Should I take more GCSEs to impress top universities?

Taking a large number of GCSEs will not necessarily impress top universities. Universities are generally more interested in the grades you achieve rather than the number of GCSEs you take.

The top universities are looking for around 7/8 GCSEs at grade 7/A or above, with at least grade 5/B in English and Maths. Taking 10 or 11 GCSEs won’t make much difference if the grades are mediocre.

It’s better to take 8 or 9 GCSEs and achieve top grades in these subjects, than take 11 or 12 GCSEs and spread yourself too thin. Depth is usually seen as better than breadth at GCSE level when it comes to university applications.

Factors to consider when choosing GCSEs

When deciding how many GCSEs to take, here are some things to consider:

  • Your abilities and interests – Take GCSEs in subjects you are good at and enjoy to maximize your chances of success.
  • University course requirements – Some university courses require specific GCSEs at certain grades.
  • Career aspirations – Some jobs and apprenticeships look for GCSEs in certain subjects.
  • Workload and exam stress – Taking too many GCSEs can negatively impact your mental health.
  • School preferences – Some schools encourage students to take 9 or 10 GCSEs.

Getting the balance right between breadth and depth is important – take enough GCSEs to keep your options open but not so many that you jeopardize your grades in individual subjects.

Tips for choosing your GCSE subjects

Here are some useful tips when deciding which GCSEs to take:

  • Take core English, Maths and Science – these are essential for many careers and university courses.
  • Choose some facilitating subjects like History, Geography, Languages – these are preferred by top universities.
  • Pick 1-2 creative subjects you enjoy like Art, Music, Drama.
  • Consider Computer Science or an IT qualification – useful digital skills.
  • Don’t take too many similar subjects – avoid overlapping content.
  • Balance your strengths with new challenges – play to your abilities but add new interests.
  • Check university and career requirements – make informed choices about required subjects.
  • Consult teachers and advisors for guidance on the right options.

Can I change my GCSE options later on?

Most schools set GCSE options in Year 9 and start teaching these courses in Year 10. However, there may be some limited flexibility to change options later on if you speak to your teachers.

Possible reasons for changing GCSE options include:

  • You’re really struggling with a subject and at risk of failing.
  • You’ve discovered a new interest or talent you want to develop.
  • You’ve changed career plans and need different qualifications.
  • You need to meet specific university course requirements.

Schools will try to accommodate requests to change options where feasible. However, there are some limitations:

  • Some subjects like Languages or Humanities have set starting points so picking them up midway is difficult.
  • Moving sets between tiers like Foundation or Higher may not be possible.
  • Class sizes and timetabling may restrict availability of your new subject choice.
  • You will have missed content already covered in Year 10 for new subjects.

The earlier you request a change, the more options will be open to you. Leaving it too late may mean you have to continue with an unsuitable GCSE subject.

Can I drop a GCSE subject?

You can request to drop a GCSE subject, but this is usually discouraged by schools unless there are exceptional circumstances. Reasons a school may allow a student to drop a GCSE include:

  • You have an acute health issue or long-term illness.
  • You have a special educational need or disability.
  • You are experiencing severe stress or mental health issues.
  • You need more time for English and Maths resits.

Schools have to submit final GCSE entries by February of Year 11, so any subject drops need to happen before then. Consider the implications of dropping a GCSE:

  • May affect your post-16 options if you don’t have enough GCSEs.
  • Looks bad on your academic record to have an incomplete GCSE.
  • Waste of time and effort studying that subject in Year 10.
  • Could disappoint parents or teachers who advised taking that GCSE.

Discuss any plans to drop a GCSE thoroughly with your teachers and parents first. Explore if other forms of support may help you complete the GCSE instead.

Taking GCSEs early in Year 10

It is possible for very able students to take some GCSE exams earlier at the end of Year 10. This is a big commitment requiring a lot of preparation outside normal school hours. Benefits include:

  • Frees up time in Year 11 to focus on other GCSEs.
  • Spreads exam pressure over 2 years rather than all at the end of Year 11.
  • Chance to prove yourself with grades to impress sixth forms or employers.

Schools will only enter students for early GCSE entry if they are excelling academically in that subject and on track for a top grade 7-9. Subjects commonly taken early are Maths, Science, IT and Modern Foreign Languages.

Students should be sure they are ready to take the GCSE a year early as resits may not be allowed. Take the opportunity if you are a talented linguist or mathematician but don’t rush into it if you have any doubts.

Repeating GCSEs in Year 12 or 13

If you miss your target grades in GCSE English or Maths, you can choose to resit these qualifications alongside your A-levels or BTECs in Year 12/13. Some points to consider:

  • You are required to keep studying English and Maths post-16 if you don’t achieve a grade 4.
  • Retaking in sixth form gives you more time to improve versus resitting at college.
  • GCSE resits take time away from your main course of study.
  • Entry requirements may specify higher grades like a 6 or 7 in English and Maths.

Speak to your intended sixth form about repeating GCSEs – check if they offer GCSE classes and exam entry. Aim to resit as soon as possible in Year 12 to make progress and avoid the stress of resitting alongside Year 13 A-levels.


Most students take 8-10 GCSEs. Focus on achieving top grades in the core subjects plus 3-4 well-chosen optional GCSEs that support your future aspirations. Avoid taking too many GCSEs that could jeopardize your performance across the board. Seek guidance from teachers if you’re unsure about your GCSE choices – they want you to make informed decisions that lead to future success.

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