How to write a GCSE English Speech: Your 2025 Exams Guide

How to write a GCSE English Speech: Your 2025 Exams Guide

It’s a part of the GCSE English Language syllabus that fills most students with dread… public speaking. 

But preparing for your GCSE English speech shouldn’t be daunting! It’s generally only five minutes long, and you can normally speak about pretty much anything you want. Think of it as a chance to let your passion, interests and creativity shine.

With the right approach to writing your speech, you’ll deliver a powerful and engaging presentation. In this guide, we’ll talk you through the key steps to crafting an outstanding speech – drawing on our expert insights, official mark schemes and examiner preferences.

Ready? Let’s talk.

How do you write a good GCSE English speech?

Writing a fantastic GCSE English speech involves several important elements. You’ll have to think about your audience, choose a compelling topic and research it thoroughly. Once you’re writing, you should organise your arguments effectively and select appropriate yet impressive vocabulary to persuade your audience. 

So, how do I start writing my speech?

Let’s break down each of these components and how to start writing.

How to write a powerful speech: 8 top tips

1. Mind-map your ideas

Begin by jotting down all your ideas without worrying about order or relevance. Think about what interests you and what will capture your audience’s attention. 

Your teacher might give you a steer, but consider current events, personal experiences and topics you’re passionate about. This mind-mapping session will help you generate a pool of ideas.

2. Refine your topic

Once you have a list of ideas, narrow it down to one topic. If you’re passionate and well-informed, your enthusiasm will shine through and make your speech more convincing.

Ensure your topic is specific enough to be covered in the time allowed – but broad enough to provide substantial content.

3. Research thoroughly

Before creating an outline, gather some initial information on your chosen topic. Look for credible sources, interesting facts, real-life examples and diverse perspectives or quotes from experts. 

Only select the most compelling evidence to support your main points. This will help you understand the depth and scope of your topic and provide a solid foundation for your arguments.

4. Create an outline

Now it’s time to organise your ideas into a clear and logical outline. Decide on the main points you’ll cover and the evidence or examples you’ll use to support them. 

An outline serves as a roadmap for your speech, helping you cover all the necessary points in an order that makes sense. Typically, your speech should have an introduction, a body and a conclusion (we’ll cover structure in the next section).

5. Understand your audience

Adjust your language and examples to suit your peers and teachers. Consider their interests, experiences and what might resonate with them – and tailor your writing to match. For instance, you could use humour, emotional anecdotes, relatable stories or surprising facts to grab their attention.

6. Use persuasive language

By this, we mean plenty of rhetorical devices. You could use repetition and alliteration to emphasise key points, rhetorical questions to provoke thought, or hyperbole and emotive language to connect with your audience. 

A great speech is all about painting pictures with words. Just ensure your message is always clear, and avoid technical terms unless they’re absolutely essential and clearly explained.

7. Draft and revise

Write a complete first draft without worrying too much about perfection. Just focus on getting your ideas down.

Then it’s time for editing and polishing. Look for areas where you can improve clarity, coherence, and impact. Pay attention to grammar, punctuation and word choice – reading your speech aloud to catch any awkward phrasing.

8. Practise your delivery

Rehearse regularly in the weeks before your speech. Focus on your pacing, intonation and body language to make your delivery smooth and natural.

Perform your speech to friends or family and ask for constructive feedback. Teachers often appreciate a “TED Talk” delivery. So if you’re unsure what this means, watch a few videos on YouTube.

Essentially, you should focus on a clear, engaging and confident presentation. So use body language to your advantage. Your gestures, facial expressions and movements all enhance your speech. Engage your audience with plenty of eye contact and vary your voice. Think about switching up your pitch, pace and volume to maintain interest and emphasise points.

A note on assessment criteria..

As well as these general tips, it’s vital to understand the assessment criteria you’re working with. Thankfully, this is similar for all the main GCSE exam boards. You can find an example here.

In addition, AQA has published some super helpful notes and guidance. While these notes are aimed at teachers, they show what examiners look for in a speech – including your content, structure, delivery and responses to questions. For instance, they suggest a 1-5 marking scale for the following questions:

  • Did the start get your attention?
  • Was the purpose for the talk clear?
  • Were the examples/details relevant/interesting?
  • How well did they hold your attention?
  • Did they end well/clearly?
  • How effectively did they respond to questions?

If you’re preparing for GCSE exams, don’t miss our guides to grade boundaries and percentages, the GCSE grading system and your post-16 choices once you’ve finished exams.

How should you structure a GCSE English speech?

To deliver a powerful GCSE English speech, structuring your speech is essential. 

Start with a strong opening to capture your audience’s attention. This first sentence could be a powerful quote that relates to your topic, a startling fact that intrigues and provokes thought, or a personal anecdote that creates connection with your audience. 

Your opening sets the tone and primes your audience for what’s to come, so make it count.

When it comes to the rest of your speech, organise your content into three main sections: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Each section should flow smoothly into the next, guiding your audience through your argument.


In the introduction, greet your audience warmly. Clearly state your topic to set the context for your speech – and make sure you’ve nailed that opening line.

Provide a brief outline of the main points you’ll cover (just a couple of sentences will do), giving your audience a roadmap of what to expect. This helps them follow along and stay engaged throughout your speech.

The body

The body of your speech is where you present your main points in detail. Each point should be clearly defined and supported with solid evidence or relevant examples. 

Use clear transitions between points (such as furthermore, firstly, secondly etc.) to ensure your speech flows logically. This helps your audience understand and remember your argument.


In the conclusion, briefly summarise your key points to reinforce your message. Restate the importance of your topic, highlighting why it matters and what you hope your audience takes away from your speech. 

End with a memorable closing statement, such as a call to action, a thought-provoking question or a powerful quote. This ensures your speech leaves a lasting impact after you’ve finished speaking.

How do I end a GCSE English speech?

Ending your speech on a high is key to leaving a lasting impression on your audience. Here are some effective techniques to ensure your conclusion resonates.

  • Call to action: Encourage your listeners to take specific steps related to your topic (e.g., “Vote Green,” “Buy Fairtrade”). This not only reinforces your message but motivates your audience to engage with real-life issues.
  • Powerful quotes: Wrap up with a powerful quote summarising your main points. A memorable quote can leave a lasting impact and give your speech a thought-provoking finish.
  • Anecdotes: End with a personal anecdote related to your central theme. Sharing personal stories makes your speech more relatable and emotionally engaging, helping your audience connect on a deeper level.
  • Rhetorical questions: Consider leaving your listeners with a rhetorical question. A well-crafted, thought-provoking question can keep them thinking about your topic long after you’ve finished speaking.

Or what about all four? By combining these techniques in your final paragraph, you’ll craft a conclusion that really leaves your audience with something to remember.

How long should a GCSE English speech be?

A typical GCSE English speech is around 4-5 minutes long. This gives enough time to develop your points while keeping your audience engaged. From a practical perspective, it also lets everyone in the class give their speech without taking-up too many lessons!

If you surpass your allocated time, your teacher might remind you to wrap things up. To avoid rushing, practise your speech under timed conditions. Be 100% confident before you stand up, that you can give your speech within the timeframe.

Are you preparing for your GCSE English exams?

By following these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to writing and delivering an impressive GCSE English speech. Remember, practice and preparation are key. Good luck!

At Achieve Learning, we provide expert 1-1 tuition for GCSE English and Maths as well as academic coaching and reading support. Get in touch with our knowledgeable and friendly team today to discuss your academic goals.

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GCSE Grades and Percentages: The GCSE Grading System Explained

The General Certificate of Secondary Education (or GCSE) is a UK-based academic qualification, usually taken by students at 16 years old. 

With subjects ranging from the sciences to language, sports and the arts, GCSEs are a crucial part of students’ educational journey. But with so many options, understanding GCSE grades and percentages can be tricky.

Among your options, English and Maths GCSEs are particularly pivotal, often listed as essential requirements for post-16 education and employment. So in this article, we’ll focus on the grading of GCSE English and Maths, with everything you need to know about how grades and percentages correlate.

Here are GCSE grades, explained.

What is the GCSE grading system?

The GCSE grading system is standardised across the country, so it’s fair no matter which exam board you’re studying with. It underwent a significant overhaul in 2017, transitioning from traditional A*-G grades to a numerical system ranging from 9 to 1. Now, 9 is the highest grade (equivalent to a high A* under the old system), while 1 is the lowest. 

This new GCSE grading system aims to provide more differentiation among the highest-achieving students. 

Instead of just A* or A at the top level, the new 7 at GCSE roughly equates with a low A. Grade 8 is equivalent to a high A or low A*, and grade 9 represents the highest academic achievement.

How do GCSE grades and percentages work?

A combination of coursework, practical assessments and final exams determine GCSE grades. But final exams (taken at the end of a two-year course) generally carry the most weight. 

GCSE exam boards (such as AQA, Edexcel, OCR and WJEC Eduqas) set grade boundaries each year, based on exam difficulty and student performance. So this means the percentage for a particular grade varies from year to year, and subject to subject. 

Generally though, you’ll find rough percentages align with grades. Before we go into specific details for GCSE English and Maths, here are the 2023 grade boundaries (across all subjects) for each exam board.

What is the pass mark for GCSE Maths?

For GCSE Maths (and all GCSE subjects), a grade 4 is considered a standard pass. This equates to a low C under the previous grading system. 

Across England, only 67.8% of GCSE grades were at grade 4 or above.

The percentage you’ll need to achieve a grade 4 varies, but it typically falls around 40-60% for GCSE Foundation Maths. For Higher Tier students, you’ll only need around 10-25% to secure a grade 4 “pass”.

Here are the 2023 pass marks for each exam board.

GCSE Higher Maths: Grade 4 Boundaries

  • AQA: 59 out of 240 marks (25%)
  • Edexcel: 47 out of 240 marks (20%)
  • OCR: 39 out of 300 marks (13%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 32 out of 240 marks (13%)

GCSE Foundation Maths: Grade 4 Boundaries

  • AQA: 158 out of 240 marks (66%)
  • Edexcel: 147 out of 240 marks (61%)
  • OCR: 129 out of 300 marks (43%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 105 out of 240 marks (44%)

If you’re preparing for GCSE Maths, read our complete guide to the GCSE Maths syllabus, as well as Maths GCSE exam boards and the lowdown on revision websites like Corbett Maths and Maths Genie.

What is the pass mark for GCSE English?

Similarly to GCSE Maths, a standard pass for GCSE English is a grade 4. Likewise, the percentage you’ll need changes each year, but it ranges from about 30-50%. 

Here are the 2023 pass marks for GCSE English Language and English Literature.

GCSE English Language: Grade 4 Boundaries

  • AQA: 71 out of 160 marks (44%)
  • Edexcel: 80 out of 160 marks (50%)
  • OCR: 69 out of 160 marks (43%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 75 out of 200 marks (38%)

GCSE English Literature: Grade 4 Boundaries

  • AQA: 57 out of 160 marks (36%)
  • Edexcel: 67 out of 160 marks (42%)
  • OCR: 49 out of 160 marks (31%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 85 out of 200 marks (43%)

Achieving a grade 4 in Maths and English is pretty important, as it’s a common requirement for further education and professional jobs. Understand how your GCSE grades affect your post-16 choices (and what options are available), with our in-depth guide.

If you’re preparing for your GCSE English exams, don’t miss our tips for exam success in English Language and how to get a grade 9 in English Literature.

What GCSE grade is 40%?

As you can see, it differs.

A score of 40% might just be enough to secure a pass in WJEC Eduqas English Language. It might also get you there with AQA or OCR English Literature. 

But for English in general, a score of 40% typically falls into the grade 3 category, which is below the standard pass mark for GCSE. 

In Higher Maths however, a score of 40% equals a grade 5 or above. With OCR and Eduqas, it gets you a grade 6!

If you’ve just fallen short of a grade 4 in GCSE English or Maths, the good news is you’ve got plenty of options. You can have your papers reviewed (known as an appeal) or resit your exams. As part of this, academic coaching is useful to help you unpick any problem areas. 

If resits aren’t an option, apprenticeships or vocational qualifications like BTECs generally have more flexible entry requirements.

What is 70% in GCSE grades?

A score of 70% will usually get you a grade 7 or 8 at GCSE, depending on the subject and your exam board’s grade boundaries for that year. 

Here are the percentages you’ll need to reach a grade 8 in English and Maths. Most are just above or below the 70% mark.

GCSE English Language: Grade 8 Boundaries

  • AQA: 111 out of 160 marks (69%)
  • Edexcel: 122 out of 160 marks (76%)
  • OCR: 118 out of 160 marks (74%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 132 out of 200 marks (66%)

GCSE English Literature: Grade 8 Boundaries

  • AQA: 119 out of 160 marks (74%)
  • Edexcel: 121 out of 160 marks (76%)
  • OCR: 118 out of 160 marks (74%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 141 out of 200 marks (71%)

GCSE Higher Maths: Grade 8 Boundaries

  • AQA: 186 out of 240 marks (78%)
  • Edexcel: 174 out of 240 marks (73%)
  • OCR: 193 out of 300 marks (64%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 152 out of 240 marks (63%)

We should also mention that for GCSE Foundation Maths, grade 5 is the highest possible score, even if you achieve 70% or more. Here are the percentages you’ll need to reach grade 5.

GCSE Foundation Maths: Grade 5 Boundaries

  • AQA: 189 out of 240 marks (79%)
  • Edexcel: 182 out of 240 marks (76%)
  • OCR: 178 out of 300 marks (60%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 133 out of 240 marks (55%)

Is 7 a good GCSE grade?

Yes, a grade 7 is a very good GCSE grade! 

A grade 7 is well above average, equivalent to a high A under the old grading system. It indicates strong exam performance, plenty of dedication and a firm grasp of your subject matter. 

Across England, only 20.7% of GCSE grades were at grade 7 or above. So if you’re in this minority, well done.

In Maths, only 17.5% of grades were 7 or above. For English Language, it’s 16.3% and English Literature is 21%. So a grade 7 is even more impressive for English and Maths!

What GCSE grade is 80%?

An 80% score on your GCSE exams will generally get you at least a grade 8. In some cases, you might even get a grade 9.

It represents a very high level of achievement, indicating you’ve excelled in your understanding and application of your subjects.

In Maths, 80% would get you a grade 9 with Edexcel and Eduqas. It’s probably a grade 8 with AQA and just on the cusp with OCR.

For English Language, 80% is a grade 9 for AQA and Eduqas, but a grade 8 for Edexcel and OCR. In English Literature, it will secure you a grade 9 with Eduqas, but a grade 8 with all the other exam boards.

Here are the scores you’ll need for a grade 9 in English and Maths.

GCSE English Language: Grade 9 Boundaries

  • AQA: 121 out of 160 marks (75%)
  • Edexcel: 131 out of 160 marks (81%)
  • OCR: 129 out of 160 marks (81%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 145 out of 200 marks (73%)

GCSE English Literature: Grade 9 Boundaries

  • AQA: 135 out of 160 marks (84%)
  • Edexcel: 132 out of 160 marks (83%)
  • OCR: 134 out of 160 marks (84%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 153 out of 200 marks (77%)

GCSE Higher Maths: Grade 9 Boundaries

  • AQA: 214 out of 240 marks (89%)
  • Edexcel: 203 out of 300 marks (68%)
  • OCR: 242 out of 300 marks (80%)
  • WJEC Eduqas: 187 out of 240 marks (78%)

Is a 9 in GCSE 90%?

Last but not least, we’ve reached the highest grade possible at GCSE: grade 9.

Like all the other grades we’ve discussed, a grade 9 doesn’t correspond to a fixed percentage like 90%. Instead, it represents the very highest level of academic attainment at GCSE. 

While the exact percentage required for a grade 9 varies each year, a score of 90% should reliably get you there!

Are you looking for help with your GCSE studies?

Understanding the GCSE grading system and exam percentages is crucial for students wanting to improve their academic progress. 

As GCSE English and Maths are core subjects, achieving good grades in these exams is particularly important. So if you need help with your GCSEs, get in touch today. Our expert team of tutors will deepen your understanding, develop effective study strategies, build confidence and help you achieve your academic goals.

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Your GCSE Grades and Choices at 16: Everything You Need To Know

The transition from GCSEs to post-16 education is a pivotal moment for students in the UK. It’s a time that shapes your sixth form or college experience, university options and career choices.

Understanding how GCSE grades impact post-16 choices will help you navigate this phase with confidence. This guide provides an in-depth look at how GCSEs are graded and assessed, what choices are available at 16, and how your results influence your opportunities. We’ll also explain your options, in case you didn’t achieve the GCSE grades you hoped for.

So whether you’re staying on for A-levels, entering vocational training or exploring apprenticeships, we’ve got all the expert advice and insights you need to make the best choices for your future.

How are GCSEs graded and assessed?

GCSEs (or General Certificate of Secondary Education) are graded using a numerical system from 9 to 1. A grade 9 is the highest level students can achieve and 1 is the lowest. The assessment methods for GCSEs vary by subject, but typically include a combination of exams, practical assessments and coursework.

At GCSE, subjects like English, Science and Maths are assessed primarily through exams (although some GCSE exam boards use coursework for Maths). On the other hand, practical subjects like Art and Design, Music or Geography usually include a significant coursework component.

The three main styles of GCSE assessment are:

  • Exams: Most subjects are assessed through subject-specific written exams at the end of the course. For example, English Literature involves analysing texts, memorising quotations and writing essays. GCSE Maths exams include calculator and non-calculator papers requiring strong problem-solving skills and mathematical knowledge.
  • Coursework: In subjects like Art, Design Technology, Science and Geography, coursework can account for a significant portion of the final grade. This can include special projects, written assignments, practical classroom experiments and ongoing teacher assessments.
  • Practical assessments: Subjects like Drama, Music and Physical Education often include practical assessments where students must demonstrate skills in performance or physical activity.

Wondering how does GCSE grading work? Take a look at our in-depth blog on the grading of GCSEs for 2024. We’ve also written an introduction to IGCSEs for anyone taking these qualifications.

What options do you have at 16?

At 16, students in the UK have several pathways to choose from when it comes to continuing education. The three main alternatives are Sixth Form, a Further Education College or work-based apprenticeships.

Here’s more information on each pathway.

  • Sixth Form: This usually involves AS or A Level study within your current school or a specialist Sixth Form. These two-year qualifications are the most common route to university. So for example, if you’re interested in Medicine, you might take A Levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths. Alternatively, A Levels in History, English Literature and Politics could prepare you for a degree in Law or Humanities.
  • Further Education College: Colleges offer a variety of courses, including A Levels, vocational qualifications like BTECs, or apprenticeships. Vocational courses might include practical subjects like Engineering, Hairdressing, Hospitality or Health and Social Care that provide the skills you need for your chosen career.
  • Apprenticeships: Combining practical work experience with study, apprenticeships let you earn while you learn. They can lead to qualifications equivalent to GCSEs, A Levels or even degrees. For instance, a plumbing apprenticeship involves working with experienced plumbers and studying for a qualification that could lead to full-time employment.

Deciding on the right path depends on your academic interests, GCSE grades, career goals and learning preferences. There’s a lot to consider! So it’s worthwhile chatting with a careers advisor, trusted teacher, academic coach or family member. The more input you can get, the better.

Can you finish school at 16?

In the UK, you can’t legally leave education entirely at 16. 

You have the option to move away from traditional school settings, but students must continue in some form of education or training until they are 18. This could be through full-time education (such as sixth form or college), an apprenticeship, or part-time education combined with employment or self-employment.

How do GCSE grades affect your choices at 16?

While it’s tempting to think GCSE grades don’t matter (especially if you have to stay in some form of education for the next two years), this isn’t the case. GCSE grades play a major role in determining your post-16 options. 

So what GCSE grades are good?

Well, “good” will be different for everyone, but most sixth forms and colleges require specific grades. For example, you usually need a minimum of grade 4 in Maths and English Language to enrol in most A Level courses. Higher grades may be required for some independent schools and colleges, especially where there’s lots of competition for places.

Sixth Form requirements

Entry requirements for A Level study can be high, particularly for subjects like Maths and Science. So check with your school or college if you’re unsure. 

While a grade 4 in English and Maths is the general minimum, you might need higher grades for specific subjects. For instance, you’ll probably need at least a grade 6 in GCSE Maths to study A Level Maths or Further Maths.

Vocational courses

Vocational courses have different entry requirements based on the level and subject. For example, a Level 3 BTEC in Business might require five GCSEs at grades 4-9. A Level 1 Diploma in Carpentry and Joinery might only need three GCSEs at grade 2 or above, including Maths and English. 

You’ll find this information on college course pages. But if you’re unsure, get in touch with the admissions department. 


Employers and training providers look at your GCSE results to assess your suitability for the role. There are no set rules here, but you’ll want to aim for higher grades in subjects relevant to your field of study.

For instance, a higher-level apprenticeship in IT or Dental Nursing might require at least four grade 4 GCSEs, including Maths and English. An apprenticeship in Horticulture might only ask for Maths and English at grade 3 or above.

What is the meaning of post-16 qualifications?

Post-16 qualifications refer to the study you’ll undertake after you’ve turned 16. 

This includes the variety of academic and vocational qualifications you can take after completing your GCSEs, such as A Levels, BTECs or work-based apprenticeships. These qualifications are designed to cater to diverse interests and career goals, providing pathways to higher education and skilled trades.

It’s worth mentioning that if you don’t achieve a passing grade in GCSE English or Maths, you may have to continue studying these subjects post-16. This ensures all students have essential literacy and numeracy skills, critical for further education and employment. The emphasis on these core subjects reflects their importance in almost all aspects of life and work, giving competency and confidence for academic and personal success.

Do GCSE grades matter for university?

Yes, GCSE grades matter for university admissions, though they’re not the sole factor considered. Universities look at a range of criteria, including GCSE and A Level results (or equivalent qualifications), personal statements and academic references. 

Strong GCSE grades will strengthen your university application, especially in core subjects like Maths and English. Leading universities (whether Russell Group or Non-Russell Group) look for a strong academic record throughout secondary education. This shows consistency and dedication through your studies.

Lots of universities also have specific GCSE requirements. For example, most ask for at least four or five GCSEs at grade 4 or above. For certain subjects, such as Medicine, universities often require at least a grade 6 in GCSE Maths and Science subjects.

What happens if you fail your GCSE exams?

Failing your GCSE exams isn’t the end of the road, as there are several options available. So if you’re in this situation, don’t worry.

One of the most common routes is to retake your GCSEs, often in the autumn or the following summer, especially for essential subjects like Maths and English. 

Alternatively, you can consider enrolling in courses that don’t require GCSEs (or accept grades below a 4), such as certain vocational qualifications or entry-level apprenticeships. 

Further education colleges also offer foundation courses designed to help students improve their grades and gain entry to Level 3 qualifications like A-levels or BTECs. Functional Skills courses, which focus on practical abilities in Maths and English are also sometimes accepted as substitutes for GCSEs.

Are GCSEs worth resitting?

In our opinion, absolutely.

If you didn’t achieve the grades you wanted, resitting GCSEs can be incredibly worthwhile. This is especially the case for core subjects such as Maths and English, where a pass is often required for post-16 qualifications and many job roles. 

As well as the academics, improving your grades can massively increase your confidence – showing that with hard work and determination, you’re more than capable of achieving your goals.

That said, consider the time and effort required to resit exams, as well as the costs involved. Assess whether the benefits of potential higher grades outweigh the resources you’ll need to invest. For some students, focusing on new qualifications might be a more effective use of time.

When can I resit my GCSEs?

GCSE resits are typically available in November for English and Maths, with other subjects usually offered in the summer. Check with your school or local college for resit schedules and enrollment deadlines.

To prepare for resits, create a study plan that addresses the areas where you struggled – as well as reinforcing your strengths. Seek support from teachers, tutors, study groups and online resources (the more variety the better!) to help your understanding and performance.

If you’re getting started with revision, here’s how to make a revision timetable (that really works) as well as time blocking techniques to supercharge your studies.

Do you need help improving your GCSE grades?

GCSE grades are a crucial factor in your post-16 education and career options. Whether you’re aiming for A Levels, vocational qualifications or an apprenticeship, strong GCSE results will help you get there. 

At Achieve Learning, we empower students to reach their full academic potential. Get in touch with our expert tutors and academic coaches today to understand how we can help you.

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GCSE Exam Boards Explained: Which is Hardest?

If you’re navigating the world of GCSEs, you’ve likely encountered a maze of acronyms: AQA, Edexcel, WJEC, Eduqas, OCR… the list continues! 

Well, these are all UK exam boards. They’re essentially the gatekeepers and grade-setters for your GCSEs. But are they all equally challenging? And which is best?

In this article, we dissect the differences, delve into the details and answer the burning question: which GCSE exam board is the hardest?

Let’s dive in.

GCSE Exam Boards: Differences and Similarities

What is the difference between AQA and Edexcel?

Let’s kick things off with AQA and Edexcel, two of the most popular GCSE exam boards. AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) and Edexcel (Pearson Edexcel) both cover core subjects like Science, Maths and English Language as well as lesser-known GCSEs like Urdu and Statistics.

The main difference between AQA and Edexcel lies in their approach to assessment. AQA offers a wide array of subjects with traditional exam-style questions (often with a higher percentage of multiple-choice). On the other hand, Edexcel is known for its inclusion of practical and creative elements in many subjects.

For example, in AQA’s English Literature exam, you’ll find questions requiring detailed analysis of texts, terminology and memorised quotations. You’ll get all this with Edexcel, but their mark schemes focus more on students’ creative responses and exploration of historical context alongside textual analysis.

New to GCSEs? Here’s a guide to how many GCSEs students take, when exams happen and what the grading system means.

What is the difference between OCR and AQA?

Next up, we have OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations) and AQA. 

OCR is often praised for its rigorous assessments, particularly in the sciences and humanities. Their exams are designed to test deep understanding and application of knowledge. On the other hand, AQA is known for its user-friendly format, with clear mark schemes and straightforward questions.

OCR might challenge you with complex problem-solving scenarios in Maths or demand in-depth scientific explanations. You’ll get this in AQA too, but the questions often appear more accessible, progressively building in difficulty throughout the exam.

Are OCR and Edexcel the same?

Despite the alphabet soup of acronyms, OCR and Edexcel are distinct entities. OCR is part of Cambridge Assessment, while Edexcel is owned by Pearson. 

Each has its unique style of exam papers, with OCR often known for its challenging questions and Edexcel for its blend of traditional and modern assessment methods.

OCR and Edexcel are the same in that they’re both one of the four exam boards recognised by Ofqual for setting GCSE and A Level exams in England. The four are:

  • AQA
  • OCR
  • Pearson Edexcel
  • WJEC Eduqas

We’ve also written an in-depth guide to IGCSEs vs GCSEs if you’re deciding between these qualifications.

GCSE Exam Boards: Comparing Difficulty

Is OCR or AQA harder?

No exam board should be easier or harder than another.

While they have different paper structures and question styles, Ofqual ensures each exam board is the same in terms of difficulty. So getting a grade 9 in AQA Maths should be the same challenge as a grade 9 with OCR.

…. at least in principle!

In practice, different students will find the different approaches of each exam board harder or easier. So this comes to your learning style.

Let’s stick with Maths as an example.

Both AQA and OCR follow the same national curriculum content and they both have three papers taking 4 hours and 30 minutes in total. While there’s a total of 240 marks with AQA, there are 300 with OCR. 

Although the specific questions differ (and AQA focuses more on multiple-choice questions), the main difference comes down to paper order. AQA starts with a non-calculator, followed by two calculator papers (so you might find this easier if you don’t like hopping between topics). On the other hand, OCR goes from calculator to non-calculator and then back to a calculator paper to finish off.

For more information, read our guides to the GCSE Maths syllabus and all the exam boards offering GCSE Maths.

Is AQA or Edexcel easier?

As well as the debate between OCR and AQA, lots of students ask: is Edexcel harder than AQA for GCSE?

Although every exam board is technically the same difficulty, Edexcel often gets the nod for being slightly more approachable than its counterparts. 

With a mix of practical and theoretical assessments, Edexcel strikes a balance that suits many students. AQA, while not necessarily harder, might require a bit more finesse in your answers due to its focus on more traditional analysis.

What is the hardest GCSE board?

When it comes to the crown of “hardest,” OCR has a reputation for challenging students academically. Their GCSE exams, especially in the sciences and humanities, are renowned for their in-depth nature. 

But do the numbers back this up? Well, it depends on what you’re studying.

Here are the 2023 results statistics for the three largest exam boards. We’ll look at pass rates (that’s a 4 or above) for Maths, English and Science.


Grade 4 or above


Grade 4 or above


Grade 4 or above

Maths 58% 64.7% 62.7%
English Literature 73% 84% 78.5%
English Language 65% 79% 64.3%
Physics 90% 90.7% (A)*

86.24% (B)

Chemistry 89.2% 90.6% (A)

84.3% (B)

Biology 89.7% 90.4% (A)

82.18% (B)


Overall, AQA has the lowest pass rates (averaging at 77% across English, Maths and Science), while OCR has the highest average pass rates at 83.5%. Edexcel is in the middle, at 79%.

*Note: OCR offers two science specifications: “A / Gateway Science” and “B / Twenty First Century Science”. The B specification takes a different approach, with a narrative (rather than topic-based) approach to learning and independent practical work.

What is the easiest exam board for GCSE?

On the flip side to OCR’s challenging reputation, Edexcel often stands out as a more approachable option. Their mix of practical elements and clear assessment criteria can make studying feel less daunting. 

However, “easiest” is subjective and dependent on your strengths and preferences. We should repeat, no exam board is easier or harder than another – so whoever you’re studying with, rest assured your GCSE exams will be marked fairly.

What is the most popular GCSE board?

AQA is the most popular GCSE board in England, with a vast number of schools choosing their assessments. Indeed, they set and mark over half of GCSE and A Level exams in England.

AQA’s user-friendly format, straightforward mark schemes and plenty of additional learning materials (such as lesson plans, sample work and tailored textbooks) appeal to both students and teachers alike.

GCSE Exam Boards: Subjects and Grades

What is the most passed GCSE subject?

Perhaps surprisingly (given their daunting reputation!), the sciences are some of the most passed GCSE subjects. 

In 2023, about 90% of students achieved 9-4 grades in Biology, Physics and Chemistry (studied as individual subjects, rather than Science Double Award). 

Just over 70% of students secured a 4 or above in Maths, rising to about 75% for English Literature. German, Music, Art and Drama all had similarly high pass rates.

What is the hardest GCSE to pass?

When it comes to sheer difficulty, many students point to Further Mathematics as the hardest GCSE to pass. Its advanced concepts and demanding coursework can be a significant challenge for even the most mathematically inclined.

In terms of the 2023 statistics though, Science Double Award has one of the lowest pass rates (at about 55%). History, Computer Science and Design Technology all have relatively low pass rates too, around 60%.

Thinking about revision for your GCSE exams? Here’s how to make a revision timetable and use time-blocking techniques.

What is the easiest GCSE to get a 9?

Of course, what’s “easy” for one student might be a monumental challenge for another. So this depends on your strengths and weaknesses.

In terms of 2023 results though, Chemistry, Physics and Biology all have the highest percentage of students achieving 9-7 grades (around 45%). 

But does this mean the actual content is “easy”? Not necessarily. This could reflect the dedication of students choosing to sit three separate sciences rather than the combined GCSE double award.

The subjective nature of subjects like Art and Design are often touted as comparatively “easy” options. But they’re tricky for any students lacking creative flair! Art and Design actually has far fewer 9-7 grades, sitting closer to 20%.

What is the best exam board for GCSE?

Ultimately, no exam board is “better” than another. You won’t get much of a choice (if any!) on the exam boards you study with. These decisions are made by schools and teachers, often years in advance. 

But rest assured, whichever exam board you’re sitting GCSEs with, you’ll receive a fair examination and marking process.

Success at GCSE is less about your exam board, and more about your approach to study. For expert personal tuition in GCSE English and Maths, or academic coaching in study skills and exam strategies, get in touch with our team at Achieve Learning today. We’ll help you achieve your academic dreams.

GCSE Exam Boards Explained: Which is Hardest? Read More »

GCSE Grading 2024: What’s The New Grading System?

As students gear up for the latest GCSE season, there’s always a buzz of anticipation and curiosity about the grading system. 

What changes can you expect? Will exams be tougher? And is it really possible to get all 9s?

In the ever-evolving world of education, GCSEs remain a pivotal point for students. They shape not only your sixth form and A Level choices, but impact university and beyond. So it’s no surprise students want to understand the grading system and aim for the best grades possible!

In this article, we delve into the new GCSE Grading System 2024, what to expect and what it takes to achieve those coveted top grades.

The GCSE Grading System 2024

What is the new GCSE grading system 2024?

The GCSE grading landscape transformed in recent years, with the shift from the traditional A*-G system to the numerical 9-1 scale. Although we still call it the “new” GCSE grading system, number grades were first introduced in 2017 for Maths and English. By 2020, all GCSE subjects were using the new system.

So in 2024, students can expect to receive their GCSE results on a 9-1 scale, where 9 is the highest grade and 1 is the lowest.

We should note the exception to this rule is Cambridge IGCSEs. This exam board still uses a mixture of A*-G and 9-1 grading, depending on the subject and the country you’re sitting exams in.

What will GCSEs 2024 be like?

GCSEs in 2024 will continue to challenge students across a range of subjects, from key subjects like Maths, Sciences, English Literature and English Language to Media Studies, Dance and Sociology. 

Students take a minimum of five GCSEs. It’s normal to sit between seven and ten subjects though.

GCSE exams assess not only knowledge, but critical thinking, problem-solving and application of concepts. You can expect a mix of traditional written papers, practical assessments and coursework depending on the subject.

What is the first GCSE exam in 2024?

The first GCSE exam of 2024 marks the beginning of an important journey for many students. 

Your first exam will depend on the subjects you’re taking and the exam board. But in general, exams start sometime in early May.

For 2024, exams start on 9th May. The first subjects are Religious Studies, Drama, Italian, Geology and Urdu.

Here’s each exam board’s confirmed 2024 GCSE exam timetable:

You’ll probably study different subjects with different exam boards, so it’s crucial to keep track of your personal exam timetable. Schools normally provide this information for GCSE students, but if you’re in doubt – just ask your teacher.

GCSE Exams 2024: Difficulty

Will exams be harder in 2024?

The million-dollar question: will 2024 GCSE exams be tougher? While standards should stay consistent, exam boards are constantly refining assessments to ensure they reflect the curriculum and challenge students appropriately. 

So no, GCSE exams shouldn’t be any harder in 2024 than previous years.

Indeed, the government is clear that it should never be “easier or harder to get a grade between one year and the next”.

That said, while the difficulty level may not drastically change, students should be prepared for a rigorous examination of their knowledge and skills. GCSEs are designed to test your academic abilities after all.

Will 2024 GCSE grade boundaries be high?

Grade boundaries are a hot topic every year. In 2024, as with previous years, grade boundaries are based on the overall performance of students. While there isn’t any predetermined quota of grades, higher performance across the board could result in slightly higher grade boundaries.

Equally, if a paper is judged particularly tricky, the grade boundaries will be lower.

So will 2024 GCSE grade boundaries be lower?

Ultimately, we just don’t know until results day. This is when each exam board publishes their grade boundaries for that year.

While the grade boundaries themselves might change, the level of challenge each grade requires will stay the same. On the government website, they state:

“It is important to remember the grade boundaries for a qualification vary from year to year. It is important that they do so in order that they reflect the level of challenge of the papers taken that year. Although senior examiners aim to produce papers of comparable challenge, in practice this is very difficult to do.”

Will GCSE 2024 get formula sheets?

Formula sheets can be a lifesaver for many students, especially in subjects like Maths and Science. 

For 2024, the use of formula sheets will depend on the subject and exam board. But in good news, the vast majority of exam boards provide formula sheets.

Check the specific requirements for each subject you’re taking to understand what’s provided. But remember, even if you have formula sheets on the day, it’s essential you know how to apply them appropriately. So chances are you’ll need to memorise most of the information anyway!

What is the special consideration for GCSEs 2024?

Special consideration is a provision made for students who face unforeseen circumstances that may affect their exam performance. This could be a temporary illness, long-term condition, unavoidable circumstances or personal issues. 

In 2024, as in previous years, exam boards will have procedures in place to ensure students aren’t unfairly disadvantaged. This could include adjustments to grade boundaries or additional marks.

Check with individual exam boards for their special consideration processes and policies.

GCSE Exams 2024: Getting the Top Grades

What percentage is a 9 in GCSE?

A grade 9 in GCSE represents the highest level of achievement. But the exact percentage you’ll need varies from subject to subject, as each exam has its own structure and assessment criteria. 

These scores also differ between exam boards. They change each year to reflect the level of challenge each paper poses.

To give you a rough idea though, here are recent grade boundaries for grade 9 in GCSE Maths, for each of the main exam boards.

Preparing for GCSE Maths? Don’t miss our essential guide to the GCSE Maths syllabus and Maths exam boards.

How rare is a 9 in GCSE?

Scoring a 9 in GCSE is no small feat. It’s reserved for the highest academic achievers and requires not only deep understanding but also exemplary application of your subject knowledge.

The rarity of grade 9s varies by subject. But generally speaking, only the top 5% of GCSE entries achieve a grade 9. 

In 2023, 4.9% of students secured a 9. This was down from 6.6% in 2022.

How rare are all 9s in GCSE?

Aiming for that elusive “straight 9s” at GCSE? Well, the good news is that while it’s rare, it’s not impossible.

In 2022, 2,193 GCSE candidates achieved all 9s in their subjects. This was out of 622,350 total GCSE students, so about 0.3%. A rare and impressive feat indeed! 

Here are the statistics broken down by the number of GCSEs taken.

Number of GCSE subjects Students achieving all 9s
7 130
8 209
9 708
10 945
11 188
12+ 13

Is it hard to get all 9s in GCSE?

Let’s not sugarcoat it: all 9s at GCSE is a challenge. Students who achieve all 9s demonstrate not only exceptional intelligence but also unwavering dedication, motivation and hard work.

Straight 9s at GCSE requires a near-perfect understanding of each subject, impeccable exam technique and a growth mindset enabling study not just at exam season, but throughout the year. 

But while the journey may be arduous, the sense of accomplishment is unparalleled! 

If you’re gearing-up for GCSE exams, here’s how to make a revision timetable and use time-blocking techniques to supercharge your studies.

Are you preparing for your GCSE exams?

Get in touch with our expert team at Achieve Learning for help with your GCSE exam preparation. We offer personal tuition in GCSE English and Maths as well as academic coaching and mentoring. So whether you’re aiming for straight 9s or just need that extra bit of confidence, we’re here to help you reach your full potential.

GCSE Grading 2024: What’s The New Grading System? Read More »

What’s in the GCSE Maths Syllabus? Key Topics and Tips for Success

Maths is a core subject at GCSE, as well as a fundamental life skill. Almost every student in the country has to sit Maths GCSE exams… so it’s important to know what’s in them!

As students gear up for final exams, understanding what’s in the GCSE syllabus is paramount.

In this guide, we’ll unpack the six subject areas of the GCSE Maths syllabus, exploring key topics and shedding light on common concerns and questions.

By demystifying GCSE Maths, we aim to empower you to study with confidence, resilience and a growth mindset. So, let’s dive in and explore the GCSE Maths syllabus together.

What’s in the GCSE Maths syllabus?

The GCSE Maths syllabus covers a range of topics designed to develop students’ knowledge, problem-solving skills and application of mathematical concepts in real-world contexts. It follows the national curriculum and contains six key subject areas including number, algebra, ratios, geometry, probability and statistics.

The six key subject areas are:

  • Number: Covering fundamental concepts such as integers, fractions, decimals, percentages, and powers and roots.
  • Algebra: Algebraic topics include equations, inequalities, sequences, functions, graphs and algebraic manipulation techniques.
  • Ratio, Proportion, and Rates of Change: Exploring the relationship between quantities, proportional reasoning and rates of change in various contexts.
  • Geometry and Measures: Including properties of shapes, angles, symmetry, transformations, trigonometry and units of measurement.
  • Probability: Probability concepts involve calculating the likelihood of events and understanding basic probability distributions.
  • Statistics: Including data collection methods, representation and interpretation of data, correlation and regression.

No matter which GCSE Maths exam board you’re studying with, this syllabus remains the same.

What topics will be in GCSE Maths?

The topics covered in GCSE Maths align with the six key subject areas mentioned above. You’ll find numerous topics within each subject area, ranging from basic arithmetic to advanced algebra. 

There’s a complete list of Maths KS4 topics available from the government website. But this includes:

  • Number: Including calculations with roots, integer indices, fractions and multiples of π, applying “systematic listing strategies” and using “limits of accuracy” when rounding or truncating numbers.
  • Algebra: Simplifying and manipulating algebraic expressions (including factorising quadratic expressions and simplifying expressions involving sums, products and powers), as well as showing algebraic expressions are equivalent, constructing proofs, plotting and interpreting graphs.
  • Ratio, proportion and rates of change: Compare lengths, areas and volumes using ratio notation and scale factors, convert between related units, interpret gradients of straight line graphs as a rate of change, and solve growth and decay problems (including compound interest).
  • Geometry and measures: Use fractional scale factors for enlargements, apply circle definitions and properties (such as centre, radius, diameter and circumference), calculate arc lengths, surface areas and volumes of spheres. Apply Pythagoras’ Theorem and trigonometric ratios to find angles and lengths in triangles and other two-dimensional figures.
  • Probability: Use a probability model to predict outcomes of future experiments, and calculate the probability of independent and dependent combined events, including using tree diagrams and other methods.
  • Statistics: Infer properties of populations or distributions from a sample, interpret and construct tables and line graphs from data, recognise correlation, make predictions and extrapolate apparent trends.

Knowing all the topics you’ll face in final exams helps you prepare effectively. It helps you create a thorough study schedule and identify areas that need extra practice.

The Maths GCSE Syllabus: Frequently Asked Questions 

As students and teachers work their way through the GCSE Maths syllabus, a few common questions and concerns arise.

If you’re just getting started, you might wonder how hard the rest of the course is, how much you’ve got to memorise, if it’s okay to fail GCSE Maths – and for that matter, how many people fail each year?

GCSE Maths undoubtedly presents challenges, but with effective preparation and targeted revision, you can overcome these difficulties. By addressing common worries head-on, we hope you can find more clarity and confidence in your Maths studies. 

So, let’s deal with a few of these questions.

Is GCSE Maths hard?

Of course, this depends on who you ask. GCSE Maths might feel like a walk in the park for some students, or an uphill climb for others. It will also depend on how many GCSEs you’re taking.

But in terms of the numbers, 17.5% of pupils secured a Grade 7 or above in their GCSE Maths exams. So top grades are totally achievable!

In 2023, 61.1% of students achieved a Grade 4 or above at GCSE. This compares with an overall GCSE pass rate of 67.8%  – meaning GCSE Maths is slightly harder than other subjects.

Instead of thinking about GCSE Maths as a whole, break it down into the subjects and topics we explained above. Chances are you’ll excel in some areas and find others tricky. This will help you focus on the topics you find difficult, without feeling overwhelmed.

What is the hardest thing in GCSE Maths?

Again, this is highly subjective. It depends on individual strengths and weaknesses as well as overall maths ability.

That being said, some topics are generally considered more challenging. These include:

  • Advanced algebraic concepts such as simultaneous equations and quadratic equations.
  • Trigonometry, particularly trigonometric ratios and solving trigonometric equations.
  • Higher-level geometry topics such as circle theorems and three-dimensional shapes.
  • Complex statistical analysis and interpretation, including probability distributions and correlation.

As a top tip, don’t worry about what other people find challenging. Instead, write a list of all the Maths topics you’ve covered, giving them a rating out of 10 for how easy or difficult they are. 

Return to this list every week or month (or more often if exams are closer!) and ask yourself if your ratings have changed. This will serve as a guide for what you need to focus on.

What do you need to memorise for GCSE Maths?

While GCSE Maths emphasises understanding and application of concepts rather than memorisation, there are certain key facts, formulas and techniques that you should be familiar with. 

This includes:

  • Techniques for basic arithmetic operations (things like addition, subtraction, multiplication and long division).
  • Key properties of shapes (e.g., angles in a triangle, properties of quadrilaterals).
  • Common formulas for area, perimeter, volume and surface area.
  • Algebraic formulas and methods, including quadratic equations.
  • Trigonometric ratios (sine, cosine, tangent) and their relationships in right-angled triangles.
  • Standard probability formulas and the formula for compound interest.

You’ll get a formula sheet for exams (see examples from OCR for both Higher and Lower Tier papers). But in our experience, it’s much better to know (and understand how to apply) each formula before you sit final exams. Instead of relying on the formula sheet, think of it as a useful backup in case you have a mind blank on the day!

How many people fail GCSE Maths?

In 2023, 97.4% of students achieved a Grade 1 or above in GCSE Maths. This means 2.6% of students failed their exams.

Despite this, a Grade 4 is traditionally seen as a pass at GCSE. 61.1% of entrants secured a Grade 4 in Maths – meaning 39.9% didn’t.

Of course, the number of students who fail GCSE Maths varies from year to year. This depends on factors such as exam difficulty, student preparation and wider educational policies. For instance, in 2021 (when grades were teacher-assessed due to the Covid-19 pandemic), pass rates of Grade 4 and above shot up to 69.4%.

Is it OK to fail GCSE Maths?

In short, yes. It’s not ideal, but not the end of the world.

As we’ve just seen, 39.9% of students failed to achieve a Grade 4 in GCSE Maths last year. While failing GCSE Maths may be discouraging, it certainly doesn’t spell disaster for over a third of GCSE candidates!

So if you do fail, what are your options?

You can appeal marking decisions at GCSE. But while this is common for subjects like English Literature and Language (where mark schemes are more subjective), it’s unlikely to change much for GCSE Maths. After all, you’ve either got the answer right, or you haven’t.

Your best bet is retaking your GCSE Maths exams. Talk to your school about this in the first instance. They’ll advise on timeframes for your exam board and help you prepare. A dedicated academic tutor (like us at Achieve Learning!) can also provide 1-1 support.

You’ll find many jobs and university degrees (especially related to STEM subjects) ask for a Grade 4 or above in GCSE Maths – so if you can strive towards this, it’s a great boost to your future career.

How can I revise for GCSE Maths?

We know GCSE Maths revision can be daunting. So we’ve already compiled an in-depth guide on how to prepare for GCSE Maths exams

From practical tips and strategies, to resources like revision guides, past papers and online study materials, there’s so much you can do to work on your Maths skills and knowledge.

By integrating these tips into your revision routine, we hope you’ll approach GCSE Maths with confidence. So all that’s left to do is wish you best of luck in your upcoming exams!

Do you need help preparing for GCSE Maths?

Understanding the GCSE Maths syllabus is an essential part of exam preparation. By familiarising yourself with the curriculum, addressing any concerns, and employing effective revision strategies, you’ll navigate GCSE Maths exams with ease.

For that extra push towards success, explore our expert GCSE Maths tuition. With dedicated one-to-one support and a track record of exceptional results, we’ll help you meet and exceed your academic goals.

What’s in the GCSE Maths Syllabus? Key Topics and Tips for Success Read More »

Maths GCSE Boards Explained: A Comprehensive Guide for Students

Let’s dive into the world of GCSE Maths exam boards.

As you gear up for GCSE exams, you might wonder which exam board you’re studying with. But for that matter, what are the different Maths GCSE exam boards? Is one easier than another, and what sets them apart?

Well, fear not! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about GCSE exam boards, listing the main providers, how you can tell which exam board you’re with, and where to find past papers.

Ready? Let’s get started.

What are GCSE exam boards?

Before we talk about GCSE Maths exam boards, it’s worth explaining what exam boards are. 

Essentially, exam boards are the companies or charities that create and administer tests students take. They create exams in a whole variety of subjects (not just core subjects like Maths and English) for schools and colleges across the country. 

It’s up to individual schools which exam boards they go with, and they normally choose different exam boards for different subjects. For instance, your school might pick AQA for GCSE English Language and English Literature, but Edexcel for French and Maths.

While schools help students prepare for GCSEs and A Levels, exam boards are responsible for setting the questions, providing past papers and learning materials for teachers, as well as mark schemes and grading decisions. 

What are the different Maths GCSE exam boards?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, students may encounter a few different exam boards for Maths GCSE. AQA, Pearson Edexcel, OCR and WJEC Eduqas are some of the most common exam boards. In Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) administers GCSE exams, including Maths. 

Here are the most common Maths GCSE exam boards in England:

Across the UK, you might also encounter:

  • WJEC/CBAC: Welsh Joint Education Committee – popular in Wales.
  • SQA: Scottish Qualifications Authority – used in Scotland.
  • CCEA: Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment – popular in Northern Ireland.

But what difference does this make to students?

Hopefully, not a lot. 

We’ll go into more detail on the specifics of each exam board, but in England they’re overseen by Ofqual – to ensure fairness no matter which GCSE exam board your school chooses. 

To do this, Ofqual conducts regular reviews of exam board procedures, scrutinises question papers for bias or inconsistency, and provides guidance on grading methodologies to maintain consistency 

So are all GCSE Maths boards the same? 

Well, not exactly. Here’s why.

Are all GCSE Maths boards the same?

In some ways, yes. Regardless of what GCSE exam board you’re with, you’ll always be tested fairly. 

So even if one school picks OCR and another chooses AQA – the exam papers will be different, but they’ll both offer the same opportunity to reach top grades. 

In terms of content, each exam board follows the national curriculum. Your teachers will also ensure you’ve covered the entire syllabus before exam time rolls around. So as long as you’ve paid attention in class and structured your GCSE Maths revision appropriately, you’ll be all set whatever exam board you’re with.

If you’re getting started with revision, don’t miss our guides to time-blocking and how to create a revision timetable that works.

The only ways that Maths GCSE exam boards differ are the exact questions in each paper (although the topics will be the same), the number of points available, how long exams take and the overall structure of exams. 

Regardless of the number of papers and marks available, you’re still graded on the same 9-1 system.

Here’s a summary of the main exam boards and their Maths GCSE exams:


  • Total duration: 4 hours, 30 minutes
  • Total number of papers: 3
  • Total number of marks available: 240 (80 per paper)
  • Paper breakdown: Paper 1: Non-calculator. Paper 2 and 3: Calculator.


  • Total duration: 4 hours, 30 minutes
  • Total number of papers: 3
  • Total number of marks available: 300 (100 per paper)
  • Paper breakdown: Paper 1: Calculator. Paper 2: Non-Calculator. Paper 3: Calculator.

Pearson Edexcel

  • Total duration: 4 hours, 30 minutes
  • Total number of papers: 3
  • Total number of marks available: 240 (80 per paper)
  • Paper breakdown: Paper 1: Non-calculator. Paper 2 and 3: Calculator.

WJEC Eduqas

  • Total duration: 4 hours, 30 minutes
  • Total number of papers: 2
  • Total number of marks available: 240 (120 per paper)
  • Paper breakdown: Paper 1: Non-calculator. Paper 2: Calculator.

How do I know what GCSE exam board I am?

To figure out which GCSE exam board you’re with, just ask your teacher. They’ll know and can tell you right away. 

Knowing which exam board you’re with is crucial for exam preparation. It helps you understand mark schemes, time-keeping, question types and the structure of each paper – so there aren’t any surprises in final exams.

And if you ever need to know after you’ve left school (perhaps for a job application) just get in touch with your school. They’ll have all the records for your year group. 

You should also have your GCSE certificates, which state which exam board you studied with.

Which exam board is the easiest for GCSE Maths?

In theory, no exam board should be easier or harder than another.

However as we’ve seen, there are slight differences in how each exam board structures their exams. 

So if you struggle concentrating for long periods at a stretch, you’ll find Eduqas (with the longest exams at two hours, fifteen minutes) tricky. Equally, if jumping between topics isn’t your strong point, you might find OCR’s shift from a calculator paper, to non-calc, then back to calculator challenging.

Which exam board is easiest for GCSE Maths will come down to the way you study. Ultimately, success in GCSE Maths is more likely to hinge on your preparation and mastery of key concepts, rather than your exam board.

But in terms of pass rates, here’s the cumulative percentage of students who achieved each grade (in June 2023 Maths GCSEs), for the main exam boards in England.

Grade 9 Grade 8 Grade 7 Grade 6 Grade 5 Grade 4 Grade 3 Grade 2 Grade 1
AQA 3.0 9.4 16.3 25.8 41.3 58.0 76.0 89.4 97.3
Pearson Edexcel 3.5 9.9 18.0 28.7 44.6 62.7 78.3 90.4 97.6
OCR 3.57 9.16 17.67 26.09 43.70 64.75 79.12 90.43 98.09
WJEC Eduqas 0.3 0.9 1.8 2.7 12.1 28.4 51.6 75.9 94.9

So the “easiest” exam board to achieve a pass is OCR. It has the highest percentage of pupils (64.75%) who achieved a Grade 4 or higher. However, if you’re aiming for the very top grades, Pearson Edexcel boasts the highest number of students (9.9%) achieving Grade 8 or Grade 9 results.

Which exam board is the hardest for GCSE Maths?

On the flip side of the data we’ve just looked at, WJEC Eduqas is by far the hardest exam board. Only 0.9% of pupils achieve Grade 8 or higher. Equally, only 28.4% of students achieve a Grade 4 pass.

If you’re struggling with Maths, you should also know that students can choose Foundation or Higher Tier Maths papers at GCSE. 

A student aiming for Grade 5 or above might opt for the Higher Tier, which presents more challenging questions requiring deeper understanding and problem-solving skills. On the other hand, a student targeting Grade 4 might choose the Foundation Tier, which covers essential concepts at a more accessible level. 

Not sure about the right fit for you? Have a chat with your teacher. They’ll advise on the most appropriate tier for your abilities and goals.

What is the difference between AQA and Edexcel Maths GCSE?

The Department of Education is responsible for setting national curriculum content at GCSE. 

This means the topics covered in Maths GCSE exams are the same, whether you’re studying with AQA, Edexcel or any other exam board. The Department of Education also decides on “content weighting” for each topic (i.e. the percentage of marks for each section), so this is the same too.

To understand the Maths GCSE syllabus in more detail, including explanations of all the key topics, read our in-depth guide.

AQA and Edexcel each set three papers. All papers are an hour and a half long, worth 80 marks in total. This is the same for both Foundation and Higher Tiers.

The only difference between AQA and Edexcel is that 10% of AQA papers are multiple-choice. Edexcel focuses less on multiple-choice options.

To compare AQA with more exam boards, AQA publishes a handy comparison table for Edexcel, OCR and Eduqas.

Overall, while both AQA and Edexcel adhere to the same curriculum, differences in question style and format may influence how hard or easy you find the exam. It’s essential students work with past papers to make informed decisions and tailor preparation accordingly.

So, how can you get your hands on past papers?

How can I find past papers for Maths GCSE?

Past papers are an invaluable part of GCSE preparation, not just for Maths but every other subject too! 

By understanding the format and style of past exams, students can hone their problem-solving skills, build confidence and identify areas for improvement. Studying with past papers also means you’ll understand question-types and practice working under timed conditions – alleviating exam nerves and enhancing your performance.

Each exam board publishes a selection of past papers, offering students plenty of practice materials. They also offer mark schemes and examiner reports, giving valuable insights into areas students commonly struggle with.

Here’s where to find past papers for the main exam boards.

Are you preparing for GCSE Maths exams?

Whether your child is still deciding on GCSE options or getting closer to final exams, our expert Maths tutors are here to help. With a personalised approach and excellent track record, we’ll help your child reach their full academic potential and ace their exams. Get in touch today to find out more.

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