Success Tips – Year 11 (final year of GCSE)

Success Tips – Year 11 (final year of GCSE) – key facts and helpful hints


  1. Although Year 11 is the final year of GCSE, up to 60% of the GCSE material has already been covered in Year 10 or before.
  2. The content of the GCSE material covered in earlier years will not be examined in a formal external examination until the end of Year 11. However, the teachers will do regular internal tests throughout and these will be used to place your child in a set which the teacher deems suitable for them. The set may decide which examination tier your child does in the final exams. It is not good for a child who is capable of the Higher Tier to do the Foundation paper, as the maximum grade they can obtain in the Foundation Tier is Grade 5 (C grade equivalent). This is not good enough to gain admission to a good sixth form college/school.
  3. The content and the rigour of the GCSE is such that a student who has not performed well in Year 10 can still catch up in Year 11, provided he or she is motivated and receives the right level of support. A student can still move up two grade boundaries (or perhaps more) in the final year of GCSE. However, be aware that the new GCSEs - especially in core subjects - are more challenging; therefore, action needs to be taken very early in Year 11.
  4. Subject choice at A-level is an extremely important decision and should not be left entirely in the hands of the teenager. The notion of 'follow your passion' can be costly later in life if it is not well applied in selecting A-level subjects. The reality is that the top universities discriminate; both officially and unofficially. Combining subjects such as Business with Sociology, Psychology, Computing and Media Studies or related subjects, limits choice.
  5. Subjects that the Russell Group Universities prefer are: Maths, English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics and Languages – usually French, German, Latin, Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese and Russian. Some other foreign languages, such as Greek, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic and Dutch, are also okay.
  6. The academic qualifications that are available post-sixteen are: A-level, the IB (International Baccalaureate) and Cambridge Pre-U. Although, the IB and Pre-U are superior, A-level is still the most popular and is the safer option of the three.
  7. The IB is now accepted as being of a high intellectual rigour, whilst, at the same time, broader than A-levels, as students have to do both Art, Science and Maths, and study one of the three areas to a deeper level. Unlike 10 to 20 years ago, when universities snubbed the IB, the elite universities now accept it as being equal or superior to A-levels and many have preference for the IB.
  8. The Cambridge Pre-U is vastly superior and is mainly offered by a tiny minority of highly academic Independent and Grammar Schools. It requires a very high level of intellect and is only suitable for very self-motivated and bright young people. Students often study a mixture of A-level and Pre-U – taking two A-levels and 2 Pre-U subjects, for example.
  9. Your child is better off studying A-level at school as opposed to at a local college or at a sixth form college. There are a handful of sixth form colleges in the country who specialise in A-level and have specialist teachers, where students achieve excellent results year in year out; however, this is the exception and not the rule. The best place for students to achieve the highest A-level results is good schools – including grammar schools and a tiny number of Comprehensive/Academy schools.
  10. No, contrary to popular belief by some, the AS (first year of A-level) has not been abandoned, and it still exists. Due to cuts in funding, many schools and colleges are no longer offering students the opportunity of taking four AS subjects, but only a maximum of three. Until recently, the vast majority of students took four AS subjects and most dropped one of them in the second year (A2) – taking just three in the final exam at the end of A-level. A minority took all four and, in exceptional cases, five or even six subjects up to A-level. Three A-level subjects are sufficient and it is the minimum that most universities ask for.
  11. Where possible, it is helpful for your child to try and do A-levels at a school/college where they allow at least four A-level subjects in the first year – with a possible reduction to three in the final year of A-level. This allows for variety and gives more choice later on and also can benefit in university admission.
  12. The decoupling of AS from A-level: it used to be the case that the grade a student achieved at AS counted towards the final A-level grade, but that is no longer the case. The AS is a completely stand-alone qualification and most subject departments at schools and colleges do not actually offer the option of an AS exam, only a straight two-year A-level course.
  13. Entering a student for GCSE Foundation Tier or BTEC, which is a vocational qualification, will limit your child’s options for A-level and will prevent them from having a good chance of securing admission to a top university. Yes, the top Russell Group Universities do discriminate (officially and unofficially) and have a preference for certain subjects. It’s fine if that’s the best he or she can do! But, just in case, a vocational course is not the best option for your child. Ask the question and do something to convince the school to reconsider.
  14. If the BTEC is the best option for your child and they have been entered for it, just encourage them to try their hardest to make the best of the situation and, with hard work, they can achieve a distinction, or at least a merit, in that qualification and they can still gain admission to some universities.
  15. A teenager getting a paid job needs to be handled with care. Whilst it helps to get organised and to appreciate the value of money, it can be a distraction from the most important focus of Year 11 – which is to achieve decent exam grades in the most useful subjects at GCSE level. Most young people cannot cope with working more than 10 hours per week in addition to their studies. Working to earn the extra money to buy that “cool electronic device”, such as a smart phone, can wait till later on!

Keep a watchful eye and start asking questions early. Don’t leave things too late as Year 11 is a very short but very important year!

Be demanding but at the same time encourage your son or daughter to celebrate their successes – including little progress made. Be mindful of their strengths and weaknesses and show them you are proud of whatever they achieve; as long as they have tried hard. Excel in Key Subjects offers helpful and impartial advice on matters relating to secondary education, achieving exam success and gaining admission to university. We offer free face-to-face or telephone consultation on all areas of primary and secondary education, including advice on sixth form study. More information is available to assist parents while making key decisions about their children’s education.

Good teachers are expensive but bad teachers cost you your child more

AS level (fist year of A-level) Success Tips):

Some of the websites we recommend for research into the new GCSE grading, examination league tables and EBacc are:


Watch the video version here: