What are the exam boards?
In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, the “exam board” is the organisation that is responsible for creating and assessing your child’s GCSE and A-Level exams. The boards are accredited and licenced to provide the exam to all students who have registered.
The five main exam boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are AQA, OCR, Pearson Edexcel, WJEC (Wales) and CEA (NI). In Scotland, they have the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Each board offers examinations in dozens of courses for GCSE and A-Level, the results of which are nationally and even internationally recognised.
How do I choose my courses/exam boards?
It may seem like a question of browsing catalogues, pointing and ordering what you want, but some factors make it somewhat more complex. The main problem seems to fall in GCSE subjects, and it is about the coursework element.
You may know that the GCSE result is not just reflected in your child’s final exams taken in the summer. There are also special assignments that your child completes at different times in the year, which contribute to the final grade. The idea is to take some pressure off the final exam by spreading the burden across the year.
For homeschoolers, this presents a serious problem. Coursework has to be assessed not just by teachers in a department but by qualified independent outside assessors. This is something that your local school already has covered, but as a homeschool student, it is nigh-on impossible.
Take GCSE science, for instance. The science GCSE requires students to complete several practical experiments during the course. Is your home fitted with its own laboratory space, equipment and qualified supervisors? It is unlikely. So, how can it be done?
The solution: IGCSE
The immediate solution to this problem for homeschoolers is to favour the IGCSE. Cambridge IGCSE and Pearson IGCSE are the leading UK boards for the IGCSE. It is an exam-only course where the coursework issue is eradicated. This leads homeschoolers to gravitate toward these qualifications.
Is it any different to the GCSE? Well, in its makeup, there are differences. No coursework does mean that your kids will have to study hard and pass everything on the strength of the final test. The IGCSE is recognised in the UK worldwide, though, as a sign of academic rigour and excellence, so you have nothing to worry about there.
More advice for parents:
Below, we have prepared several more pieces of advice to help parents and students with subject and exam board choices:
1. Talk to your kids first
Find out what subjects they like and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. All this information is critical to making the right choices. For example, different A-Level English literature courses will require the reading of different set texts. If your child cannot stand a kind of literature, it might be better not to make it a compulsory exam requirement if you can avoid it! Since your kids will be learning these subjects, it is probably best to start communicating with them.
2. Do lots of reading
The exam boards put out much information on each course, so you and your son/daughter will have to do much reading to learn as much as you can about courses you are interested in and have chosen. These choices are essential, so read everything you can about the subject before you settle for it.
3. Do not get overly ambitious
It is easy to think you can do better in homeschool than the school can do. “Ten GCSEs? Four A-Levels? I can do better than that!” --- it is silly stuff, but never assume you will fare better than the local school. Trying to take on too many subjects will only dilute your time on each and will likely result in poorer all-around performance.
As a famous man once said: “Do not half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing.”
4. Be decisive and move on
The longer you put off this choosing process, the more it will eat away at you and create tension. Leaving it to the last minute will result in bad decisions made without the correct information. Take your time early on, make decisions, and then move forward.
We understand that this part is the most daunting for parents and students. GCSE and A-Level subject choices are essential and have a real bearing on the future. None of that means you cannot create an enjoyable and thriving learning environment, however. GCSEs and A-Levels can be enjoyed, as well as endured. Homeschooling never has to mean less. Take the time to make good, informed choices, and things will work out well.