How to Help Your Child Succeed at GCSE

During a typical school career, there are several points where your child will be shocked by how much their teachers have upped the ante.  The transition from Year 1 to Year 2, from Year 4 to Year 5, and the move from primary to secondary all come as a bit of a shock, but none more than the move to Years 10 and 11.  If your kid thought they had it tough before, then there's a bit of a shock in store.  Thankfully, their biggest support and cheerleader is on hand to help - get ready for your GCSE years, parent!

For future academic and career success, GCSEs matter.  You need to convince your child of this from the outset, and let them know that they're not on their own.  The most conscientious students will be striving to attain high grades across the board, but achieving that is going to take some skilful planning and a lot of hard work, even for the highest achievers.  So what can you do to help?

Research has repeatedly shown that parental support is significantly more important in determining a child's academic success than other factors, even gender and social class.  You don't need to be an expert in every subject, you don't need to give up your job to devote yourself to your child, you just need to set an example by giving up the free time you do have to help them.

Show your kids how to organise their time, how to study, how to motivate themselves, and let them know how important this period of time is for their future success and livelihood.  By offering your time, encouragement, support, interest and advice, you can have a significant impact on your child's motivation and abilities.

Choose Well

Choosing the right GCSEs can seem a daunting task, but a range of subjects that give a good all round education is a better bet than specialising too distinctly at such an early stage in life.  A mix of humanities and sciences will leave your child's A level options wide open, and demonstrate a wide range of academic prowess.

Encourage them to choose subjects they enjoy, and also seek their teachers' guidance well in advance. But remember it doesn't have to be set in stone and  in the first few weeks of the new term there is probably still the opportunity to swap if they find they have made a mistake.  Just talk to their teachers and admissions staff if any problems or worries arise.

Teach Them to Juggle

With as many as ten to twelve different subjects requiring attention, finding the time and motivation for it all can be a struggle.  Time management is an essential life skill and this is the ideal time to help your child develop it.

Talk to them about what approach would work best for them - a colourful planner, a diary, an online organiser - and encourage them to note down every deadline and milestone so they can keep track of what they need to do when.

Your child also needs to find a study method that works for them, although different methods may work better for different subjects.  Encourage them to identify their best learning style(s) and find methods that match.  Seek advice from teachers if you're not sure where to start.


Either a godsend or a challenge, coursework is an essential component of a number of subjects.  Find out the deadlines well in advance, mark them on your calendar and your child's planner, and try to get as much information as far as in advance of the deadline as possible.

Teach your child that the best way to approach a larger task is to break it down into smaller more manageable parts. Then complete each baby step at a time to make the larger whole happen.

Your child's teacher will walk them through everything they need to do, so be there in the background to offer support, encouragement and whatever practical help your child needs. If you're in any doubt get in touch with the relevant teacher for advice.

But I don't like it!

With some GCSE subjects being compulsory, it is inevitable that there may be one or two your child doesn't like or doesn't excel at.  They may even find that subjects they previously enjoyed become less interesting or less liked as time goes on.

Unfortunately, there isn't a way out with this one, so encourage them to knuckle down even on the subjects they don't like.  Try to find another way in, perhaps with online videos or alternative text books, that will encourage more interest.

Talk to your child about keeping the bigger picture in mind. Being an all-rounder is good for job and university applications, and if all else fails, remind them that it's only a short time until they never need look at that subject again!

Ask an Expert

There is no shame in seeking help, whether from your child's teacher, school advisors, or from a private tutor.  Whether there is one particular subject they are struggling with or the whole process, asking someone who has experience and expertise is going to help.

If your child does need more support or advice, intervene as early as possible.  Private tutors are available to help with a wide range of subjects, from maths and English to the humanities, sciences and languages.  Their assistance could make the difference between a so-so grade and a great one, so it is well worth the investment.


Revision planning is a project in itself, and often takes military tactics to fit everything in!  The key is to start planning way in advance, both for mocks and the real thing. Regular breaks and mini rewards make revising easier, so help them to schedule these in alongside all the studying.

With so many subjects to revise for at once, GCSE revision time can seem overwhelming and even chaotic. Organise the chaos with a detailed study plan that allows time for all subjects but with the earlier exams given extra weight.

Sit down together with a copy of the exam timetable and prioritise the earlier exams first. Then add in the next subjects being examined and the next and so on. As time goes on they will have less and less subjects to focus on which will make revising easier.

Colour-coding the timetable by subject helps you to check at a glance that each subject gets an equal amount of time devoted to it and makes it easier to see what's coming up next. Alternating between those subjects they love and those they hate will make the whole process a little more bearable!

Whether she revises by covering the wall in Post-it notes, reading text books in the bath, watching guides and videos online or rewriting her own notes, everyone has their own revision style. Just make sure it is consistent and organised.

And be sure to plan in lots of breaks for a walk, a stretch (yoga is your revision friend!), and something to eat and drink. The general consensus is that a 40 minute period of intense study followed by a 10 minute break is ideal.


Make a revision plan for the mock exams too. Lots of students see these as a bit pointless and just something to be got through, but they are actually really useful to get you into the rhythm of revising and to get you used to how the exams are laid out and what the questions will be like.

Use the results of the mock exams to direct your child's learning efforts and revision towards her weaker subjects. From mocks onwards it makes sense to begin a light revision schedule then to ramp it up as spring term goes on.

One key part to achieving well in exams is to have a good knowledge of the marking scheme. Once you understand what an examiner is looking for you can begin to revise accordingly. Seek out guidance from your chid's school. They will often have model answers that serve as a good guide to what examiners want. You may also be able to get hold of past questions for guidance.

Choosing A Levels

While they're busy learning and revising for your GCSEs, students will also be expected to start thinking about what happens next. Whether they  plan to stay on at school or apply to college, this is the time to start thinking about what to study next.

Kids will already have an idea of what subjects they enjoy most, but they also need to think ahead to future university courses or career options. Careful consideration and research is needed to make sure the path they are choosing for A levels matches their future ambitions.

University and work may seem like a long way off but they have a habit of coming round all too fast, so put the effort in now to make sure your application stands out. Good GCSE grades of course, but also at least one foreign language, some sports, and community service all stand out, so start building these up now. Music, drama and dance qualifications are also useful so apply for these if you have the skills.

Stay Connected

Communicating with teens can be difficult, but keep the 'big picture' connections going.  Go for walks together, cook together, take a cheap overnight hotel trip with your child, and spend some time not talking about studying.

Plan a treat for when the exams are over, maybe a day trip somewhere to pursue one of their interests or a theme park visit.  Not only will it give you both something to look forward to, it will help take some of the pressure off, and keep those all-important communication channels open.  After all, the planning and anticipating a trip is half the fun!

Keep it Social

As well as hanging out with you, let your teen have some time out with their friends.  Of course going out the night before an exam is never going to be a good idea, but letting off a bit of steam at the weekend is OK. Being organised about studying means more free time, the ultimate reward!

If possible, discourage your child from getting a part-time job just yet. Working the summer between GCSEs and A levels is fine, but a term-time job now could interfere with sleep and revision time.

Studying for GCSEs is hard work, but with plenty of effort and support at home, your child will achieve everything they set out to. Just make sure they don't miss out on having lots of fun too! And whatever you do, never making revision a battleground. Your role is to support and help your child, so try not to jeopardise your relationship and their studying by being too overbearing, no matter how much you want them to succeed!

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