Everything You Need to Know About Taking GCSEs as a Private Candidate

Everything You Need to Know About Taking GCSEs as a Private Candidate

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Are you an adult thinking about retaking your GCSEs as a private candidate? The very idea can be intimidating. But did you know that 55,000 adults took GCSEs in maths and English in 2018/19 alone?[i] You’re certainly not alone.

For adults returning to education or trying to upskill for their job, taking GCSEs as a private candidate is a big step. Getting these vital qualifications will help you unlock opportunities, attain higher degrees, and gain a leg up when applying for new roles. Many employers require 5 GCSEs in a good pass (or higher), with maths and English the most common subjects required.

Most mature students choose to study for their GCSEs in a one-year course, either online or in-person on weekends and evenings.[ii] By retaking your GCSEs and continuing on to your A levels (and maybe even other higher education), you will open up a whole new set of doors into your future. However, it’s not just adults who return to take their GCSEs as a private candidate. Anyone who is taking their exams after being home-schooled, privately tutored, or self-taught will also be taking their exams as a private candidate.

Can you take GCSEs privately?

Yes, absolutely. You can choose to sit your exams privately even after being taught in a traditional secondary school. However, most people who choose to take their GCSEs private fit one or more of the following categories:

  • Adults returning to education
  • Adults choosing to upskill for their career
  • Students who have been home-schooled
  • Students who have been privately tutored
  • Self-taught individuals
  • Adults from other countries who could not provide an equivalent educational qualification


Who can sit for GCSEs?

The short answer? Absolutely anyone can sit GCSEs. However, if you’re not prepared, you’re not likely to do very well on the exams. GCSEs have no formal entry requirements and no educational pre-requisites.  Most people associate GCSEs with teenagers between 14 – 16, but the reality is that anyone can take them. You don’t need to be attending secondary school to take formal GCSE exams at a college or a school.
If you’re worried about being the only adult in a GCSEs course, please don’t fret. As mentioned above, more than 55,000 adults sat their exams privately in 2018/19. Despite knowing this, many adults feel worried that they won’t be able to keep up with the class or understand the core concepts. They feel too out of touch and ‘rusty,’ and worry they won’t be successful.

However, these feelings soon go away. You’ll get into the groove, and before you know it, you’ll be loving your new life as a student. It’s also worth remembering that your life experience and older age can help you more than you might think. Teenagers tend to be less responsible and more easily distracted from their learning tasks. Mature students tackle their work with a sense of seriousness and a strong work ethic. After all, they’re paying for the privilege of being there![iii]
There are countless benefits of taking your GCSEs as an adult. Your employability will improve, and potential employers will be impressed, which means your wages will likely increase. Leaning keeps your brain healthy and agile and improves your mental faculties over time.[iv] Remember – without risks, there are no rewards. Take the leap!

How can you take GCSE exams privately?

Booking your GCSE exams is easier than you might think – just follow these simple steps.

Step 1: Book a GCSE preparation course to help you prepare for the rigorous exams.

Step 2: Choose where you want to sit your exams. For some subjects, you may only have one exam location in your area, which limits your options. However, for the more popular topics, such as Maths and English, there will be a range of sites to choose from, with schools and colleges being the most popular.

Step 3: Find out when the GCSEs take place so that you can get your space locked in and booked in advance. The exam dates are set at a national level, and spaces can fill up quickly. If you don’t book in advance, you can easily miss out. Aim to get them booked at least six months in advance.

Step 4: Don’t see a location and time online that works for you? Call and speak to the exam boards directly. There are occasionally exams scheduled that are not listed online. Similarly, if you don’t see your local college or school on the online lists, call them directly and ask if they allow private candidates to take exams on-site.

Step 5: Pay the fees. As a private GCSE candidate, your exams are not free. You’ll need to pay for each one individually at the time of booking. The costs vary (see below), but you can usually expect to pay around £100 per exam. This fee is not typically refundable or changeable, so make sure you’re booking the correct date and time.

Step 6: Have the right information to hand, including your name and date of birth, your address and phone number, your Unique Candidate Identifier (UCI), and the correct exam code for your course. If you are unsure of your exam code, speak to your GCSE course coordinator.

Step 7: Arrive on time for your exam. Once the big day has arrived, it’s important to show up on time and ready for the test.

When you arrive to take your exam, make sure you have the following essential items with you, as you’ll need them to take the test.

  • A valid photo ID
  • Black ink pens
  • Pencils and rubbers, as well as a sharpener and/or extra lead for mechanical pencils
  • A transparent pencil case or clear plastic bag
  • A bottle of water
  • A calculator
  • If taking a Maths GCSE, bring the required equipment, such as a compass and/or protractor

You may not use blue ink, highlighters, or Tippex on your exam papers. You should also ensure that your smartwatch and mobile phone are switched off and stored in your bag – if they ring or vibrate, you could be disqualified. If you can leave them at home or in the car, even better.

If you have any questions about what you may and may not bring into the exam room, get in touch with your specific exam centre.

Where and when to sit your final exam

There are plenty of exam centres around the UK that accept private candidates. The exams themselves are not usually included in the cost of your GCSE course, and so you have to organise these on your own. The exams are generally held in colleges and schools – find more information here.

You should also get in touch with the local exam board (detailed above) – they can provide you with in-depth information for how you can book your private GCSEs.

Most GCSE exams occur towards the end of the school year in May and June. The most popular GCSEs, Maths and English, are also often offered towards the beginning of the next school year, usually in October and November. It pays to find out these dates in advance so that you can plan your study schedule.

The cost of a private exam

Private GSCE fees range between £37 to £200 per exam. These fees depend on the particular GCSE and where you choose to sit them. You can often find a better rate by shopping around and asking different exam centres.

If you are taking online GCSE courses, it’s up to you to book your exams privately. The three most popular exam boards are AQA, Edexcel, and Cambridge Assessment International. You can find a list of private exam centres across the UK here.

It’s never too late to take your GCSEs

While you might worry that you are too old to study for and take your GSCEs, you’re never too old to love learning. If you ever doubt yourself, just think of James O’Neil in Basingstoke. This 81-year-old grandfather passed his English GCSE more than 65 years after he left school at the age of 16.[v] The Irish pensioner, a master welder in his working years, wanted to improve his spelling and grammar after learning much of his primary school education in Gaelic. All for the love of learning!

If Mr O’Neil can do it, so can you. Good luck on your new educational path!

Reference list

Brody, A. (2007). Mental reserves keep brains agile. The New York Times. [online] 11 Nov. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/health/11iht-11brod.8685746.html [Accessed 21 Jan. 2020].

French, K. (2020). Inspiring grandfather passes his GCSE English qualification at 81. [online] Andover Advertiser. Available at: https://www.andoveradvertiser.co.uk/news/regional/basingstoke/18675343.basingstoke-granddad-81-passes-english-gcse-qualification/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2020].

Gevorgyan, A. (2017). Top Universities. [online] Top Universities. Available at: https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/student-stories/8-great-things-about-being-mature-student-university [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

NCC Home Learning (2020). Retaking your GCSEs as an adult – it’s not too late. [online] Latest News. Available at: https://www.ncchomelearning.co.uk/blog/gcses-adult/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2020].

Stevenson, A. (2020). Why adults benefit from GCSEs too. [online] FE News. Available at: https://www.fenews.co.uk/featured-article/53974-why-adults-benefit-from-gcses-too [Accessed 17 Nov. 2020].

Sources

[i] https://www.fenews.co.uk/featured-article/53974-why-adults-benefit-from-gcses-too

[ii] https://www.ncchomelearning.co.uk/blog/gcses-adult/

[iii] https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/student-stories/8-great-things-about-being-mature-student-university

[iv] https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/health/11iht-11brod.8685746.html

[v] https://www.andoveradvertiser.co.uk/news/regional/basingstoke/18675343.basingstoke-granddad-81-passes-english-gcse-qualification/

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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