Parents’ Guide to GCSE Exams

The months in the run up to the GCSE exams are a crucial time for your child. The grades your child achieves will secure a foundation for their next steps in life. You will want your child to achieve the best grades that they can and this can be made possible when there is a good partnership between student, school and parent.

This page contains a guide to help you support your children to reach their full potential in their exams. If any further support is needed please do not hesitate to contact either your child’s class teachers or Mr Chatterley, our Parent Engagement Coordinator, who can be reached by email on

What Difference Can a Parent Make?

You do not have to be an expert in any of the subjects your child chooses, you just need to know how to best spend the time you do have to support and prepare your child. You are the expert on your own child and always have been their most important teacher, so your active support and encouragement can make a big difference to your child’s motivation in facing their GCSE exams.

Your role may include some or all of the following:

  • Attendance officer – Making sure your child attends school on time every day and understands the importance of making the most of lesson time. Government statistics show that there is a direct link between attendance, punctuality and results at GCSEs. Every day lost in attendance reduces your child’s chance of achieving their best.
  • Partner with school and child – Going to parents’ evenings, asking questions and finding out how you can best help your child at home.
  • Provider of the tools for homework and revision – A quiet space for study, pens, paper and other necessities.
  • ‘Study buddy’ – Showing an interest in the subjects, helping with the homework (but not doing it for them), testing them when they ask you.
  • Adviser – Helping your child to break tasks down so that they are manageable, keeping a subtle eye on progress and celebrating achievements. Seeing a positive way forward when things go wrong.
  • Project manager – Agreeing the rules for homework or revision, helping them to make a realistic timetable, creating a study / life balance and reviewing the plans as necessary.
  • Go-between – For your child and school when necessary, making sure problems are addressed quickly.
  • Information provider – Finding copies of past exam papers, searching out websites, finding out about the subject, exam structures and content.

Revision Tips for Parents

  • Help your child to make a study / revision timetable which includes the dates and times of the examinations in May and June as well as dates of any controlled assessments.
  • The timetable should be used to plan revision sessions. These should be spread out evenly so that your son / daughter is not planning to do too much all at once.
  • Have the timetable displayed in their room and help them to stick to the plan.
  • Ask to see your son / daughter’s revision notes and make sure that they speak to their teachers if they are missing any.
  • Encourage your son / daughter to ask for help at school on any work that they do not understand.
  • Encourage your child to attend all revision sessions offered by the school.
  • Make sure that they have all the books needed to hand to avoid wasted time.
  • You can buy revision guides to help with study. Make sure that your child knows which exam board and syllabus have been following for each subject.
  • Make sure that the study area is quiet and well-lit.
  • Check how they are doing by asking them to explain to you something that they have just revised.

What Revision Techniques Are There?

Reading text over and over until you remember it may not be very effective unless it is supported by other techniques, for example:


– Make notes on key ideas

– Summarise notes on card

– Highlight key information

– Construct minds maps

– Write notes on ‘post-its’ and stick in prominent places

– Watch revision videos from the internet

– Make up rhymes or mnemonics (e.g. Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain – colours of the spectrum; Never Eat Shredded Wheat – points on a compass)

– Test yourself, or test friends

– Get someone to test you

– Teach someone what you have revised (this could be a good parent/child activity)

– Record key information and play it over and over again

Past PapersKinaesthetic

– Download past papers (do not print them off) and write down your answers on lined paper

– Mark your answers using the downloadable mark scheme

– Create revision cards

– Create mind maps/knowledge organisers

– Draw and label diagrams

– Use gestures to demonstrate concepts

What Else Can You Do?

  • Recognise the importance of GCSE exams and the preparation time needed to do as well as possible.
  • Reward your child’s efforts to revise.
  • Reduce the number of chores that they have to do when exams start.
  • Make sure that the whole family respects the importance of keeping disturbances to a minimum.
  • Be sensitive to the pressure and stress that your teenager may be experiencing. Encourage them to speak to you about it.
  • Make sure that time is built in for exercise and recreation.
  • Respect their growing independence. Ask them how you can best support them.
  • Help them to keep things in perspective.

The Immediate Run Up to the Exams

Make sure that your child knows:

  • What day the exam is on and at what time it starts.
  • How long the exam is.
  • What is being tested in each exam (eg. which topics).

Before exams, try to ensure that:

  • Your son / daughter gets enough sleep, especially the night before exams.
  • They are eating sensibly – especially breakfast on exam days. Slow release carbohydrates are best, such as cereal, oats, porridge, toast and fruit.
  • They have all the equipment required:
    • pens and sharp pencils, erasers, a ruler (mobile phones and watches are not allowed in the exams) – a calculator and a protractor.
    • a bottle of water (with all labelling removed).

Remember how you approach the next few months can have a real impact on your child’s future. Studies show that high parental interest is linked with better exam results than for children whose parents show no interest.

New GCSE grade structure

The following table shows how the new GCSE grading compares with the more familiar ‘legacy’ grading that you may have achieved as a student or, have older children that achieved grades on this ‘legacy’ system. Although direct comparisons are difficult to make it does give an indication of how the new grades ‘fit in’ against the older ones. Also, please be aware that these new style GCSE exams are designed to be more challenging than the older ‘legacy’ ones. So again please try to refrain from putting added pressure onto your child by comparing them with successes that older siblings may have achieved.

Are there any other changes?

Yes, there are changes to the way in which grades for combined science are being allocated. This qualification is worth two grades. Under the old system, candidates would be given a combined score that was effectively a single grade doubled up – so A*/A*, A/A, B/B and so on. The new system allows for a little more differentiation, so that students will be given two equal grades (for example 5/5) or adjacent grades (for example 5/4).

In total, there are 17 possible grade combinations from 9/9 to 1/1.

Generic command words

Below is a table of command words common to many subjects at GCSE. New OFQAL guidelines state that every GCSE exam question should start with the relevant command word. It is good practice to advise your child to identify and underline/highlight this command word so that they know exactly what the question is asking them to do. The command words are in alphabetical order, not order of frequency or relevance.


Command wordDefinition
CalculateUse the numbers given to work out the answer. This may need the use of an equation.
CompareWrite about the similarities and/or differences between things. The answer must use comparative language (see table 2).
DefineGive the meaning of a word or phrase.
DescribeWrite about a thing, event or process without giving reasons why it happens.
DetermineUse information or data given to find the answer.
EvaluateConsider the evidence for and against something using your knowledge and information given to you.
ExplainState the reasons why something happens.
GiveA short answer which is not a description or an explanation.
IdentifyName the correct answer.
JustifySupport your answer with evidence from the information given to you. Words such as ‘better’; ‘faster’ etc must be used.
LabelAdd names/annotations to a diagram or picture.
NameA short answer which might only be one word.
PlanWrite a method. Can be done as a bullet point list.
PlotMark data points on a graph. Can be a bar chart or a scatter graph.
PredictSay what you think will happen. This should be supported with some evidence.
SketchDaw a rough version of a graph showing the general trend. Scales do not need to be included, just each axis labelled (with relevant units included).
SuggestApply your knowledge to a new situation to come up with an answer.
UseYour answer must be based on the information given to you in the question.


The second table below highlights examples of connective statements that can be used in more extended response answers. These tend to be higher demand questions and are therefore worth more marks. These are questions that students cannot afford to leave out!


Give examplesExplanation

For example ….

As shown by ….

For instance ….

Such as …..

This is caused by …..

As a result …..

Because ….

Due to ….


Likewise ….



Also ….

However ….

Although ….

Whereas ….

In contrast ….


Helpful Websites