Wednesday, 27 June 2018

How to Study for IGCSEs - part 1, Choosing your subjects

Before I get into the practicalities, let me first stress that this is how WE did it.  We left school all those years ago because the 'one-size-fits-all' approach did not work for us, and I have no desire to try to replicate that here.  That said, and inspired by a friend who is new to Home Ed and looking to take her teen through IGCSEs, I thought I would write the kind of 'how-to' that I would have really appreciated when we started the exam route a couple of years ago.

Back then I wrote a blog post of everything I had learned about getting ready for the studies, called 'ABCs of IGCSEs'.  There is helpful information in there as well as an honest view of how we were feeling at the time.  But today I thought it might help to do an updated version with the benefit of more experience - for anyone who could use it, and for myself when it comes to Middle's turn to start on the IGCSE path if that's what he chooses after one more year of the fun stuff (I NEED a year off exam studies!)

So - if you're thinking of home educating your child through IGCSEs, where do you start?  First of all you need to make some choices...  (There are many alternatives for students who do not fit the IGCSE route for whatever reason - I am assuming any readers here already know that they want/ need IGCSEs).  Very simply you need to choose your subjects, exam board and exam centre.

1/ Subjects.
Unless your child wants to be a doctor or lawyer etc, it is very unlikely that they need any more than 5 subjects.  Schools do 8 - 10 or more because they have to balance the needs of all the students with the requirement to have the children in school full-time.  But most sixth forms etc only require five passes, so unless you know your child's chosen career path requires more, I personally recommend aiming for five.  Even if your child doesn't know what they want to do next, five solid passes gives a good base for moving on afterwards.
Maths and English are required by most employers and colleges, so that just leaves you with three to choose.  The more academic subjects (sciences, humanities etc) are fairly straightforward as they can be 100% exam-based.  They often include written papers as an alternative to the practical elements such as field trips and experiments.
Some subjects are more complicated - eg arts, languages etc because of the practical/ oral elements.  It is not impossible, but there are less centres willing to facilitate, so if you are looking at Art, drama, language, music etc further investigation is needed than I can provide here as we have only experienced more academic subjects thus far.  A good place to start is the HE Exams wiki which is the most invaluable resource you can use - I recommend bookmarking it.  It can be a bit daunting when you are just starting but is really worth putting the time in to familiarise yourself with it, and they have a handy QuickStart Guide for complete beginners.  Another place of excellent support, especially when it comes to having your questions answered, is the 'HE exams and alternatives' group on Facebook - worth joining FB for that alone!
The wiki has a comprehensive list of subjects that is worth looking at if you want inspiration of possible subjects

NB we covered five subjects over two years but rather than doing all five at once we divided it up and did two subjects in the first year, and three in the second year.  I will definitely adopt this approach again in future.  In terms of balancing stress and finances it was a no-brainer for us.
Unless your child has a strong aversion to it, I recommend that you make Maths one of the first subjects as it is a straightforward 'right-or-wrong-answer' subject which means you can spend more time learning to course content and less time worrying about exam techniques such as working out what the examiner is looking for.  For our second 'first year' subject we chose what we thought would be the easiest and least important of Eldest's two favourite subjects (Geography), saving his other favourite (Biology) for the second year as that was the one that we thought he would need the best grade for.

2/ Centre.
Once you have an idea of the subjects you want to take you will need to choose your exam centre and exam board.  If distance is not an issue for you or your local centre offers more than one board to external candidate you will be able to choose your preferred board (usually Edexcel or Cambridge - and possibly some other minor ones, found on the wiki.  If you are limited to choice of centre and they only offer one board, you will need to stick with their chosen board (more often than not if they only offer one it will probably be Edexcel).
For this reason I recommend asking other local Home Educators for recommended exam centres that accept external exam candidates.  There is also a list on the Wiki but if you don't find any to suit, you may also want to phone around local schools & colleges to ask if they accept external candidates. You will need an idea of cost up front as that may also influence how many exams you take in any one sitting, and ask them for the deadline for booking onto the exam - usually several months in advance of the exams.  (January/ June for Edexcel or November/ May for Cambridge)

3/ Board.
Once you have an exam centre in mind, if you are fortunate enough to have a choice in exam board you will want to look at the exam specifications, and probably some past papers to enable you to choose.
If you find you have a strong preference to exam board you may just need to be prepared to drive further in order to get to a centre that will facilitate it.
Personally I found the exam specifications the most confusing thing to get my head around.  I have written a step-by-step process for beginners to hopefully help walk you through it, and given it a blog post all to itself - coming next...

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