I'm so confused, HELP!!Edit

The idea of taking qualifications on your own can seem very daunting. The sense of responsibility and doubt can feel overwhelming. We have all been through this and come out the other side! It can be very straightforward and very rewarding. However, there are alternatives, such as early college entry or simply going to college at 16 to take qualifications, so don't feel you have to do this.  And, of course, there are home-educated children who go into the world of work or higher education without having taken any exams from home.  Just as school is not compulsory, exams are not compulsory either.

The HE-Exams Yahoogroup is invaluable when you are considering taking qualifications from home-ed. It has a large membership with experience of approaching many different exams from home education. You can receive emails or read messages on the Yahoogroups site, where you can also search the archives.

The Facebook Home Ed Links UK for GCSE/IGCSE group is another supportive community where members share resources and advice.  You can search resources and posts by subject.

Jargon Buster - the page to go to if you don't know what Specifications, Syllabuses, or Exam boards are.

Can my child go to college to get qualifications?Edit

Yes, there are plenty of home-educated students who have not taken any qualifications from home, but instead have attended college.  Some go part-time to a Further Education college, from around age 14 or 15, to take some core qualifications.  Others wait until 16 then go to a FE college or other sixth-form, and they then usually take some vocational qualifications plus English and maths GCSEs in a year. However, you have a limited range of options compared to those who have already obtained 5 core GCSEs. Don't assume your child will be able to do what others locally did a few years ago; availability changes, and so do expectations of colleges. Don't rely on what you read on college websites or prospectuses either - you may find that face-to-face they will offer you more options, or may be flexible about course requirements, so it helps to start attending college open evenings a couple of years before you think your child might want to go.  


Going to college 'early' at 14-16 Edit

From September 2013 home educated young people aged 14-16 in England are able to attend college part-time or full-time and the Government will pay for the course. It is up to the colleges whether or not to admit under-16s. These students can do any course agreed by the college, not just a designated 14-16 course. The rules are different for home educated young people because the parent retains responsibility and so the college does not have to make special arrangements for pastoral care or offer a full curriculum. For full details, see our page on College at 14-16 for home-educated students.


  • Students should be ready to start A-levels or similar qualifications at the same age as school students.
  • It is free (if the students attends a Further Education college)
  • Student still has some of the flexibility of home education.
  • Good choice of vocational courses eg Btecs, which are very hands-on.


  • Usually limited range of traditional academic courses available, and often very few GCSEs
  • GCSEs may be limited to Foundation Level only, at which the maximum grade attainable is a Grade C.
  • If on a designated 14-16 course, schools may be directing "difficult" students there.
  • May be hard to find a college in your area which is prepared to accept younger students.
  • Many FE colleges are not aware of the special provisions for HE students and confuse them with the general 14-16 arrangements, so you may need to explain it to them.  Do your homework before making contact - the College at 14-16 for home-educated students page tells you all you need to know.

Examples of students who have taken a similar route on the Personal Experiences page - Fred

Going to college / sixth form at 16 to do qualifications in one yearEdit

Many home-educated students have taken this route, usually sitting the equivalent of 5 GCSEs in one year, studying alongside other students largely the same age.  They are then ready to join Level 3 courses (A-level , Btec Diploma, or equivalents) one year after the usual age for school students, at 17.  One home-educator commented that starting a year later is a price worth paying for the freedome of home education through the teenage years, without any worries about taking exams.  On the Personal_experiences_of_home_educators page you will see some examples of students who have taken this route.  Sometimes, rarely, a college will allow you to skip the GCSE year and go straight on to level 3 courses such as A-levels or Btec Diploma, if you do well in their own tests for literacy and numeracy.


  • Free at all Maintained schools or colleges
  • Funding arrangements are straightforward
  • Applications should be straightforward; you don't have to educate the college.
  • If you have SEN and need access arrangements, college should take care of all that.


  • Usually limited range of traditional academic courses available, and often very few GCSEs
  • GCSEs may be limited to Foundation Level only, at which the maximum grade attainable is a Grade C.
  • The qualifications you can obtain this way may not be enough to get you on to the course you want to do next.
  • Courses for core subjects will be aimed at resit students so they will assume prior knowledge; you might have to do a lot of catching-up at home.
  • Fellow students will largely be retaking courses and may be disillusioned and demotivated.

Examples of students who have done this: Anonymous 2

Do you need GCSE English and Maths to get into college now? Edit

NO, you have an absolute right to education at 16-19 regardless of your qualifications. HOWEVER, you don't get to choose what sort of education that is - so it may not be the college or course you'd prefer. If you haven't got GCSE or IGCSE English and maths at grade C or above by age 16, you will have to continue studying them at 16-19 alongside your other courses. More details on the English page.

Colleges can set any entry requirements they like - the English and maths condition of funding is the only thing that is a government requirement. Most colleges will require 5 GCSEs at A*-C if you want to start straight onto A-levels or a Level 3 Btec, but if you have fewer, you can usually start with Level 2 Btecs or other Level 2 qualifications.

Can I take GCSEs from home education? Edit

You can take public qualifications by sitting exams at an exam centre such as a school or independent exam centre as an external (private) candidate. Where the GCSE is not available to private candidates, you can usually take an IGCSE instead, which is the same level , has very similar content, and is treated as a GCSE in almost all circumstances. Most GCSEs involve Continuous Assessment (coursework) and few exam centres will allow you to do this unless you are one of their own pupils, so usually home-educated students will take IGCSEs in, for example, English and Sciences, but GCSEs are available without controlled assessment in a few subjects such as maths, law and psychology. The subject pages for this wiki tell you, for each subject, what your options are - whether you can do GCSE or IGCSE, and what choices of syllabus are available.

Many home educators take GCSEs, IGCSEs and A-Levels and do very well. Many achieve the highest grades and go on to universities in the UK and abroad. You can read about some people who have taken this route on the  Personal_experiences_of_home_educators page.  Many university staff have commented that they like home educated students because they are often capable of working with more independence and dedication than their peers.

Changes to GCSEs from 2017 will open some subjects up to external candidates, but many obstacles will remain - see below.

Pros and Cons of taking exams as a Home-Educated StudentEdit


  • Student can take as many or as few qualifications as they wish, and choose the syllabus they are most keen on.
  • Student can take exams at their own pace, starting when they are ready.
  • Student does not need to be restricted to courses on offer at college, or to foundation tiers.
  • Great sense of satisfaction for students
  • Suits students who prefer to work independently or in small groups
  • Suits students who know what they want to do next and know what qualifications they need to do it.
  • Allows you to have a 'conventional' set of qualifications similar to what would have been taken in school, if you desire, but still have the freedom of home-ed.


  • Can be difficult to find an exam centre to take external candidates
  • You have to pay all costs
  • If you need access arrangements for SEN this can be very, very difficult and expensive to arrange.
  • You take full responsibility for exam preparation
  • Some qualifications are not available to external candidates, eg Drama GCSE, while others with practical components can be difficult to arrange, eg Art IGCSE.

How many can I take?Edit

You can take as many GCSEs or IGCSEs as you like. Some EHErs take two or three exams a year over two or three years. Some study just a couple, while others study ten at once and sit them at 16. It is entirely your choice; but because of the cost, many EHErs prefer to stagger the exams. Some people are concerned that colleges or universities will not count qualifications taken early or spread out, but on the Personal_experiences_of_home_educators page you will find plenty of examples where (I)GCSEs spread out clearly has not been a problem, and so far on the HE Exams Yahoogroup there has been no case where it has been an issue. This situation might well be different for A-levels as some universities base offers on three taken at the same time, but this is not universal - see the Ingle_Family experience.

How many do I need?Edit

This depends on what you want to do next. It is possible to do A-levels from home, but if your child wants to go to sixth form or college to take further qualifications, she may need to meet their criteria.  Some institutions are flexible in their requirements, recognising that home-educated students don't face a level playing field in access to qualifications, but others are not.  There is no substitute for checking directly with the institutions. Sixth forms are often more concerned about (I)GCSE grades and numbers than universities, because by the time a student applies to university she will often have some AS-level results or other Level 3 experience.

Russell Group Universities FAQs - straight answers to questions about how many qualifications top-level unis require, which ones carry most weight, and so on.

What is the best age to begin studying?Edit

You can begin studying GCSEs or IGCSEs when your child is ready. If you want to stagger the exams over three years then you might begin at 13 years old. Having said that, there are people who begin studying for GCSEs or IGCSEs at 11 and others who begin at 16.

How old must I be to take exams?Edit

You can sit GCSEs or IGCSEs at any age, whether earlier or later than the typical school age of 16. On the HE-Exams group there are several families whose children took their first GCSE aged 11 or 12, though most start later. Some students sit exams later than the school norm, too - there are no rules saying that you have to take GCSEs by age 16!  One potential issue to consider if taking exams later than usual is that 16-19 education is funded differently from adult education, so if you want to go to college afterwards, you will have a different set of options at under 19 than post-19.

Where do I start?Edit

Many home educators prefer IGCSEs because, for most subjects, they involve no compulsory coursework and therefore can be studied independently and inexpensively. It is difficult for home educators to take GCSEs independently because most involve controlled assessment, and you would have to find an exam centre willing to facilitate this. Most simply won't do it, with the exception of a few independent exam centres - and even then, it costs several hundred pounds per qualification.

GCSEs which do not include controlled assessment, and therefore are straightforward to take for home-ed students, include maths, law, psychology, sociology, and some languages. From 2017 for English and from 2018 for other subjects, there will be more GCSEs which are available to external candidates as controlled assessments are being reduced in the new GCSEs. However, many will still not be practical for home educators to take, so for sciences and English language, for instance, IGCSES are the usual choice for home educators. Please see the separate IGCSEs page.

Exam boards offering IGCSEs: Pearson Edexcel and CIE (Cambridge International Examinations, which is a sister company of OCR), and AQA, whose IGCSEs are called the AQA Certificate.

Read the individual subject pages on this wiki for advice on which syllabus and textbooks to choose - see the Main_Page for a list of subjects. <p class="MsoNormal">There is no set way to study for IGCSEs so you can use any method that works for you; all that matters is that you cover the syllabus for the subject. You can find the Specifications (which include syllabus information) and Teachers' Guide, for all available subjects, on the exam board websites. You don't need correspondence courses, although some families do find them helpful.  Many find they get along fine with just a good textbook and free online resources and past papers.

Generally, there are dedicated textbooks available for many IGCSE subjects; just make sure you are buying for your chosen exam board. You won't find these on the high street though - the books in general bookshops are usually "revision guides", which summarise the course and don't contain all the material you need.  You will generally need to order a "Student book" - this is a complete course tailored to the syllabus, with plenty of practice questions. If you are looking for a textbook for Edexcel Biology for example, search on Amazon for 'edexcel igcse student book biology' (and see recommended books on the Biology page).

Often the exam board (eg Pearson Edexcel, CIE) will publish its own Student Book, and you can be confident that this will cover the whole syllabus.  However, there are also Student Books published elsewhere but for each syllabus, and some of these are endorsed by the exam board too. As long as the book is dedicated to the syllabus you have chosen, it should cover the course.  It's really down to which books work well for your family.  A caution - some Student Books contain answers for all exercises, or make answers to all exercises available online, but others only publish answers in an expensive teacher's book which may cost £100 or so.  Check on this wiki's individual subject pages to see what's on offer in your subject.

How long does it take to study for an exam?Edit

A distance-learning course provider once quoted 150 hours study per GCSE/IGCSE. Again, how you choose to organise your study is down to you. There are home-ed students who have studied for only three weeks and got an A grade! Usually though, a few hours a week over one or two years is the norm. Most people find that studying a subject several times a week works better than having just one tutorial or intensive session.

How much does it cost?Edit

As an external candidate you are responsible for all costs of study and sitting exams and you are responsible for finding and registering with an exam centre.  In Hampshire there is currently a pilot scheme whereby the Local Authority will pay for exam entry fees up to 5 IGCSEs, subject to certain conditions.  However, elsewhere you are unlikely to receive any financial help from public funds. 

If you study IGCSEs independently, then the cost of study is only the price of a textbook and exam sitting, so it can cost less than £100 per qualification. The cost of sitting an IGCSE varies considerably; it can be just the cost of the exam board fees (about £30) up to as much as £250 per subject. The cost varies locally.

Don't panic-buy and over-spend on books and courses. It is easy to waste lots of money on unnecessary materials at first. Take things easy; most subjects really only need one good textbook. Don't buy Correspondence courses without reading around the subject pages on this wiki first, and asking on the HE Exams list; many of us have unused courses sitting on our shelves, when a good textbook did the job in the end.

Where can I sit an exam?Edit

You will need to find an appropriate centre which is accredited with an awarding organisation (usually referred to as an "exam board") such as Edexcel, AQA, OCR, CIE or WJEC. Finding an exam centre can be difficult and you should start early.  There is a page on this wiki dedicated to crowdsourcing examination centres that accommodate private candidates and which have been used by other home-educators : Finding_an_exam_centre.  The exam boards all have lists of schools which supposedly accept external candidates, but in practice these do not tell the whole story.  Some centres do accept external candidates but don't want to be listed as such on the exam board sites, while others only rarely accept externals but are still listed.  Start with the wiki exam centres list, then ask the home-ed community, then the exam board sites, then try contacting local schools to ask if they accept private candidates for exam sittings - but please see the advice on Finding_an_exam_centre before doing so.

It may be difficult to find exam centres for GCSEs and IGCSEs in Scotland, although there are some - see Finding_an_exam_centre.

Which exam board should I choose?Edit

It doesn't matter which exam board you choose; they are all equally well regarded.  The main options are Edexcel, AQA, OCR, CIE or WJEC (Welsh Joint Examining Committee/).  WJEC exams can be taken in England as well under the brand Eduqas. You can pick and mix different exam boards for different subjects - it is common for schools to do this, choosing the syllabus best suited to the teacher's interests.

  • If there is a convenient local exam centre which is only registered with one exam board, it may make life easier just to stick with that board.
  • Start by checking the individual subject pages on this wiki for summaries of the available options - see Main_Page for list.
  • Look at the syllabuses for the subject you're interested in and see which appeals.  You can find this on each exam board website.
  • Textbooks and materials - see what is available to cover the syllabus you like, and whether answers are available. Sometimes the availability of a good textbook with answers included can swing the choice of syllabus.  Again, see individual subject pages on this wiki for book recommendations.
  • You can use more than one exam centre if necessary, but beware of exam clashes or difficult journeys if you end up having a morning exam in one centre and an afternoon one in another.

Is one exam board easier than the others? Is one more respected? Edit

There is no consensus about this. Exam board styles vary, and the difficulty may vary a little from subject to subject, but none is easiest overall, and none is more respected overall. An IGCSE is worth the same regardless of the exam board, and nobody is ever likely to ask which exam board you used. Universities do not have any preferences for particular exam boards.

Here is one teacher's opinion .

How do I register to take an exam?Edit

If, like most home-ed families, you are taking exam-only qualifications, then you only need to register with the exam centre a few months before the exams.  For summer exams, most exam centres take entries in January and early February, though late entries are usually possible at a price.  However, although you will not formally make your entries before this, it is wise to find an exam centre as early as possible.  Ideally, when you are ready to begin studying for a qualification, make informal enquiries of local centres before you buy any materials, as their preferred exam board may influence your choice of syllabus.  To do this, see Finding_an_exam_centre; you may be more likely to get a positive response if you do so in writing, ie by email. 

If there is a convenient local exam centre but it only uses one exam board (eg Edexcel, AQA, OCR, CIE), then you may decide to limit your choices to their syllabuses.  However, there is nothing to stop you travelling further afield to a different exam centre for one subject if you much prefer their syllabus.

Plenty of families do start a course and then look for an exam centre nearer the time.  If you want to sit exams in the summer of next year, it would be sensible to start looking for an exam centre in the autumn term beforehand.  Depending on where you live, you may have to travel - sometimes candidates stay overnight nearby to avoid a morning rush, if they live many miles from the exam centre.

Each exam centre will have its own procedures for making entries - see Making entries and sitting exams for what information the exams officer will need.

Special Educational Needs and Access Arrangments - my child needs extra time, a scribe or a computer - can this be done? Edit

Yes, home-ed students can still have access arrangements if they have special educational needs, but it can be very difficult to arrange as it involves extra work for the exam centre. Please see Dorothy Murphy's Access Arrangements blog and the EHE-SEN Exams Page for the latest situation. Home educators have raised the need for access arrangements at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education but the current situation is that external candidates simply do not have a right to extra time etc. unless it can be arranged through an exam centre. This can be very expensive and very difficult. It's not fair. It is one reason why families of children with SEN may find it easier to arrange a part-time college course for them to take exams; in this situation, the college should deal with all arrangements and costs.

Schools do not have to take external candidates in any situation and the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 do not compel them to offer access arrangements to external candidates, so our approach to exam centres has to be one of asking for a favour, rather than demanding a right.

For information about recent changes to JCQ rules and how they are being applied see this blog:

Where do I find past exam papers?Edit

Go to the exam board page for each qualification, and you will usually see past papers, mark schemes and examiner reports available for free download.  You can also find some sets of past papers for specific subjects on this wiki - go to the subject page you're interested in and see if there is a link. 

The most recent set of papers and marks for each qualification will generally be locked by the exam board and only available for secure download by exam centres.  This is so schools can use the most recent set of exam papers for mock exams and not worry that anyone has seen them beforehand.  Sometimes this is important;  if a candidate is unable to complete their exams due to illness or other circumstances, the school might use their mock exam result as evidence to support final grade allocation. 

There isn't any reason why home educators can't get hold of the most recent paper though  - we are 'allowed' to see them, it's just that the exam boards are only set up to distribute them either through their secure downloads for exam centres, or selling paper copies.  They will usually sell you the most recent set if you phone up and explain you are a home educator, but often you can obtain them by asking on the HE-Exams group or searching free download sites. Many people have tried, and failed, to persuade the exam boards to give home-ed parents access to secure downloads; don't worry, as you can always obtain them another way. CIE are not helpful at all, quite rude in fact. Edexcel have most papers on their website, and only the latest papers are secured.

If you can't find the most recent papers online, please ask on the HE Exams Yahoogroup first. If you still can't locate them, you can ask your exam centre to download them and email them to you. 

Although these papers are copyrighted, we know the exam boards will make them freely available to all online as soon as the next lot of exams are out so most of us don't have any concerns about sharing them amongst known home educators. At meetings with exam board senior staff it has been explained that they don't have any objection to us using them, but their system is set up to only allow downloads via a registered exam centre. 

Older exam papers from superseded qualifications can often be downloaded from free exam paper download sites. You can sometimes also find the most recent exam papers on these sites - the ones which the exam boards have not released to the public yet.

Ensure you have antivirus/internet security in place before using download sites, and note that you may need to allow popups to download.  If you have trouble making the download work, each site will usually have a help page to explain what settings you need. 

Edexcel Summer 2018 papers for IGCSE and International A-levels - Bilal Ahmed's blog 

Edexcel June 2014 papers for IGCSE and International A-level plus mark schemes

Edexcel June 2013 question papers for IGCSE and June 2013 Edexcel Mark Schemes

CIE past papers up to November 2014 from , also offered by



Download sites may provide files in compressed format such as .zip or .rar .  If so, when you have downloaded the file, right-click and see if your computer offers you the option to 'extract files'.  If not then you can download a free extraction utility which will do this - 7-zip is very popular.

Shawon Notes has IGCSE papers for a few subjects, mostly Edexcel specification, going back to around 2005.

Bilal Ahmed's Blog for Edexcel papers

GCSEs are changing - how does this affect us?Edit

New GCSEs, graded 9-1, are coming to the UK. Some of these will be available to us as external candidates, and we should have more options than under the current GCSE system. Coursework and Controlled Assessment is not going altogether, but it will be taken out of some subjects - which should make exam centres more likely to accept external candidates for them. For instance, English Literature will become exam-only. However, English will still involve a compulsory speaking assessment, even though it doesn't contribute to the final grade, so as now, it will be difficult for home-ed students to take the GCSE in English. Sciences will no longer have Controlled Assessment for practical exams, and there is no practical component to the exams. However, the exam centre is supposed to keep a record of practical work undertaken by the students and we do not yet know how this will work for external candidates.

Here's an infographic from OFQUAL about the change to the grading structure:


'GCSE Reform: Get The Facts' from Ofqual and the Department for Education

New GCSE 9-1 Grading System

GCSE Pass mark raised in exams shake-up - BBC Education

When do the new GCSE exams start?Edit

The syllabuses are described as "from 2015" because that is when schools would start teaching a typical two-year course, but the exams won't be available until 2017. This applies to:

  • English
  • English Literature
  • Maths

For 'phase two' subjects, the first new GCSE exams will be available in 2018 and the syllabuses will be "from 2016". These subjects are:

  • ancient languages (classical Greek, Latin)
  • art and design
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • citizenship studies
  • computer science
  • dance
  • double science
  • drama
  • food preparation and nutrition
  • geography
  • history
  • modern foreign languages (French, German, Spanish)
  • music
  • physics
  • physical education
  • religious studies

Phase Three syllabuses will be available for teaching from September 2017 with first exams Summer 2019, for the following subjects:

  • ancient history
  • astronomy
  • business
  • classical civilisation
  • design and technology
  • economics
  • electronics
  • engineering
  • film studies
  • geology
  • information and communications technology
  • media studies
  • psychology
  • sociology
  • statistics

'GCSE Reform: Get The Facts' from Ofqual and the Department for Education

AQA Timeline of GCSE Changes - with first and last exam sittings.

Pearson Edexcel info on reforms for their subjects.

When is the last chance to sit the old GCSEs?Edit

  • English, English Literature and Maths: last chance to take it for the first time is Summer 2016, with a sitting for resits only in November 2016.
  • Phase Two subjects: last chance in Summer 2017
  • Phase Three subjects: last chance in Summer 2018

Will IGCSEs still be available?Edit

Yes, CIE and Edexcel will still be offering their range of IGCSEs. Edexcel are revising their syllabuses and grading system to bring them closer to the new GCSEs, starting a year after each GCSE syllabus change - so English and maths change for exams from 2018. CIE are still offering their A*-G graded IGCSEs.

AQA are discontinuing their 'IGCSE-style' Level 2 Certificates, as these were aimed at the UK State schools and will be rendered obsolete by the new GCSEs. The only one they are retaining is their Further Maths IGCSE

UK state schools have no option but to switch to the new GCSEs as they will not get league table points for any alternative qualifications.

Independent schools can continue to choose between GCSEs and IGCSEs and many appear to be reserving judgment, continuing with IGCSEs in some or all subjects until they have seen how the new GCSEs work out.

Jury is out on new GCSEs - Times Education Supplement

Will home-educated students have to do the EBacc set of traditional subjects? Edit

No. This is a school performance measure and isn't a requirement for individual students. The government wants state schools to ensure that pupils take GCSEs in a range of 'core' subjects known as the EBacc. This has been reported in the press as, for instance:

"From September, all pupils starting secondary school will have to study English, a language, maths, science and history or geography at GCSE, in the EBacc." (BBC Education)

There is no obligation for individual students to take exams in all of these subjects. It's a requirement for state schools to offer the exams, not for children to take them. Schools won't be able to get a top rating from Ofsted unless they offer GCSEs in these subjects. Therefore, it should not affect home-educated students. As it doesn't specify which of history or geography, and which particular modern language, there will not be a core set of skills or knowledge which are expected in further education or employment beyond English, maths and science to some level.

Will employers all expect students to have the EBacc? Edit

Some schools staff have been saying this, but there is no evidence that employers are asking for history/geography or any particular modern foreign language. While many home educators do prefer to support their children in gaining qualifications over a range of subjects, there doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to stick to the ones specified in the EBacc.

Jury is out on new GCSEs - Times Education Supplement

'Traditional GCSE Subjects for all pupils' - BBC Education

Schools 'will reject' requirement to teach EBacc to all - BBC Education

Course Providers Edit

While many HEs study independently using just textbooks, some prefer to hire tutors or buy courses. The courses can vary considerably in quality and cost. There are a number of course providers who are marketing to Home Educators. See the CorrespondenceCourses page and also subject pages for more suggestions - return to the Main_Page to see the list of subjects.

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