One of the most common questions asked by students is about the hardest GCSE subjects. This is a valid concern since the difficulty of a GCSE subject makes a huge difference in a student’s life. The workload, number of challenging questions in an exam, complexity of concepts, length of the syllabus, examiners marking, and overall difficulty varies across different subjects.
Hence, I have compiled a list of the Hardest GCSEs to help you select the best combination possible. This list should not discourage you from taking a certain subject, especially if it is a pre-requisite for your A-level Subjects, University Course, or Career aspiration.
This list is also applicable for students studying IGCSE or O-level qualifications.
Ultimately how difficult a student finds a subject depends on their strengths, prior knowledge and interests. This is simply a consensus of students based on the subjects they found the toughest and most challenging.
What are the Hardest GCSE Subjects:
- GCSE Further Maths
- GCSE Chemistry
- GCSE Physics
- GCSE English Literature
- GCSE Maths
- GCSE Computer Science
- GCSE Economics
- GCSE Biology
- GCSE English Language
- GCSE Modern Foreign Languages
1. Further Maths
Further Maths is the hardest GCSE Subject. This is because GCSE Further Maths has an extensive syllabus, complex and tough concepts that are difficult to grasp, challenging questions in the exams, harsh marking, and requires a great deal of independent study.
Further Maths is for students with above-average mathematical ability. You will be introduced to Calculus (Differentiation and Integration), Trignometry, Logarithmic functions and indices, identities and inequalities, graphs, series including binomial series, and scalar and vector quantities.
Many of the names of the topics seem similar to those in GCSE Mathematics. However, the depth and complexity of Further Maths is far greater when compared to normal Maths. In a way, Further Maths builds upon the concepts of regular Maths hence the name, “Further.”
Many students struggle with Further Maths due to its difficulty and abstractness. In normal Maths, you can easily make connections with things in the real world. In Further Maths, you require an in-depth understanding of the concepts in order to prosper in the exams. The difficulty of Further Maths discourages students from studying it and schools from teaching it.
However, GCSE Further Maths is certainly worth it and you should definitely study it because of the advantages it presents. Further Maths will drastically improve your mathematical abilities, give you an edge when applying for college and university, and will help you easily transition to A-level Maths.
You can find more information regarding the subject here.
2. GCSE Chemistry
GCSE Chemistry is amongst the hardest subjects due to its massive syllabus, highly complex concepts, enigmatic subject content, ruthless marking, and difficult questions which require students to apply their knowledge in unfamiliar contexts.
Most students struggle with Chemistry since memorizing the book is not sufficient. GCSE Chemistry questions require a great deal of application from the students. The textbook is not all-encompassing; you will have to learn subject content and concepts from various sources such as the Past Papers, Youtube Videos, and other websites.
The Massive Chemistry syllabus includes the following topics: Atomic Structure, Periodic Table, Bonding, Structure, and Properties of Matter, Quantitative Chemistry and Analysis, Chemical and Energy Changes, Rate and Extent of Chemical Changes, Organic Chemistry, Chemistry of the Atmosphere, and Using Chemical Resources.
Chemistry examiners leave no stone unturned when it comes to testing the understanding of the students. Exams feature Multiple Choice, Structured, Short Closed and Open Questions.
GCSE Chemistry may also have a practical exam to assess the students’ ability to perform experiments, and record, compile and evaluate their findings in a time-restricted environment. How much harder can a subject get?
You can find more information regarding the subject here.
3. GCSE Physics
Physics is considered to be one of the hardest GCSE subjects. Physics is a hard GCSE as there is a lot of maths involved, there are many complex equations and concepts you need to master, the syllabus is lengthy and the subject matter is complicated and tough.
Physics is the study of matter, motion and energy. The major topics in the GCSE Physics syllabus include the following: Energy, Electricity, Particle Model of Matter, Atomic Structure, Forces, Waves, Magnetism and Electromagnetism, and Space Physics.
The GCSE Physics syllabus is very lengthy and each of the topics has further sub-topics. Like Chemistry, the Physics examiners create exams to completely test the understanding of the students.
Simply memorizing the textbook will not be enough, you will have to have an in-depth understanding of everything. There will be a mix of closed, open, short structured and MCQ style questions.
Overall most students struggle with applying the concepts in unfamiliar contexts and the high level of mathematical thinking involved. Physics questions may require students to write formulas, manipulate them, convert values, and use those values in other parts all within the scope of a single question. These factors together make GCSE Physics a rather difficult subject.
You can find more infromation about the subject here.
4. GCSE English Literature
English Literature is also one of the hardest GCSE subjects. English Literature is known to be difficult due to the sheer amount of content in the syllabus, tough questions that require essay style and evidenced backed answers, and extended readings whose meaning is difficult to understand.
The GCSE English Literature syllabus is massive and features readings from many genres and styles. Mastering different kind of readings makes it a more challenging subject.
According to the AQA Specification, Paper 1 consists of content from one of Shakespeare Plays and a 19-century novel. The exam is an hour and forty-five minutes long and amounts to 40% of the overall grade.
You will get a chance to choose from a long list of novels and plays. There will be two questions for a whopping total of 64 marks. The number of marks is a strong indication of how long and in-depth your answer should be.
60% of the grade comes from Paper 2. It consists of 3 sections: Modern Prose or Drama texts, Poetry, and Unseen Poetry. Again you will get a chance to choose from many texts for the first two sections. The real challenge comes in the third section where you will be assessed on your impromptu ability to analyse peoms in unfamiliar contexts.
The time limit for Paper 2 is two hours and fifteen minutes. You will answer 6 relatively shorter questions, but they will require essay-style answers nonetheless.
Regurgitation of facts will not be enough to get a good grade in this subject. What makes GCSE Literature so hard is that you must provide a strong, evidenced-backed, in-depth analysis of the text in your answers.
5. GCSE Mathematics
GCSE Mathematics is fifth on the list of the hardest GCSE subjects. What makes Maths difficult is the large syllabus, several challenging questions, relatively complex concepts which are hard to understand, and a moderate level of critical thinking needed to solve problems.
Most students are not mathematically inclined. Understanding maths for the vast majority is a process that takes time, consistent effort, good resources and high-quality teachers. Maths requires a great deal of application in unfamiliar contexts.
You are required to critically analyse a problem and then scan through hundreds of previously taught concepts and see which ones are applicable in that particular scenario. Your memory alone can take you quite far in most GCSE subjects. Maths and Further Maths are two exceptions where less than 5% of the examination is based on memorizing the syllabus. Understanding is key here.
Luckily GCSE Maths does not have as many tough questions and abstract concepts as Further Maths. Moreover, the syllabus covers relatively basic concepts which are quite relatable. The Maths syllabus includes the following topics: Number, Algebra, Geometry and Measurement, Probability, Statistics, Ratio, Proportion, and Rates of Change.
The three papers have an equal weightage (33.3%) and a time limit of 1 hr 30 min each. The first paper restricts the use of a calculator; wheres the other two have no calculator curtailment. The questions are of various types and marks, ranging from short, single mark questions to multi-step problems.
The questions becoming increasingly difficult as you progress through the paper. A basic understanding of maths will allow you to solve the first several questions. To do well you must be able to solve the harder and more complex multi-step problems.
You can find more information here.
6. GCSE Computer Science
Computer Science is a moderately difficult GCSE. This is because Computer Science requires critical thinking, is based on logic and reason, has a great deal of mathematics involved, includes a decent-sized syllabus, and consists of several challenging questions.
There is a lot more to Computer Science than programming.
According to the AQA Specification, Paper 1 tests the following topics: Fundamentals of Algorithms, Programming, Fundamentals of Data Representation, and Computer Systems.
Computational-thinking, problem-solving, code-tracing, application of computing concepts, and theoretical knowledge will be asked in the form of multiple-choice, short, and long questions in Paper 1.
Paper 2 is entirely theoretical and you will be assessed on the following topics: Fundamentals of computer networks, cyber-security, computer systems, data representation and the ethical, legal, and environmental impacts of digital technology on wider society.
The third component of GCSE Computer Science is a programming project where will be required to use your skills and knowledge to solve a problem. You will get marks based on the scope, complexity, and implementation of your project.
Most students struggle with Paper 1 as it requires a lot of critical thinking and problem-solving. Consistent practice is the only way to do well in this relatively difficult exam
Memorizing the textbook will be sufficient to get a good grade in Paper 2. Similarly, you will have access to nearly unlimited time and resources for the Programming Project. So these two components should not be too much of an issue. Mastering Paper 1 is the key to success in GCSE Computer Science.
7. GCSE Economics
Economics is another moderately hard GCSE subject. Most students find the broad syllabus which contains content from both Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, the involvement of intricate graphs, critical thinking questions, and complex concepts difficult in GCSE Economics.
GCSE Economics is a social science concerned with the study of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The Economics syllabus is divided into two units: How markets work and how the economy works.
Under the module, “How Markets Work,” you will study many sub-topics such as the nature and purpose of economic activity, factors of production, the importance of making choices, resource allocation using a market mechanism, how prices are determined, supply and demand, Intermarket relationships, price elasticity, productivity, and economies of scale.
The other module, “How The Economy Works,” focusses on the following topics: consumers, producers, governments and their policies, interest rates, borrowing, saving, spending, why countries trade, the significance of a global economy and financial markets, the role of money, and the moral, ethical, and sustainability issues in managing an economy.
The two papers are for 1hr 45 mins each and consist of MCQs, short questions, multi-step problems, and extended responses. A large number of questions require an understanding of mathematics, particularly graphs.
Most students find the involvement of graphs difficult since they require a great deal of application. The extended response questions require a rigid structure and it takes a lot of practice before you understand how the examiners want you to construct your answers.
You can find more information about the GCSE Economics here.
8. GCSE Biology
GCSE Biology is considered a moderately difficult subject because of its extensive syllabus and various types of questions. Although the concepts are relatively easy and straightforward, you will have to memorize a lot of subject matter to do well in the Biology Exams.
Biology is the science of all living organisms. Each of the two papers in the GCSE Biology syllabus is worth 100 marks and is 1 hr 45 minutes long. The examiners assess students using MCQs, structured, closed short answer and open response questions.
The first paper deals with the following topics: Cell Biology, Organisation, Bioenergetics, Infection, and Response. On the other hand, the second paper maintains its focus on Homeostasis and Response, Inheritance, Variation and Evolution, and Ecology.
When compared to Physics and Chemistry, Biology requires less application and critical thinking but more memorization. Moreover, the mathematics involved in GCSE Biology is very basic in nature and should not be a cause of concern. These factors explain why Biology is so low on the list of the Hardest GCSE Subjects.
You can find more information about GCSE Biology here.
9. GCSE English Language
GCSE English language is a relatively difficult subject as you need to effectively answer questions from set texts and write well-articulated essays. GCSE English Language requires you to master several skills in a short period of time which is a difficult task to manage.
The exam format is explained in the table below. This is according to the AQA Specification.
|English Language Exam||Time and Weightage||Reading Section||Writing Section|
|Paper 1||1hr 45 min and 50% of the grade.||4 questions from a literature fiction text||1 Extended Descriptive or Narrative Writing Prompt.|
|Paper 2||1hr 45 min and 50% of the grade.||4 questions from two non-fiction texts||1 Extended Writing Prompt to Present a Viewpoint.|
Another reason you may find GCSE English Language difficult is because there is a wide range of texts from which you will be examined. You will need to develop higher-order reading and critical thinking skills to do well in the exams.
You will be expected to use grammatically correct sentences, figurative language and your analytical skills in the exams. Grammar and Punctuation mistakes will cost you more dearly in English Language than any other subject.
The set texts are inculcated in the exams to test your critical reading and comprehension skills. You must learn to pay attention to details and evaluate the writer’s choice of vocabulary, form, grammatical and structural features. Mastering all these skills will be a hard endeavour for many students. Therefore you must practice a great deal to flourish in the exams.
10. GCSE Modern Foreign Languages
Modern Foreign Languages are also considered as relatively hard GCSE subjects as they test listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Learning all these skills is a difficult task especially since they have to be mastered in such a short period of time.
You will get a chance to choose to study Bengali, Chinese (Spoken Mandarin), French, German, Italian, Modern Hebrew, Punjabi, Polish, Spanish, and Urdu under the AQA Specification. You can choose between a foundation tier (for getting grades 1-5) and a higher tier (for getting grades 4-9).
The exams for all foreign languages follow the same pattern. By the end of the course, you will be able to understand and respond to different types of spoken and written language and communicate and interact effectively in speech and writing for a variety of purposes.
The examiners also expect you to understand and provide information about themes relating to your experience and those of other people especially countries/communities where the language you are studying is spoken.
The themes are:
- Identity and Culture.
- Local, National, International and Global Areas of Interest.
- Current and Future Study and Employment.
Another reason many students struggle with GCSE Modern Foreign Languages is that examiners penalize mistakes in Grammar, Punctuation, and Communication. You must be sufficiently proficient in the language prosper in the subject.
You can find more information about the languages here.
This list is a only a guide based on the general consensus of students. You should not shy away from taking a GCSE just because it is considered a hard subject by the majority . Your prior knowledge, interests, and inclinations play a big role in how diffiult you find a subject.
Consistent practcice and detemination can help you achieve a good grade in any subject you desire to do so. Choosing your GCSE subject combination is an important decision and you should think about it carefully. Good Luck!