What are exam boards?
Sometimes called an awarding body or organisation and referred to as 'the AB' or 'the AO' . They are an organisation registered to set and administer the GCSE or IGCSE exams. There are a few different exam boards.
- AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance)
- CCEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment) (Northern Ireland only).
- OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations)
- Pearson, under its Edexcel brand
- WJEC (Welsh Joint Education Committee), under its WJEC and Eduqas brands
When starting to study a subject at GCSE/IGCSE level it is important to know which exam board your child will be sitting. There are differences in content - particularly between GCSE and the IGCSE boards. The biggest differences are usually in assessment/question style. Make sure that you are preparing your child for the exams they will sit.
Which exam boards can we sit?
You need to find exams centres that you can travel to and ask them directly. It is best to do this before studying. Start here - Finding an exam centre
Which exam board serves my area?
Although they were originally regionally based, boards now operate across larger areas. The three boards based in England – AQA, OCR and Edexcel – offer all their qualifications across England with a smaller number in Wales (where no 'homegrown' qualification is available) and Northern Ireland (where the qualifications meet the regulator's requirements). The Wales-based WJEC offers qualifications in Wales (mostly under its WJEC brand), England (nearly always under its Eduqas brand) and Northern Ireland (under either brand). CCEA, despite previously offering qualifications in England and Wales, now only operates in Northern Ireland. CAIE is an international company operating exams in 160 countries as well as the UK.
Schools and colleges have a free choice between the boards for their part of the UK. Most schools use a mixture of boards depending on subject.
Do we have to use the same exam board as the exam centre for each subject?
No, if an exam centre is registered with an exam board it can offer any subject offered by that exam board. However they may chose not to offer all subjects for all boards. You will need to check with the exam centre.
If the exam centre is registered with an exam board can we sit any subject from that board?
Some subjects cause problems for home educators because they have NEAs or practical components that a centre can't/won't accommodate - eg a centre may offer AQA Sociology which is 100% exam, but not AQA English Lang because the speaking and listening aspect causes extra work. Be aware of which options may be difficult for private candidates and check with exam centres. It is always worth getting it in writing if a centre is able to accommodate a practical requirement (they can and do change their minds). A change of board or doing IGCSE can make it easier to find an exam centre.
There are other reasons why a centre may choose not to offer all subjects for all the boards they are registered with. If you know subjects your child wants to do it is best to check these with the exam centres - finding an exam centre
How do I decide which exam board to use?
It doesn't matter which exam board you choose; they are all equally well regarded. The most important thing is to pick an exam board that you can arrange for your child to sit the exams in! If you are not familiar with the difficulties that some specifications may cause home educators, start with the IGCSE and subjects pages.
You don't have to choose just one for all your child's exams. You can pick and mix different exam boards for different subjects. It is common for schools and home educators to do this, choosing the syllabus best suited to the teacher's/student's interests.
Things to help you decide:
- Find out which exam boards your local exam centres can accommodate.
- Start by checking the individual subject pages on this wiki for summaries of the available options. Some subjects have more options than others.
- Look at the syllabuses (usually called 'specifications') for the subject you're interested in and see which appeals. You can find this on each exam board website. In many cases there are only minor differences in the content of different boards. The differences can be more obvious in assessment. So look at number of exam papers and their lengths. Have a look at specimen exam papers on the exam board syllabus page, think about the style of questions and the paper lay out, will they work for your student?
- 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. If you want to use a course provider (eg a tutor or Distance Learning Provider) they will likely teach a particular syllabus. Again, see individual subject pages on this wiki for book and course 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.
Still unsure? Then come and ask questions on the HE Exams and Alternatives Facebook group. It might be best to start with a look at old threads using post topics as you may find the answers you need.
Is it better to stick with one exam board to avoid clashes?
You can pick and mix different exam boards for different subjects it is common for schools and home educators to do this, choosing the syllabus best suited to the teacher's/students interests/strengths.
Most of the exam boards work to coordinate their exam time tables as much as possible, eg GCSE Maths is on the same day for all exam boards. Even within the same exam board you can get subject clashes. These tend to affect the non-core subjects eg business and psychology.
Clashes are common and providing you are using the same exam centre, easily manageable.
Is one exam board easier than the others? Is one more respected?
No, they are all worth the same.
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/GCSE 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.
However, one exam board may be better for you in a particular subject. The variation in styles means you may find that one syllabus suits you much more than another.
What is the JCQ?
If you are on the HE Exams Facebook group you may see the term JCQ exams bandied about. JCQ is the Joint Council for Qualifications, the body which oversees administration of most UK school examinations. It is a joint body formed by the main exam boards. Exam boards covered by JCQ follow the same rules for carrying out examinations. This covers all the main boards in the UK. Edexcel IGCSE although not covered by JCQ usually adopts the same rules. NB. CAIE is NOT governed by the same JCQ rules as the other boards and so their exams can be slightly different. Always read the information from your exam centre carefully.