Taking Traditional Exams when you Home Educate: GCSE Religious Studies

I don’t know about you guys, but when I first started looking into the older children taking some IGCSEs or GCSEs I found it slightly intimidating and bewildering.  I was very blessed by a long time homeschooler and seasoned GCSE prepping parent, who came beside me and walked me through the whole procedure.  Now it doesn’t seem so tough, I thought I would pass on my own knowledge of each of the GCSEs we intend to take.  This first post is about the Religious Studies GCSE.

Which Exam Board?

There are a few different examination boards:

  • AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance)
  • CIE (University of Cambridge International Examinations)
  • CCEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment)
  • Edexcel
  • ICAAE (International Curriculum and Assessment Agency Examinations)
  • OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations)

Our experience is with Edexcel.  We like their clearly set out specification, easily navigated website and easy to understand text books.  We have tried out other exam boards but did not find their websites or text books as easy as Edexcel.  And I’m all about the ease 🙂  My advice is to find an examination board which makes sense to you and go with it.


In general, for us home schoolers it is usually a non issue.  IGCSE’s in general do not have any course work and tend to be 100% exam tested (this is especially true in the sciences), and whilst I do realise changes are being made to reduce the course work element in GCSE’s, for now I assume the IGCSE is a given.  That said, there are a smattering of GCSE’s which do not have any course work element and are entirely exam based, such as Psychology and Religious Studies.

In this case, I knew I wanted to go with Edexcel and they offer an IGCSE and a GCSE in Religious Studies.  I took some time to peruse the specifications of each and found the flexibility the GCSE  specification offered far surpassed that of the IGCSE specification.  I therefore chose the GCSE.

Edexcel GCSE Religious Studies

Once you have chosen your subject (in this case Religious Studies); the exam you wish to take (IGCSE or GCSE) and the board with which you wish to take it from (Edexcel, here), you want to familiarise yourself with the subject’s specification (click on picture to be taken to Edexcel RS Specification):

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Sometimes there will be two options of specification: an old one and a new one.  Basically you choose the one which pertains to the year you wish your child to take the exam.  For example, as my guys will aim to take their exam in the summer of 2017 they will be requiring the 2009 specification; if they wanted to take it from 2018 onwards they would require the 2016 specification.

This particular specification offers so much choice, as can be seen from the table below:


The GCSE is based on your choice of two of the above units.  These units have been placed into modules and you are asked to choose two units which must be taken from different modules.Capture

I have high lighted our choices.  As the girls will be taking this next summer, two years early, I wanted the specification to be as familiar as possible so chose a unit based on our own faith and a unit based entirely on the book of Mark, which both T and the girls would already be familiar with.

I recommend downloading and photocopying the specification for the units you wish your children to study (ie you do not need to copy all 141 pages, just those pages of the units you have chosen)  I file these for my own benefit.  It may be useful to make a copy for each child.  I intend to do just that once I have taught the course.

Recommended Resources: Text Books

Unless you are very familiar with the subject matter, you will probably require the recommended text-book for each unit you chose.  These can be bought from Amazon.  I would love to have bought each of my children a copy but, for now, we are sharing just one copy of each between us:

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These books are well worth the money we paid for them.  Each unit is clearly broken down into four sections.  Each section broken down further into ten or so parts:


Clear learning outcomes are given alongside key terms which your child needs to know off by heart:

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It explains everything in the text book, with hands on activities and questions throughout:


as well as past exam questions and tips and hints to better grades:

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At the end of each section there is a double spread with heaps of ideas and tips to obtain the best grade possible:


I use the text-book to verbally go through everything with the children.  I put aside between half an hour to an hour to study with the children each day.  I simply read aloud and discuss, in addition to  a bit of memorising of the key word terms (found in the glossary at the back of the book).

Recommended Resources: Past Exam Papers

I cover about one of the four sections per seven weeks.  Once one section has been covered and learnt, I set the children one exam question a week based on that one section.  The exam is written in such a way that each of the four sections is examined by giving the student a choice of two questions based on each section.  For example for Section Two: Community and Tradition the student may answer this question:


or the one directly below it:

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By giving the children one of these questions a week, they will hopefully retain their knowledge and familiarity with the content of each section we have covered.  The idea is to make sure the material they have learnt sticks around in the vicinity of their brain for the summer exam 🙂

There are exam papers for each unit (ie one for Christianity and separate one for Mark’s Gospel) dating back to 2010 which gives a student heaps of practice.  There is also, rather helpfully, a marks guide to go with each exam paper.  This enables you as the parent to mark your child’s work according to Edexcel’s mark scheme which gives you a clear indication of how well the material is being understood by your child.

Supplementary Resources

There are a few web-based resources available to help your child increase their potential for a higher grade.  For example:

BBC Bite Size

Revision World


I haven’t used any of the above websites, so I can’t vouch for their content.  My teens will be using one supplementary resource, which I was asked to review.  I will link to it as soon as the children have used it for long enough for me to be able to pass an opinion 🙂

Examination Procedure

Once you are a fair way through the texts you will inevitably turn your attention to the where’s and the how’s of examination time.   This isn’t as scary as it first sounds, although I will be forever grateful that T’s first exam experience was organised by Paul, his friend’s dad who taught him physics.

Pearson (the people behind Edexcel) have a very clear web page which helps you, as the parent of a private candidate, find a center near to you which accommodates private candidates.  T had a very pleasant experience at the center he was examined at.  He was very well looked after and the center had a special room set aside for private candidates, meaning he didn’t have to take his exam with a heap of school children.

Once you have found a center near to you, you will need to contact them directly to book your student in. The exam center we use accepts applications from private students from December onwards to sit the summer exams.  The cost of them providing examination facilities is around £100 although this does vary and away from London may well be less.  At this point they will allot your child an Individual Candidate Number.

On the day of the exam your student will need proof of identity (we used T’s passport), a clear bag with the recommended supplies (pens, rulers, calculator etc) and most importantly the Individual Candidate Number given to them on booking or during their very first exam.  This number will be used for all the IGCSE and GCSE exams they take, so don’t lose it!

I hope this has been helpful to a few of you who will be navigating the IGCSE/GCSE waters over the next few years.



  1. Claire, this was really helpful! We are also using Edexcel, purely because close friends who have already done all this used them, so it was easy for us to go with what we had heard about. I did not know much at all about the Religious Studies GCSE, so really appreciate how detailed you have been, and the extra links. Thank you!

  2. Although this doesn’t apply to us here in the states, I found it very interesting. I believe your children will do very well given all the hard work and dedication their mother has put into their education.:)

  3. Wow, Claire, this is fantastic! Thank you SO much for taking the time to write it all down as you have. We’ve picked up bits and pieces along the way and are planning for Cordie to take her first GCSE in a couple of years (when she’s in year 9). Brilliant to have a handy reference in the form of your post. 🙂

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