Studies for GCSE examinations generally take place over a period of two or three academic years (depending upon the subject, school, and exam board), starting in Year 9 or Year 10 for the majority of students, with examinations being sat at the end of Year 11 in England and Wales.
In Northern Ireland they start in Year 11 and examinations are sat either at the end of that year or at the end of Year 12, as Northern Irish pupils begin school one year earlier.
Qualifications that are not reformed will cease to be available in England.
The science reforms, in particular, mean that single-award "science" and "additional science" options are no longer available, being replaced with a double award "combined science" option (graded on the scale 9-9 to 1-1 and equivalent to 2 GCSEs).
In 1994, the A* grade was added above the grade A, to further differentiate attainment at the very highest end of the qualification.
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This remained the highest grade available until 2017.Alternatively, students can take separate qualifications in chemistry, biology, and physics.Other removed qualifications include a variety of design technology subjects, which are reformed into a single "design and technology" subject with multiple options, and various catering and nutrition qualifications, which are folded into "food technology".Finally, several "umbrella" GCSEs such as "humanities", "performing arts", and "expressive arts" are dissolved, with those wishing to study those subjects needing to take separate qualifications in the incorporated subjects.These reforms do not directly apply in Wales and Northern Ireland, where GCSEs will continue to be available on the A*-G grading system.GCSE examinations in English and mathematics were reformed with the 2015 syllabus publications, with these first examinations taking places in 2017.The remainder were reformed with the 20 syllabus publications, leading to first awards in 20, respectively.In its later years, O-Levels were graded on a scale from A to E, with a U (ungraded) grade below that.Before 1975, the grading scheme varied between examination boards, but typically there were "pass" grades of 1 to 6 and "fail" grades of 7 to 9.The GCSE was introduced as a replacement for the former O-Level (GCE Ordinary Level) and CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) qualifications.Before the introduction of GCSEs, students took CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) or the more academically challenging O-Level (General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level) exams, or a combination of the two, in various subjects.