Computing GCSE: Is an ICT GCSE the right choice for you?

4 mins
April 20, 2022
You probably have a load of questions when it comes to picking your GCSE options, so we're here to answer the big ones about Computing; we cover everything from what the GCSE is actually called to the content of the course and what your exams will look like. So here goes!

What's the difference between ICT and computer science? 

In 2012 the ICT GCSE (information and communications technology) was replaced with the Computer Science GCSE. Along with the name change came a big change in the curriculum, but what's the difference in what you'll be studying? Computer Science is more about how computers work, essentially programming. In contrast, ICT is more about how ICT is used in a business context. 

This may sound a little confusing, so let's use an analogy to explain it. Think of ICT as learning how to drive a car; what are the issues you might run into when learning, and how can driving be accessible for all. On the other side of the coin, computer science is about understanding how to build a car, what components work well together, and how can the car be adapted and improved. 

The change in the curriculum aims to ensure that we'll be able to keep up with massive advancements in tech. The idea is that we'll have innovators rather than people who simply know how to use the tech systems already in place.  

What is the Computer Science GCSE?

The Computer Science GCSE course is a mixture of theory and practical program development. The ways you'll be assessed will vary depending on what exam board your education provider chooses, but the curriculum (set by the government) stays the same. Below we've highlighted the areas you'll study if you decide to take the course. 

1. Fundamentals of algorithms

2. Programming

3. Fundamentals of data representation

4. Computer systems

5. Fundamentals of computer networks

6. Fundamentals of cyber security

7. Ethical, legal and environmental impacts of digital technology on wider society, including issues of privacy

8. Aspects of software development

9. Programming project

The AQA website explains what and how you'll learn throughout the two years and how this knowledge will be tested in the exam. Of course, you should double-check what exam board your school uses and check any information on their site so that you can be one step ahead of the curb!

Why study GCSE computer science?

Digital skills are crucial in almost every role, and even if you don't need them day-to-day, you'll probably need them to get the job in the first place! 90% of jobs in the UK today require digital skills, and this number is only set to grow. So, it's vital to build up your digital skills to ensure you have the best head start when entering the world of work.

But the Computer Science GCSE gives you a lot more than just basic digital skills; the goal is to find ways to apply computers to real-life situations. The course involves a lot of theory and design to try to help solve real-life problems. An example of this would be the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The pandemic has tested how companies operate. For example, many have had to move online, from restaurants using QR codes instead of menus to booking your vaccine online or working from home. Companies have had their infrastructure tested and, as a result, have relied heavily on the digital skills of their employees.

Some companies struggled when they couldn't respond to these digital changes quick enough, and sometimes this was due to not having the right people in place. Because of this, many companies realised they have some weak points in the number of employees with good digital skills.

This is where you come in! The world is truly your oyster if you are willing to put the time and effort into developing your knowledge of computer science!

Our understanding STEM article explained that the UK's STEM skills shortage costs employers £1.5 billion a year in additional training costs, recruitment, temporary staffing, and inflated salaries. This is all to say that a background in computer science could ensure that you have a great and well-paying career. 

Should I take the Computer Science GCSE?

We've explained why a Computer Science GCSE will equip you with an essential set of skills needed to be successful in entering the workplace but is the GCSE the right choice for you? 

Most students take nine GCSEs; out of these nine, four are optional. 

So it's important to choose options that you'll enjoy, get good grades in, and give you the most choices later on (whether that's out in the working world or higher education). It sounds like a pretty tough ask! Another way to think about it is to look at the personal qualities the subject you're thinking of studying wants/needs you to have. 

As a computer scientist, you'll need to be: 

  • Interested in technology
  • Able to solve problems
  • Creative
  • Patient and resillient
  • Logical
  • Good at maths 

So… are you? If you are, then great! You'll probably find the Computer Science GCSE easier than most. On the other hand, if you're not, perhaps consider giving other GCSE subject options some more thought! 

How to revise for the Computer Science GCSE? 

The best way of knowing how to revise for an exam is to understand its structure; there's no point in learning formulas by heart if the questions are more essay-based. The Computer Science GCSE is usually split into two exams.

The first exam tends to look at the first part of the syllabus: 

  • Fundamentals of algorithms
  • Programming
  • Fundamentals of data representation
  • Computer systems

The second exam tends to look at the second part of the syllabus: 

  • Fundamentals of computer networks
  • Fundamentals of cyber security
  • Ethical, legal and environmental impacts of digital technology on wider society, including issues of privacy
  • Aspects of software development
  • Programming project

Each exam counts as 50% of your overall grade, and there are 80 marks available in each. The exams will consist of multiple-choice, short-answer and long-answer questions. It's also important to note that the quality of the written content is also assessed, so you'll need to make sure you're presenting ideas clearly and concisely. 

What jobs can you get with a Computer Science GCSE?

Whilst no single GCSE can guarantee you a job, the Computer Science GCSE can open many doors. You'll be pleased to know that with a Computer Science GCSE, you've already got a great base of skills you'll need to succeed in the jobs we've listed below. 

  • Applications developer
  • Business analyst
  • Cyber security analyst
  • Data analyst
  • Forensic computer analyst
  • Game designer
  • Games developer
  • IT sales professional
  • IT trainer
  • Machine learning engineer
  • Nanotechnologist
  • Network engineer
  • Software engineer
  • Systems analyst
  • Telecommunications researcher
  • UX designer
  • Web designer
  • Web developer

It's also important to mention that this course is an excellent basis for an A Level in computer science, and it can open the door to a huge number of degrees and apprenticeships. 

How to get computer science work experience? 

We hope this article helped and you're one step closer to working out whether a Computer Science GCSE is right for you. If you want to find out more about Computer Science GCSE or even get a head start on what the Computer Science GCSE might involve, we've got two great programmes for you. 

Get ahead by checking out our technology work experience programme or learn more about a fast-growing industry with our software development work experience programme. What are you waiting for?!

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