GCSE PE – How do the exam boards differ?

As PE teachers we can be forgiven for sticking with the same GCSE PE exam board year upon year. Changing boards requires learning new content, adapting theoretical and practical structures and obtaining or creating new resources. But how different are the exam boards? Are you using the exam board best suited to the pupils at your school? This blog looks at the differences between the three most popular exam boards for GCSE PE – AQA, Edexcel, OCR.

“One GCSE, many very different exam boards. Is it time for a change?”


The AQA GCSE PE specification covers the largest range of content of the 3 boards. The broad range of content inspires pupils with a genuine passion and interest in the subject, and undoubtedly prepares them for further study at A Level or University.

Mark schemes will regularly look for key points and phrases, meaning that pupils must be specific with their answers, but not necessarily needing outstanding writing skills. The longer mark questions consist of a 9 mark question and a 6 mark question, giving some opportunity for pupils to show deeper knowledge and understanding of the subject.

Perhaps one of the best features of AQA GCSE PE is that it covers a detailed Sports Psychology topic as part of component two. This is a topic often enjoyed by both pupils and teachers, with many practical tasks setting the subject alight. This topic is unfortunately only touched upon within the other exam boards.

Click here for quality GCSE PE booklets and resources.


The biggest difference with Edexcel GCSE PE is that everything must be related to performance. With any given topic pupils must not only be able to understand the content, but apply links to different sports and activities. This ensures that pupils are not only awarded for their knowledge of the subject, but for putting their understanding into a sporting setting. This may suit pupils with a wide understanding of many sports.

The GCSE exam papers will always consist of two 9 marks answers. Pupils who struggle with extended writing will unfortunately lose marks here as a large amount of application, detail and structure is required to score highly. EAL pupils may also find this section particularly difficult. However. pupils with a broad knowledge of the subject will enjoy having the chance to show this on paper.

“Should there only be one exam board to ensure that all pupils are judged fairly against one another?”


OCR GCSE PE does not go into anywhere near the amount of detail as the other exam boards and in addition to this, less content is also covered. When the new specification was introduced, large amounts of content were added at GCSE PE, but OCR is the exam board most closely linked to the old specification. This will give teachers more time to revise content, and also enable a greater emphasis to be put onto the practical side of the course.

Mark schemes will require key points for most questions, with many short answers requiring key points on a topic. Unlike the other boards, there are no 9 mark questions, and only one 6 mark question. This itself is split into two ‘3 markers’ in the way that it is written. Pupils who struggle with extended writing may prefer this exam board.

So if there is less content and less detail required, surely this is a win for pupil grades? Not necessarily. With less content covered, the grade boundaries are likely to be a lot higher. Further to this, it may be harder for higher ability pupils to show their ability within the theory papers, perhaps making it difficult for them to achieve the grade that they deserve. Pupils will also be less prepared for further study such as A Level PE.


One subject, three very different exam boards. Would you consider changing the board that you are using based on this information? Should there only be one exam board to ensure that all pupils are judged fairly against one another? We would love to hear your thoughts – get in touch on twitter, facebook or via the website.

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