When it comes to the choices that students make post GCSE, research completed indicates that perceptions of difficulty are linked to subject choice.
Research undertaken by Ofqual included student focus group research as well as interviews with teachers.
Students were asked about subject differences, if, and how perceptions of these might influence the choices that they make regarding subject choice.
The report states that,
Students agreed that they made their decisions with subject difficulty in mind. These perceptions were partly dependent upon various features of each course (e.g. how much coursework it contained), how easy it was to relate to the subject content, and the advice that they received from others.”
Ultimately, the research indicates that perceptions of difficulty are linked to subject choice, but not to such an extent that this is the only or even major factor in the decision making process of young people.
Other factors that emerged as significant in subject choice were the perceived usefulness of the subject and how much students thought they would enjoy the subject.
Perceptions of subject difficulty
The research showed that perceptions of difficulty are based on a number of things.
- Students considered the combination of subjects important to their decision making, in particular combining several subjects that were all essay based.
- Students considered that some subjects were more accessible because of their relatability to day-to-day life.
- Students considered that the workload and style of assessment were important factors in the difficulty of a subject. This was seen as individual to the skills and likes of students, rather than a simple, objective measure.
The report also indicated that it isn’t simply the perceptions of students themselves that plays a part in subject choice. It is also the perceptions of those who play an influential role in the choices that those students make – parents, teachers and sometimes the school as an organisation itself. Two scenarios seem to emerge – one where students are drawn or pushed to choosing subjects perceived as being easy and encouraged to avoid those seen as difficult; the other where students are pushed towards those subjects perceived as difficult and away from those considered ‘light’.