The GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is an academic qualification awarded to students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, from 14 to 16 in secondary school. GCSEs are awarded for a range of subjects and students usually take between eight and ten exams. The marking criteria for art GCSE exams vary between secondary schools across the U.K., but students are always encouraged to adopt some of the basic skills that art teaches at a GCSE level. These basic skills can be broken up into four assessment objectives (AOs) that are required by all examining bodies: record and observe (AO1); analyse and evaluate (AO2); develop and explore (A03) and personal response (AO4).
AO1: Record and Observe
AO1 requires students to record their ideas and work in an art journal. Students must include personal pieces by drawing what they observe, but they should also include observations of secondary sources, famous artists and their work, for instance. The key here is to produce lots of pieces for your journal and explain and link your work to the work of other artists. One theme for an observational drawing series could be nature, which might involve painting still life, landscapes or plants. Experiment with other media as well. You might consider creating a nature sculpture based on the work of Andy Goldsworthy or a series of flower paintings.
AO2: Analyze and Evaluate
AO2 is about explaining and judging art. The student is required to think and talk about any other artist's work that relates to a specific theme. For example, a theme on war photography might draw on work by Eddie Adams, James Nachtwey and Tim Hetherington. You will need to put the art piece into context and form opinions on it, primarily the techniques used, the use of colour, the metaphor and meaning and the subject matter. Other topics for observation include still life, portraiture, realism, pop art, cubism and Renaissance painting, basically any artistic style or movement you can think of.
AO3: Develop and Explore
AO3 is specifically about practical work and is designed to show what the student can do with different media. Topics for this assessment objective can be fairly straightforward, for example a specific paint stroke technique, printing, sculpture, photography, fashion design or video media. One theme that might really stick out is biro work, which requires the student to draw and shade an observational piece with one colour or biro (e.g. black or blue). You need to be able to show complex shading patterns from dark-to-light with only one pen and grade of ink. Experiment with a combination of themes, too, such as combining fashion design with video media to make an art-inspired catwalk show.
AO4: Personal Response
Personal response is all about your final piece, which is normally made over a ten-hour examination period. Your journal work will be marked alongside your final piece to provide an overall GCSE grade. Final pieces are usually based on whatever style or media you worked best with in the other assessment objectives. For example, you could create a series of ink prints if your strongest subjects were natural observation and ink printing. Try to combine subject and style like this to create a unique and individual theme, for example a cubist video-art project or an art-fashion garment based on pop art.