Marking the end of coursework in most subjects, pupils will be able to retake GCSE modules to improve their grades, under new criteria unveiled today.
It is now up to exam boards to draw up detailed GCSE courses, but the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) expects modular exams to be available in all major subjects. Pupils will be allowed to re-sit an exam unit if they are not happy with their mark first time round.
Education experts warned that modular exams would lead to better grades, but not necessarily an improvement in the education of pupils.
In modern foreign language GCSEs, pupils will be able to take a full GCSE or "short courses" in written and spoken language only.
Controlled assessment will replace teacher-marked coursework in most major GCSE subjects in 2009. Subjects such as geography and history will specify 75% external assessment, or exam, and 25% controlled assessment, or supervised extended essay writing.
The changes are outlined in revised GCSE criteria for 28 GCSE subjects published today by the QCA, the Welsh Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, and Northern Ireland's Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment.
A consultation on changing the criteria ended on September 14. It covered all GCSE subjects except English, English literature, maths, ICT and science. New criteria for all these subjects - except science, which has already been revised and will remain the same - will be developed next year.
QCA's chief executive, Ken Boston, said the revisions would maintain public confidence in the qualification for the next 20 years, and the extended writing tasks and more varied questions would stretch and challenge young people.
He said: "The 14 to 19 education reform programme is the most important educational innovation in a generation and its introduction will ensure that all young people are able to demonstrate their skills, knowledge and understanding when studying for a qualification that meets their individual abilities.
"In reforming the GCSE qualification and subject criteria we have ensured that these are aligned to the scope and ambition of the new diplomas."
"The revised GCSE qualification and subject criteria will give learners a reliably assessed, consistent and fair qualification," he added.
The revised criteria will allow for the development of new GCSE subject criteria for teaching in 2009, with the first awards being made in 2011.
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