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How to Get Top Marks in GCSE Art and Design

Do you like drawing? Snapping photos as a hobby? Or having a stroll around your local art gallery? Whatever the reason may be, a budding interest in Art usually becomes the springboard for students to ultimately pursue GCSE Art… and contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be ‘good’ at drawing or ‘good’ at Art to excel in the course!

Teacher helping GCSE Art student.

An Introduction to GCSE Art and Design

GCSE Art is a multi-faceted course which covers several different pathways: Art, craft and design; Fine art; Graphic communication; Textile design; Three-dimensional design; and Photography.

Students choose one or more streams and are assessed based on their coursework and final exam: coursework consists of a portfolio of selected work worth 60% of the overall mark whilst the final exam is worth 40% of the overall mark. The final exam takes place over 2 days and students are given a brief and typically around nine weeks of preparatory time beforehand.

In today’s blog, we’ve outlined what to consider when aiming for that A* grade.

Building a Strong and Meaningful Portfolio

As important as your final piece is, what really matters most is how well you document the culminating process. Art is a journey and this is supported by the (shortened) objectives used to assess your work which is shared across exam boards:

AO1: Develop ideas through investigations

AO2: Refine work by exploring ideas and experiment with media, materials, techniques and processes.

AO3: Record ideas, observations and insights as work progresses.

AO4: Present a personal and meaningful response

Your annotations matter and you should consider asking these questions when reflecting on your pieces:

  • How does this piece make me feel?

  • What do I like about this piece?

  • What techniques have been used and why have they been used? To create what effect?

  • What could be even better and what steps would I need to take in future?

  • What was the purpose of this piece?

The thoughts you have are invaluable and writing them down becomes the backbone of your portfolio and helps to show a growth mindset. An MCMO format (Method - content - meaning - opinion) can also be used to further give structure to your analysis.

Art: A Daily Habit

I know what you’re thinking: can’t I just produce works and works of art all in one weekend and use that as my ‘portfolio’? The short answer is: no. If you’re serious about improving your art, fostering good habits as an artist and achieving an excellent grade, it is vital to embed art throughout every day.

This doesn’t have to be a two hour-long marathon of continuous sketching. In fact, thinking about art like a ‘chore’ or a ‘big task’ might have the opposite effect on your motivation. More often than not, artists are perfectionists, but it’s important to remember that sometimes quantity can be more important than quality. In the pursuit of perfection, we may get stuck on the little details rather than focusing on the bigger picture and really improving our techniques.

Look on the web and find a 10-minute drawing prompt, explore a new medium (whether that be soft pastels or lino print), or get out there and do a bit of nature art à la Andy Goldsworthy. By doing a little at a time, your mind will constantly be working on your art even subconsciously as your art will never leave your immediate sphere.

Art doesn’t have to be a last minute rushed piece: honing your discipline now will make it much easier when you pursue a future pathway in art.

A group of Primary school Art students.

Food For Thought: Supporting the ‘Artist’ from a Young Age

Before the thought of taking GCSE Art even becomes a possibility, it’s important that a love for art is fostered at a young age. Preparing a solid foundation for young learners not only so that they can ‘do’ art, but discuss and analyse art will give them a head start when it comes to their later academic career.

Arts and crafts is one of the easiest, most accessible forms of art - and is thus one of many children’s first introduction to it! Artist-inspired art projects are centred around famous pieces or techniques a particular artist has used which the children interpret and replicate. Here are some ideas you can try with your children:

  • Van Gogh: To emulate the movement of his paintings, consider finger-painting the swirls and lines as seen in his “Starry Night”.

  • Monet: Use a sponge and acrylic paint in blues and greens to replicate the texture and impressionistic effect of his “Water Lilies”.

  • Matisse: Trace or copy the shapes in his pieces (like “The Sheaf”) and cut out using different pieces of coloured card, then arrange and glue on top of a white piece of paper.

The mistake that some art lessons make is to ask the student to go straight into a vague objective (i.e. ‘draw a face’) without any lead-up to the task or without first honing the techniques needed. Providing context by looking at an artist’s choice of perspective, colour theory, or choice in shading (from cross-hatching to stippling) fosters discussion and informs the student of their own style.

Consider embedding art into other subject areas too! An English-meets-Art lesson can be easily achievable: write a script for a puppet show based on a chapter of a novel study. The background can consider perspective and vanishing points.

Finding an Art Tutor with Titanium Tutors

Art is a long and mentally tough process, so if you find yourself needing someone to guide you in finding artistic inspiration, making goals and sticking to timelines or honing art techniques, consider an Art tutor at Titanium Tutors. We have many skilled artists and qualified Art teachers who offer in-person and just as effective online tuition.


Blog Post Crafted by Cheryl

Cheryl manages our Admin Team, and is a qualified teacher with 5 years' experience in schools across England and Canada.

Cheryl graduated from McMaster University with an Honours Bachelor of Commerce and a Minor in English, and from University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Education, with a specialisation in Aboriginal Studies. She tutored secondary school students in English for over nine years in Canada.

Cheryl speaks Cantonese, English and French, and in her spare time, she can be found illustrating and reading children’s books for inspiration.


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