How to effectively teach GCSEs and A-Levels as a supply teacher

Supply teachers add value to the education of pupils throughout the whole academic year. Supply teachers may be contracted for short-term or long-term cover to fill an unexpected vacancy. Meaning you may not be teaching your subject specialism and may have a GCSE or A-Level class. The delivery needed to teach GCSE and A-Level examination subjects differ from non-examinable subjects. This article shares how to effectively teach a GCSE or A-Level class whilst on supply.


Why are teaching for GCSE examinations challenging?

GCSE examination time is an accumulation of Key Stages 3 and 4, building the knowledge and understanding needed over the years to score highly on the tests taken.
Due to increased pressure to deliver an outstanding lesson, teaching to GCSE syllabus can be more challenging than teaching supply in Key Stage 3 (Years 7-9). There are several factors that can make teaching examinable subjects more challenging:

  • Increased time management skills needed by the students
  • Amplified stress and anxiety levels in pupils
  • Pragmatic language understanding and application of command words
  • Lesson importance with no lesson able to be wasted
  • Increased communication pressure by the class teacher to ensure pupil understanding (if a short-term supply contract)


How to effectively teach examinable subjects on supply

Certain teaching skills and strategies are needed to effectively teach a GCSE or A-Level lesson when on supply: making the most of every session available in the run-up to the test itself. The free 2-part teaching GCSE subjects on supply CPD course available from the Institute of Supply Teachers (IoST) (accessible via the Teacher Learning Camp) covers the 4 necessary stages of effective pedagogy when teaching GCSE lessons. Spanning from the familiarisation of content to the application in topical situations. Find the 4 stages of pedagogy needed to teach GCSE content across all 6 prominent UK exam boards in the TLC preparing to teach for GCSE exams 2-part CPD for supply teachers.

Command word understanding and application can often be the difference between correct or incorrect answers. It is a concept heavily focused on when teaching GCSE exam content in schools. Command word teaching can be used as an engaging starter, lesson extension, or help differentiate work set by the class teacher.

The TLC’s free course on GCSE Teaching for Supply Teachers shares a comprehensive list of simplified command words to share with the students. A snippet of the list is shared below:

Key examiner's commandsStudent speak-simplified
State, give, identify, nameSimple say what it is
DescribeGive characteristics - like describing a person
Outline howName and say what it does
ExplainGive detail (explain to someone unintelligent)
Explain howGive more detail: how what you are explaining works

Misunderstanding command words when answering GSCE or A-Level questions can dramatically alter the context. Reflect on the difference between the two questions below by encouraging the students to highlight the command word in the question so they can formulate their answers.

State the colour of blood.

Explain the colour of blood.


Find out more about the free 2-part teaching GCSEs and A-Level subjects on supply CPD training and access the other training available on the Teacher Learning Camp (TLC).