Science GCSEs in a Nutshell

It seems that nearly every month the government announces new changes to the way GCSEs are examined and taught. For example, a recent change is that exams will now be taken at the end of the GCSE course in the summer (November and March examinations will be no more). This is also known as ‘terminal assessment’ – a rather worrying description!

The previous modular approach to Science GCSEs has created a rather bewildering variety of courses, which have now had to fit in with these new GCSE reforms (sticking plaster anyone?)

So if you’re confused about the whole Science GCSE thing, here is a brief explanation of how they work, at least at the present time of writing (September 2013). Please feel free to join the discussion – correct me if I’m wrong – by leaving your comment below!

‘Science A’

Science A (sometimes called ‘Core’ Science) is a ‘basic’ science GCSE made up of Unit 1 exams from each subject: Physics 1, Chemistry 1 and Biology 1, plus a practical assessment (known as an ‘ISA’) in each subject. These Unit 1 exams are often referred to as ‘P1’, ‘C1’ and ‘B1’. Science A is usually examined at the end of Year 10, although some schools are now taking this exam as early as Year 9.

‘Additional Science’

Additional Science is the next level, stand-alone Science GCSE in which Unit 2 of each subject is examined: P2, C2 and B2, plus a practical assessments in each subject. This GCSE is often taken at the end of Year 11.

‘Further Additional Science’

This is yet another Science GCSE comprising the Unit 3 papers of each subject: P3, C3 and B3, plus the practical ISA assessments in each. Students wanting to study sciences at A-Level are often well advised to take this GCSE at the end of Year 11 as they will gain a solid foundation for their A-Level courses.

‘Double Science’

If a student is entered for ‘Double Science’, then they will usually take ‘Science A’ GCSE in Year 10 and ‘Additional Science’ GCSE in Year 11. They will be awarded 2 GCSEs in Science at the end of their courses, which can provide enough of a foundation for further study of the sciences at A-Level.

‘Triple Science’ (or ‘Separate Sciences’)

‘Triple Science’ means students study separate GCSE qualifications in Physics, in Chemistry and in Biology. For each subject there are 3 exams (for example P1, P2 and P3) plus a practical assessment and these must all now be taken at the end of Year 11, totalling 12 exams in science! This route is a lot of work as all the exams happen at once, however, it does provide an excellent grounding for going on to study sciences at A-level.

Which Science GCSE Route?

There is no doubt (at least in my mind) that splitting Science GCSEs into modular chunks has enabled students to achieve grades that are a better reflection of their abilities. For example, if a student takes the ‘Science A’ GCSE in the summer of Year 10 they will have the option to retake that exam in Year 11 to see if they can improve.

It is conceivable that some schools will even enter their students for ‘Science A’ in Year 9, ‘Additional Science’ in Year 10, and finally ‘Further Additional Science’ in Year 11. These qualifications would be equivalent to taking three separate GCSEs in each science (‘Triple Science’), but spread over a couple of years.

Following the ‘Triple Science’ route is indeed a bigger workload (and more stressful) as the the natural tendancy for most students is to leave revision for the 12 science exams to the last moment. However, it may be that universities offering high competition courses such as medicine may look more favourably on separate science GCSEs for this very reason.

The bottom line is, there is no set formula and I would always recommend talking to your school’s Head of Science to find out how they are structuring their GCSE courses, and what options are available to you.

Do feel free to share your experiences or insights into the current state of Science GCSEs by leaving a comment or question below.

Olly Wedgwood, Wedgwood Tutors

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