~ How is science GCSE organised
~ The best resources to use
~ How to learn science
~ Exam technique downloads
How is science GCSE organised?
On this page, I’m describing the common GCSE courses that are taught in schools. I don’t include details of less common courses such as Additional Applied Science or Applied Science. Also, this page doesn’t apply to the International GCSEs which I describe on other pages (see Edexcel iGCSE Sciences and Cambridge iGCSE Sciences).
There are six possible GCSE qualifications as described in this diagram. Each involve three modules plus a controlled assessment.
Each subject (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) can be studied at three levels, for example B1, B2 and B3.
The normal progression is to study the GCSE (core) Science first, then Additional Science and then Further Additional. Everyone has to take the first one, the GCSE in Science. This is one of the required subjects. Most students will take Science in year 10 and Additional Science in year 11. That is the equivalent of the old Double Science.
For those wanting to get three GCSEs, there is now, as of summer 2014, a choice.
In the past, students have had to decide whether to take Science and Additional Science (double science – that is two GCSEs) or to take triple (separate) sciences in each subject resulting in three GCSEs. The problem with doing separate sciences is that, due to courses changing from modular to linear, all the exams (e.g. B1, B2 and B3 for Biology) have to be taken at the same time at the end of the course. This means taking nine papers in the summer if you’re going for the three separate sciences.
But this is changing for next year (2014) because the extension modules (e.g. B3, C3, P3) for each science can, on their own, be taken as a separate GCSE. Now there is a second option if you want three GCSEs. Rather than go for three separate sciences, which usually means doing all the nine papers at the same time, you can take Science, Additional and Further Additional at different times, giving you three GCSEs and spreading the exam load over two or three years. You’ve covered the same material as in separate sciences.
This is likely to result in fewer students going for the three GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics as separate science GCSEs, and more going for the three GCSE as Science, Additional Science and Further Additional Science. No difference really as the same content has been covered.
And in 2015, it’s all change again with the major revamping of GCSEs. Watch this space.
Best resources for science GCSE
Your course textbook. This is the most important resource. It contains all the facts you need to know in much better detail than a revise guide. Changes to Science GCSE mean that there are longer questions requiring greater understanding of principles, rather than simply memorising facts. Textbooks give that background information and discussion. If your school doesn’t allow you to take a copy home with you, buy one from Amazon. Get the ISBN of the school’s copy to make sure you get the right one! They usually cost between £16 and £20 and you can sell them second-hand after you’ve finished with them.
The course specification from your exam board. All courses have a syllabus which tells you exactly what you have to know. This is published in a large document called the Specification. You can download it from the exam board’s website. It’s really useful to use as a checklist.
CGPbooks.co.uk. Resources from this publisher are low cost. They include revision guides, workbooks and specimen exam papers – roughly £6 each. Good value – despite what I said about textbooks.
Link – www.cgpbooks.co.uk
BBC Bitesize. This is the best web resource. It is organised according to exam board, so you know that what it says is what you need to know. Read the revision notes and do the exercises. Look out for any podcasts or videos. Link – bbc bitesize.
How to learn science
I assume that you’ve got the resources that I recommended above.
Most students tell me that they find the longer questions particularly hard. Papers have moved away from multiple choice and are increasingly testing you on your ability to understand and describe concepts fully, to communicate knowledge of processes clearly and to interpret information correctly. Science is not just a lot of facts to learn. Test yourself by writing mini-essays on each topic, including all the facts in a logical order. Ask your teacher or tutor to read them and give you feedback. Read the documents about 6-mark questions that I link to above. Read as many past papers and specimen papers and marking schemes as you can, including those from other exam boards! The important thing is to read the marking schemes as this will tell you what the examiners are looking for.
Write your notes as questions and answers.
Rather than just write out key points, make everything into a question. Find the best answer and write this down in a different place. Diagrams and tables of information can be made into questions by leaving parts of them blank for you to fill in from memory. This is a bit like using flash cards, with the question on one side and the answer on the other. But you don’t need cards – and there are too many things to remember in science. You’ll end up with thousands! Just make a list on paper.
One of the best ways to learn anything is to have the attitude that you are going to teach it to someone who doesn’t have good knowledge of the topic. This can be quite difficult at first, but if you can get used to it, you’ll find that you remember a topic much better. You really do have to understand a topic in order to teach it.
In order to teach, you must be able to organise the facts in a useful way. In science this might be in the form of a diagram, table, list of key words or a memory map. You will also need to have a list of questions to ask about the topic. In fact making notes in the form of questions and answers is far better than just writing down the facts. You really have to think about it, and later you can use your questions to test yourself.
Advice on answering exam questions.
About the controlled assessments.