Most of the information on this page refers to GCSE and IGCSE sciences; A-level Sciences have their own page. Home ed students generally take IGCSE Sciences because certain requirements of GCSEs are difficult to fulfil for private candidates. However, there is no need to worry about this as science IGCSEs are extremely well respected. Please see the page about IGCSEs for more information.    

Why are Science GCSEs difficult to arrange for private candidates? Edit

New science 9-1 GCSEs do not have practical assessments, but unfortunately they are still inaccessible to most private candidates because of bureaucracy. Sometimes they're an option, depending on your local centres - but they may not be worth the hassle.

For regular GCSE sciences, OFQUAL requires the head to sign a 'practical endorsement' saying all candidates have had the opportunity to complete the core practicals for each science GCSE. Although there is no consequence for the candidate if they haven't completed the practicals, the exam centre has to offer them the opportunity and 'take all reasonable steps' to ensure that they have done them. If they don't, they may have further investigations from the exam board, additional paperwork, and have to justify this during an inspection. Most centres simply don't want this bother, so while the new science GCSEs are available to us in theory, the reality is different. There will be the odd exception, but for the vast majority of home educators, continuing with IGCSE sciences is the best option.

GCSEBiology practicals
Members of the HE Exams networks have been in contact with the exam boards about this topic ever since the draft specifications were published. Unfortunately the issue is an OFQUAL requirement over which the exam boards have no leeway.

The exam boards suggest that external candidates ask schools to let them use their labs to meet the practical requirement. See, for example, the Edexcel GCSE Biology specification p37 -

"Private candidates can complete this qualification only if they carry-out the mandatory core practicals with the centre in which they are sitting the exams, as long as the centre is willing to accept the candidate." (p37)

You can still carry out many of the practicals - many of us enjoy undertaking science practicals at home or in home-ed groups (and there's lots on this wiki to help you - eg see Biology Practicals). However, the problem is the exam centre having to invite us to do the practicals with them. Schools are unlikely to allow external candidates to use their facilities to carry out these practicals. Many external candidates will carry out the practicals in their own study, and if you keep good records (perhaps a photographic record), it is possible that some heads of centre will then be happy to sign the endorsement. However, depending on which exam board they use, and their local JCQ inspector's interpretation of the rules, they may still be required to invite you to carry them out on their premises. Unfortunately the experience of many home educators has been that schools do not generally wish to get involved in anything other than a straightforward written exam.

Here are screenshots of statements from AQA and Edexcel about private candidates and science practicals, taken from the syllabuses for AQA GCSE Combined Science (Synergy) and Edexcel GCSE Biology, respectively:

GCSEBiology practicals externals

If you feel strongly that you would like to take a new 9-1 science GCSE then your best bet would be either an independent exam centre such as a tutorial college, or possibly making contact with a tutor who is also a school teacher, who can vouch that you've had the opportunity to carry out key practicals in a format which your exam centre will accept. For most home educators, it will not be worth the effort, and they will continue to study IGCSE sciences. IGCSE sciences are still very popular with independent schools are are equally well regarded when it comes to applying to study sciences at A-level.

How are practicals assessed in IGCSE Sciences? Edit

Practical aspects are examined in IGCSEs by questions asking how students would go about doing experiments.  Home-ed students gain practical experience by doing experiments at home or in groups, or they may attend workshops such as those organised by the Royal Institution Young Scientist Centre.  Many home-educators greatly enjoy practical science. See the individual subject pages for Chemistry, Physics and Biology for more detailed information on how other families have undertaken practical work.

If you have more questions about how practical work would be covered, please do ask on the HE-Exams Yahoogroup or the Home Ed UK GCSE, Exams & Alternatives Facebook group; there are many ways in which people provide this experience, and you can cover a surprising amount of practical work at home without special equipment, or with equipment which can be purchased cheaply.

IGCSE Science Options Edit

You can take one, two or three IGCSEs' worth of science - either studying all three of biology, chemistry and physics, or just one or two of them. School pupils usually have to study all three sciences as part of a combined science course, but home-educated students are not restricted in this way. Some only take exams in the science subject they like the most, eg single IGCSE Biology, while others will study all three.

Single, Double or Triple? Edit

Sounds confusing? There are two things you have to decide:

  1. Single, Double or Triple Award? This refers to how many IGCSEs you are awarded. You can do one, two or three GCSEs' worth of science (or more, if you also take specialist subjects like Human Biology).
  2. Combined Science, or a single science? "Combined Science" means you study all three sciences, while "single sciences" means you take individual IGCSEs in Physics, Chemistry or Biology. Combined Science qualifications are available as Single-Award or Double-Award. This refers to how many GCSEs they are worth - one or two.
    Edexcel Sciences structure

Things to think about when making the decision: Edit

  • For Combined Science, you receive an average grade for the 3 subjects, so one weak subject can pull the average grade down.
  • There are synergies between the three sciences and studying chemistry and physics can help your biology, for example.
  • Studying all three helps with your general knowledge and keeps options open for further study. You can usually take an A-level in any science after studying combined science (though this does depend on the college/sixth form), but those who have taken the individual science IGCSE have an advantage.
  • You can't take both Combined Science and an individual science in the same exam season as they share a paper. The only exception is if you do one with Edexcel and one with CAIE and the dates don't clash. However, you could take Combined Science in summer and then a single science in winter. If you do this, you have to take all papers for the single science in the winter.

Individual Sciences Edit

For individual science IGCSEs, the examination consists usually of two papers - the first is taken by those studying for combined/double science and also the single science award (eg Biology only), while the second is taken only by 'single science' candidates.  You can take one, two or three 'single science' IGCSEs.

There is no requirement to study all three sciences, so if your child loves biology but is not into physics or chemistry, she can focus on that alone.

Here is one family's experience:

"DD started out with Double Award Science and, after correlating the Double Award syllabus with the text book, (very easy to do with CIE) we discovered that the Double Award was not the two-thirds of each science I was led to believe.  eg. of a 420 page book, 350 pages were needed for the Double Award, and the things not needed for the Double Award were not much of a step upwards knowledge wise.

In the end we changed to single sciences in Biology and Physics and have left out doing any Chemistry at all, as DD has no desire to do Medicine, Vet etc and has a complete mental block when it comes to Chemistry.  She will get the two awards but only in subjects she wants to do.

Our tutor (teaches Biology and Physics in school and has never studied Chemistry) agreed it was, in our case, a good idea and said that when she went to school it was possible to do one, two or three separate sciences.  Schools now, quite unreasonably, make you do all three. If you H-E you can do what you want, provided you have an idea what DC does/or definitely does not want to do in the future."

'Triple science' means taking individual IGCSEs in all three sciences.

Many home ed students take all three science IGCSEs.  See the individual subject pages for more information on:

Combined Science - Double Award Edit

IGCSE Double Science awards are available to private candidates, from Edexcel, CIE and AQA.  All three sciences are studied but the courses have less content than for single sciences.  The award is 2 IGCSEs, both of which will be at the same grade - so your certificate will say "Combined Science" or similar, and will be worth 2 IGCSEs.

Edexcel IGCSE Double ScienceEdit

Edexcel IGCSE Double Science - candidates study all three sciences leading to a 2 IGCSE award.  The award is for an overall grade, so although it is worth 2 IGCSEs, both will be at the same grade.  

The last sitting for the current specification will be January 2019 and the first sitting of the new specification will be Summer 2019.  

Candidates take 3 x 2-hour papers, one each in Physics, Chemistry and Biology.  The papers they sit are the same ones as for single sciences, but Double Science candidates sit only Paper 1 - for single award sciences you take an addional 1 hour paper.

The Teacher's Guide for this qualification explains the structure and compares the content to CIE Combined Science IGCSE, and has a useful course planner with suggested practical experiments.


Edexcel IGCSE Double Science Student Guide has an overview of the course and tells you what sections of the individual science textbooks to study.  See the Biology, Chemistry and Physics pages for links to those books.  Alternatively you could probably do without this book by comparing the syllabus to the individual science textbooks.

CIE Combined Science - Double Award  IGCSE Edit

CIE Subject page: Combined Science

The qualification number is 0653.

"Cambridge IGCSE Combined Sciences gives learners the opportunity to study Biology, Chemistry and Physics, each covered in separate syllabus sections. Learners gain an understanding of the basic principles of each subject through a mix of theoretical and practical studies, while also developing an understanding of the scientific skills essential for further study. They learn how science is studied and practised, and become aware that the results of scientific research can have both good and bad effects on individuals, communities and the environment. As well as focusing on the individual sciences, the syllabus helps learners to understand the technological world in which they live, and take an informed interest in science and scientific developments."

The specification says, on p9:

This syllabus is examined in the May/June examination series and the October/November examination series.

Detailed timetables are available from

This syllabus is available to private candidates.

Resources for CIE Combined ScienceEdit

The Collins Cambridge Science books have headings which match the CIE syllabus so it was very easy to work out from the syllabus what was and wasn't needed.

Xtreme Papers past papers for CIE 0653

Doc Brown notes for CIE Combined Science

Accelerated Study Notes page on CIE combined science

RSJ Notes page - CIE IGCSE Combined Science

Science GCSE / IGCSE Facebook Group

AQA Combined Science - Double AwardEdit

[AQA page on Double Award Science] - the AQA Certificate is their brand name for an IGCSE. The last sitting for this specification is summer 2017. There will be no replacement as AQA are discontinuing their Certificates. 

The qualification name and reference number is: Science: Double Award (IGCSE) (8404)

There are 2 x 1 hr papers in each subject. There is no controlled assessment.

Single Award Combined Science Edit

Single Award Science IGCSE is offered by CIE currently , and a new specification from Edexcel for exams from 2019.

CIE Combined Science 0653 is available to private candidates. It leads to an award of one IGCSE in Combined Science after studying all three sciences.  You can choose core or higher tier, and there is an Alternative to Practical paper.

Edexcel IGCSE Science (Single Award) 4SS0, is available for teaching from 2017 - this means resources will be ready by then, but the draft specification is available now if you want to get started. First exams are in summer 2019. 3 separate papers in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, each lasting 1 hour 10 minutes.

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