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OverviewEdit

Most of the information on this page refers to GCSE and IGCSE sciences. It gives an overview of options and describes the differences between single, double and individual science awards.    

Other wiki pages of relevance:    

A-level Sciences    

Science practicals (overview)    

Human Biology    

Biology and Biology Practicals    

Chemistry and Chemistry Practicals    

Physics and Physics Practicals   

Alternative Qualifications: Science

Home educated students generally take IGCSE Sciences because certain requirements of GCSEs are difficult to fulfil for private candidates (see the bottom of this page for why). However, there is no need to worry as science IGCSEs are extremely well respected. Please see the page about IGCSEs for more information.

How are practicals assessed in IGCSE Sciences? Practical aspects are examined in IGCSEs by questions on methodology, labelling diagrams of equipment, or analysis of some given results in a written exam. Home educated students gain practical experience by doing experiments at home or in groups, or they may attend workshops.  See this page for additional info on science practicals There are also a lot of videos available for free online, for those experiments that are trickier to do at home.

If you have more questions about how practical work would be covered, please do ask on the HE UK Exams & Alternatives Facebook group You can cover a surprising amount of practical work at home without special equipment, or with equipment which can be purchased cheaply.

Can home educated students do GCSE science exams? Edit

Most home educated children have to do International GCSEs (IGCSEs) for sciences, because it is difficult to arrange the practical components of GCSE sciences with exam centres. the practical exams for science GCSEs do not contribute to exam marks, but the centre still needs to sign off that the candidate has had the opportunity to do them at the centre. Most exam centres won't do this for private candidates. For more information on why it is difficult for HE students to sit GCSE sciences, see the bottom of this page. (Note the arrangements for practical endorsement are likely to be different for summer 2021 ONLY due to covid, but we do not yet know if this will make GCSE sciences an option for HE candidates. Unless you have a good relationship with a school that is willing and able to let your child fulfil the practical components (get it in writing!), it is probably safer to opt for IGCSE for sciences.)

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 home educated students 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 Award sciences? 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 IGCSEs' worth of science (or more, if you also take specialist subjects like Human Biology).
  2. Combined Science, or a single/individual 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.

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: 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 IGCSE Combined Science and an individual IGCSE science in the same exam season, because they share a paper. The only exception is if you do one with Edexcel and one with CAIE and the dates don't clash.

On the Edexcel IGCSE syllabus science pages there is a downloadable mapping guide for each science subject, which compares the content of the single, double and individual science. For example, the mapping guide for Edexcel IGCSE biology is here (select "course materials", then "teaching and learning materials" and then "Mapping document"). This might be helpful when making the decision.

Individual Sciences (single award science qualifications) Edit

For individual science IGCSEs, the examination consists of two papers (for Edexcel) and 3 papers (for Cambridge/CAIE).

There is no requirement to study all three sciences. If your child loves biology, but is not into physics or chemistry, she can focus on that alone.Many home ed students take all three science IGCSEs, but others only study one or two of the single science subjects.

Note: 'Triple science' ( a term sometimes used in schools) means taking individual IGCSEs in all three sciences, ie IGCSE biology, IGCSE chemistry, IGCSE physics

Please see the individual subject pages for more information on individual sciences Edit

Combined/Double/Co-ordinated Science (double award science qualifications) Edit

IGCSE Double Science awards are available to private candidates, from Edexcel and CAIE.  Double science award means that all three sciences are studied, but the student will only be awarded 2 IGCSEs, both of which will be at the same grade. The courses have less content than for single sciences. Your certificate will say "Combined Science" or similar, and will be worth 2 IGCSEs.

Edit

Edexcel IGCSE Double Science 4SD0 (Double Award)Edit

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 specification is here. Teaching and learning materials can be found here and exam materials here.  

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.  

Unlike Cambridge sciences, there is no option to choose core/higher tier and the exams are designed for all grade levels.  

Textbooks for Edexcel Double Award Science

Pearson Edexcel International GCSE (9-1) Science Double Award Student Book

For individual science textbooks see the Biology, Chemistry and Physics pages for links to those books.  

Cambridge Co-ordinated(Double Award) Science IGCSE 0654 and 0973 Edit

CAIE Co-ordinated Science 0654 (A*-G grading)

CAIE Co-ordinated Science 0973 (9-1 grading)

The syllabuses and exams are identical. The only difference is the grading system used (9-1 vs A*-G). Some centres will prefer to use the new 9-1 grading system and will only register candidates for this exam. The exams consist of 3 papers, including a multiple choice paper. Home educated students will need to do the 'Alternative to Practical' paper. You can choose core or higher tier. All 3 sciences are studied leading to 2 IGCSEs.

Textbooks for CAIE Co-ordinated Science

This is just a guide. If you have any doubt over which books are suitable, or you would like recommendations, please ask on the exams group before purchasing.

Cambridge University Press:

Cambridge combined and co-ordinated sciences coursebook

CUP Cambridge IGCSE Combined and Co-ordinated Sciences Biology Workbook 

CUP Cambridge IGCSE Combined and Co-ordinated Sciences Chemistry Workbook

CUP Cambridge IGCSE Combined and Co-ordinated Sciences Physics Workbook

Collins

Cambridge IGCSE Co-ordinated sciences biology student's book

Cambridge IGCSE Co-ordinated sciences chemistry student's book

Cambridge IGCSE Co-ordinated sciences physics student's book

Single Award Combined Science Edit

Single Award Science IGCSE is offered by CAIE and Edexcel. Not many home educators choose this option.

Cambridge Combined Science (single award) 0653 Edit

CAIE 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.

Textbooks for CAIE Combined Science

This is just a guide. If you have any doubt over which books are suitable, or you would like recommendations, please ask on the exams group before purchasing.

Cambridge University Press:

Cambridge combined and co-ordinated sciences coursebook

CUP Cambridge IGCSE Combined and Co-ordinated Sciences Biology Workbook 

CUP Cambridge IGCSE Combined and Co-ordinated Sciences Chemistry Workbook

CUP Cambridge IGCSE Combined and Co-ordinated Sciences Physics Workbook

Collins

Cambridge IGCSE Combined Science Student's Book (2017)

Edexcel IGCSE Science (Single Award) 4SS0 Edit

Edexcel IGCSE Science (Single Award) 4SS0, First exams were in Summer 2019.

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

New science 9-1 GCSEs do not have practical assessments that contribute to exam marks, but unfortunately they are still inaccessible to most private candidates. (Note the arrangements for practical endorsement are likely to be different for summer 2021 ONLY due to covid, but we do not yet know if this will make it possible for HE candidates to sit GCSE sciences)

WHY? 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 don't want this bother. There will be the odd exception, but for the vast majority of home educators, continuing with IGCSE sciences is the best option.

GCSEBiology practicals
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 (on the right) 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:

AQA
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.

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