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Overview

The information on this page refers to IGCSE/GCSE sciences. It gives an overview of the options for science IGCSEs and explains the differences between single, double and individual science awards.    


Other relevant pages:  

A-level Sciences    Biology and Biology Practicals Chemistry and Chemistry Practicals    

Physics and Physics Practicals   Human Biology  Science practicals (overview)

Alternative Qualifications: Science


Can I do GCSE science exams?

For most home educators, GCSE sciences are not an option and they must do International GCSE (IGCSE). GCSE sciences do not have a practical exam, BUT the head of the exam centre has to sign a form for each candidate saying that the candidate has been offered the opportunity to carry out all core practicals at the centre. Most centres won't do this for private candidates. There ARE a few centres that can facilitate GCSE sciences, usually at considerable expense, but for most home educators IGCSE science is a more straightforward and safer bet. (Note the arrangements for GCSE practical endorsement were different for summer 2021 due to covid exam cancellations and *might* be for 2022.) Scroll down to the bottom of this page for further info on the difficulties for of doing GCSE sciences.


Will science IGCSEs be accepted by college/sixth forms and universities in the same way as science GCSEs?

Science IGCSEs are directly equivalent to GCSEs and extremely well respected. There are many home educated children with science IGCSEs who have gone on to be accepted to study competitive science courses, like physiotherapy, engineering and medicine. Please see the page about IGCSEs for more information about IGCSE equivalency.


Do I need to complete practicals for IGCSE sciences?

Although there are no practical exams for IGCSE sciences, an understanding of practical work is necessary. IGCSE science specifications have a list of core practicals that the candidate is required to understand. Unlike GCSE sciences, the exam centre does not have to sign a form to say the IGCSE practicals have been completed. This makes the IGCSE exams easier for private candidates to access. IGCSE science exams have 'alternative to practicals' questions as part of the written exam papers. Carrying out practicals will help with understanding, but it is not a requirement. Online videos can be found for most experiments. The Chemistry Practicals page has ideas and support. 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 having access to specialised or expensive equipment.

What does single, double or triple award for sciences mean?

This refers to how many IGCSEs you are awarded for the exam. You can take one, two or three IGCSEs' worth of science (or more, if you also take specialist subjects like Human Biology). When school pupils study all 3 sciences individually it is usually referred to as "triple science", but home educators tend to refer to studying individual science IGCSEs as "single sciences" or "individual sciences".


School pupils often 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 two or all three, either individually or as part of a combined science qualification.

What is the difference between combined science IGCSEs and a single/individual science IGCSE?

Combined Science

For combined science you study all three sciences together: biology, chemistry and physics. The content you need to learn is less than studying each subject as a single science IGCSE. Combined science IGCSEs are worth either one IGCSE (single award) or two IGCSEs (double award). So, you could study biology, chemistry and physics and, depending on the award you choose to learn, be awarded a single IGCSE or two IGCSEs. Not many students opt for the single award combined science qualifications. Scroll down for syllabus options for combined science.



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

Advantages and disadvantages of combined science:

Advantages: There is less content to learn compared with studying all three sciences as single science qualifications.

  • 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.
    Disadvantages: For combined science IGCSEs, you receive an average grade for the 3 subjects, so one weak subject can pull the average grade down and lead to a lower grade.
  • Combined science IGCSE covers less content than single sciences. While most A level courses will accept students who have taken combined science IGCSE, those who have taken combined science will have covered slightly less content and might find the transition to A level sciences a little harder.

Single Science

For single sciences you study individual IGCSEs in Physics, Chemistry or Biology and receive an IGCSE certificate for each subject. You can choose to take exams in just one science (eg biology), two, or all three sciences. (There is also the option to study Human Biology)

Advantages and disadvantages of single science IGCSEs

Advantages:

You do not have to study all 3 sciences and can choose the science or sciences you prefer.

The content is greater than for combined science, which might provide better preparation for further study and ease the transition to A level science.

You receive one IGCSE for each subject studied, rather than receive 1 or 2 IGCSEs for studying all 3 subjects.

There are more resources and textbook/revision book options tailored specifically to single sciences compared with combined sciences.

Disadvantages:

There is more content for individual sciences than for combined science, so, if you choose to study all 3 sciences individually, the workload will be greater than studying as a combined qualification.


NOTE: You are not allowed to take both IGCSE Combined Science and an individual IGCSE science in the same exam season, because they share an exam paper. The only exception is if you do one with Edexcel and one with CAIE and the dates don't clash.


What are my options for single/individual science (triple science) IGCSEs?

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

What are my options for combined science IGCSEs?

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.

Single science award means that all three sciences are studied, but the student will only be awarded 1 IGCSE.

IGCSE double and single science awards are available to private candidates from both Edexcel and Cambridge (CAIE) exam boards.  


Cambridge co-ordinated (double award) science IGCSE 0654 and 0973

All 3 sciences are studied, leading to 2 IGCSEs, both at the same grade.

Sittings in Summer and Autumn (March in India)

Specifications: CAIE Co-ordinated Science 0654 (A*-G grading) and CAIE Co-ordinated Science 0973 (9-1 grading). The syllabuses and exams are identical. The only difference is the grading system used.

Two tiers: core and extended.

There is an alternative to practical paper.

Assessment

  • 3 exam papers must be completed. There is the option to take a practical exam, but home educators opt for the alternative to practical paper.

Core: Paper 1: multiple choice (45 mins) 30%. Paper 3: short answer and structured questions (2 hours) 50%. Paper 6; Alternative to practical (1hr 30) 20%.

Extended: Paper 2: multiple choice (45 mins) 30%; Paper 4: short answer and structured questions (2 hrs) 50%. Paper 6; Alternative to practical (1hr 30) 20%.

Cambridge combined (single award) science IGCSE 0653

All 3 sciences are studied, leading to one IGCSE in combined science.

Sittings in Summer and Autumn. (March in India)

Specifications: CAIE Combined Science 0653

Two tiers: core and extended.

There is an alternative to practical paper

Assessment

3 exams must be completed. There is the option to take a practical exam, but home educators opt for the alternative to practical paper.

Core: Paper 1: multiple choice (45 mins) 30%. Paper 3: short-answer and structured questions (1hr 15) 50%. Paper 6: Alternative to practical( 1 hr) 20%.

Extended: Paper 2: multiple choice (45 mins) 30%. Paper 4: short answer and structured questions (1hr 15) 50%. Paper 6: Alternative to practical (1 hr) 20%.

Resources for Cambridge combined and coordinated science IGCSEs

This is just a guide. If you are not sure which books are suitable, or you would like recommendations, please ask on the exams group before purchasing.


Cambridge University Press:

CUP 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

Collins Cambridge IGCSE Combined Science Student's Book (2017)


Collins Cambridge IGCSE Co-ordinated sciences biology student's book(2017)

Collins Cambridge IGCSE Co-ordinated sciences chemistry student's book(2017)

Collins Cambridge IGCSE Co-ordinated sciences physics student's book(2017)


Edexcel IGCSE in science (double award) IGCSE 4SD0

All 3 sciences are studied, leading to two IGCSEs, both at the same grade.

Exams from 2019

Summer and January sittings

Specification: Edexcel IGCSE Double Science 4SD0

Untiered - exams are designed for all grades/abilities


Assessment 

Three 2-hour papers. Paper 1: Biology. Paper 2: Chemistry. Paper 3: Physics. (The papers candidates sit are the same ones as for single sciences, but double science candidates sit only paper 1 of the 2-paper single sciences).  


Edexcel IGCSE in science (single award) 4SS0

All 3 sciences are studied, leading to 1 IGCSE.

Exams from 2019.

Summer and January sittings.

Specification: Edexcel IGCSE in Science (Single Award) 4SS0

Untiered - exams are designed for all grades/abilities

Assessment

Three papers, covering core biology, chemistry and physics content and each accounting for 33.3% of the total marks.

Paper 1: Biology (1hr 10) Paper 2: Chemistry (1hr 10). Paper 3: Physics (1hr 10)


Resources for Edexcel double and single award in Science IGCSEs

Pearson Edexcel International GCSE (9-1) Science Double Award Student Book (2017)

Pearson Edexcel International GCSE (9–1) Science Single Award Student Book Paperback (2020)


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


Further info on why science GCSEs are difficult to arrange for private candidates

This is copied from one of the AQA science specifications and explains the problem with GCSE (all boards not just AQA) nicely


"All GCSE science students need to complete practical experiments as part of their learning. A minimum of eight experiments are required for single science qualifications and 16 for double science qualifications. This equips students with essential practical knowledge and experiences, enables them to put theory into practice and helps them develop skills for higher education. Private candidates wishing to study GCSE sciences need to find a school or college who will let

them carry out the required practicals. Schools and colleges accepting private candidates must make provision for them to carry out all of the required practical activities as specified in Practical assessment (page 101). This is likely to incur a cost. We recommend you contact your local schools and colleges to organise this as early as possible.Students won’t be assessed whilst conducting their practical work, but the written exam will include questions on it. Therefore, candidates lacking hands on experience will be at an immediate disadvantage."


Therefore...the exam centre has to sign an endorsement saying that the students have carried out science experiments. Few are able to facilitate this for private candidates and if they can it is usually expensive. In 2021, due to covid, the need to do the practicals was lessened to observe (and videos counted) . This made it easier for centres to take private candidates for the GCSE.

Home educators usually get around these problems of doing the practicals by doing International GCSEs for sciences. Like GCSE students, those doing IGCSE sciences need a working knowledge of science practicals and there are questions in the exam papers to test. But unlike GCSE the centre doesn't need to offer the practicals or sign anything to say they have been done, so it is much easier to arrange. If you have an exam centre lined up who are willing to address the practical side of GCSE then GCSE is doable. But make sure that side is sorted!

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