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GCSE Science examinations

The issue

GCSE science examinations are key national qualifications for young people. There was a lack of reliable information on the fitness for purpose of GCSE science examination papers.

Policy advice

SCORE recommends that Ofqual and awarding organisations develop a process to ensure that all GCSE science questions must require knowledge of science or How Science Works to answer them. There should also be more and higher level mathematics in examination papers, as well as more extended writing. In addition, multiple choice questions should be pre-tested to ensure they are fit for purpose. Additionally, SCORE recommends that there should be less emphasis on recall, and more emphasis on demonstrating understanding. Also, awarding organisations should be required to publish ideal answers alongside, or instead of, the current mark schemes.

In terms of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and teacher Continuing Professional Development (CPD) SCORE recommends that stakeholders involved in ITE and CPD for teachers should investigate the benefits to teaching and learning of involving more teachers in the examination process. There should also be a consideration of the possibility of developing a national archive of examination papers, mark schemes and setting grids at the National STEM Resource Centre.


The first SCORE report, published in July 2009, reviewed the 2008 core and additional science examinations and quantified specific concerns about the amount and type of assessment of both maths in science and how science works. A second investigation was carried out to review the 2009 applied and triple science examination papers to give a complete picture of the entire GCSE science examinations suite, from the 2006 specifications, as well as a review of the June 2010 papers. As a result of this work, SCORE identified two assessment areas in science that require further research:

Maths in Science - The type and quantity of mathematics assessed was found to vary across discipline (biology, chemistry and physics) and type of paper (Core and Additional), with some papers found to have no marks awarded for mathematics.

How Science Works - There were significant differences between awarding bodies regarding the amount of How Science Works in examination papers. Also, Core Science examination papers contained considerably more How Science Works than Additional Science papers.