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Archive for February, 2010

Understanding GCSE Additional Science – Part 2

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

In the previous post, we took an overview of GCSE Additional Science – now it’s time to look at the subject in a bit more detail.

As with Core Science, the best starting point for helping your child with GCSE Additional Science is to understand precisely how it works and which examination board’s specification he or she is studying. For our students, in Manchester and Cheshire, AQA Science A or Science B, OCR Gateway or 21st Century Science and Edexcel Science are the most common choices. Summaries of each course are listed below:

AQA Additional Science
The AQA Additional Science course consists of 4 units, each worth 25% of the total mark.

• x3 written tests, 45mins each. One test in each of Biology, Chemistry, Physics. Tests can be sat in any order/combination (schools decide the order in which modules are studied and when the tests are sat). Tests are sat in either January or June. Tests can be re-sat to improve marks – maximum mark used to determine final grade.

• Practical element [ISA] worth 25% of the total marks.

• Student can choose between Foundation (grades G-C) or Higher tiers (grades D-A*), with a combination of tiers also permitted.

OCR Science
The OCR course follows one of 2 routes; either the 21st Century (Science A) or Gateway (Science B):

OCR 21st Century Additional Science – Science A (J631)

There are 9 teaching modules (x3 Biology, x3 Chemistry, x3 Physics) tested as 5 units. Students sit either Foundation (grades G-C) or Higher tiers (grades D-A*).

• Unit 1 – Biology B4, Chemistry C4 and Physics P4 – 16.7% of final marks. Almost always sat first in January.

• Unit 2 – Biology B5, Chemistry C5 and Physics P5 – 16.7% of final marks. Sittings in January and June.

• Unit 3 – Biology B6, Chemistry C6 and Physics P6 – 16.7% of final marks. Sittings in January and June.

• Unit 4 – ideas in context – 16.7% of final marks.

• Unit 5 – practical element – 33⅓% of final marks.

OCR Gateway Additional Science – Science B (J641)
There are 6 teaching modules (x2 Biology, x2 Chemistry, x2 Physics) tested in 2 units. Students sit either Foundation (grades G-C) or Higher tiers (grades D-A*).

• Unit 1 – Biology B3, Chemistry C3 and Physics P3 – almost always sat first in January.

• Unit 2 – Biology B4, Chemistry C5 and Physics P6 – sittings in January and June.

• Unit 3 – research study, practical skills and data task – no set date/exam for this, assessed/moderated at school.

Each unit contributes 33⅓% of total marks. Re-sits are possible for units 1 and 2, with best grades being used to determine final grade.

Edexcel Additional Science (2103)
There are several routes available in the Edexcel Additional Science syllabus, giving either greater or lesser emphasis on external assessment (exams). The maximum marks for exam based assessment is 60%, the minimum, 30%. The maximum mark for internal assessment is 70%, minimum, 40%:

Externally assessed route, maximum
60% of the marks are obtained through exam. Students sit either Foundation (grades G-C) or Higher tiers (grades D-A*) and must sit:

• 3 multi-choice unit tests (x1 Biology, x1 Chemistry, x1 Physics). Each test worth 10% of the final marks.

• 3 structured (non multi-choice) papers (x1 Biology, x1 Chemistry, x1 Physics). Each test worth 10% of the final marks.

Tests can be sat in any order/combination (schools decide the order in which modules are studied and when the tests are sat). Tests are at various times throughout the year – November, March, June. Tests can be re-sat to improve marks – maximum mark used to determine final grade.

• Practical assessment – practical skills (10%), Biology activity (10%), Chemistry activity (10%), Physics activity (10%).

Internally assessed route, maximum
70% of the marks are obtained through internal (school led) practical and subject based activities. 30% of the marks are through exam where students sit either Foundation (grades G-C) or Higher tiers (grades D-A*) and must sit either a multi-choice or structured paper in each of the three main subjects – Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

• 3 multi-choice unit tests (x1 Biology, x1 Chemistry, x1 Physics). Each worth 10% of the final marks.

• 3 structured (non multi-choice) papers (x1 Biology, x1 Chemistry, x1 Physics). Each worth 10% of the final marks.

Tests can be sat in any order/combination [schools decide the order in which modules are studied and when the tests are sat]. Tests are at various times throughout the year – November, March, June. Tests can be re-sat to improve marks – the maximum mark being used to determine final grades.

It is worth noting there is also an option for schools to vary the amount of internal and external assessments within the above limits but there must be at least one exam sat for each science subject (Biology, Chemistry, Physics)

Also bear in mind, as we said in the second of our posts on GCSE Core Science, the GCSE specifications will be changing in 2011.

If you live in Manchester or Cheshire, and you’d like to talk to us about tutoring support in Science for your child, please get in touch. We have a full range of qualified and experienced GCSE Science tutors.

Understanding GCSE Additional Science – Part 1

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

In our previous two posts we discussed GCSE Core Science. In this post and the next one we’re going to discuss GCSE Additional Science.

Additional Science is a GCSE in its own right and, together with GCSE Core Science, makes what used to be known as double award science. It’s also worth noting that this approach is not like the old Dual Award that was in place prior to 2006. Under that system, students would receive two Science GCSEs with identical grades. Under the current system, students studying Core plus Additional will get a separate grade for each of the two Science GCSEs they are entered for.

Students that take Additional Science, in year 11, will have already completed the Core Science course in year 10 (though many students re-sit Core modules to improve grades). The Additional Science course also forms a part of the course for students taking ‘triple’ science – a common way of referring to individual GCSEs that pupils take in Biology and/or Chemistry and/or Physics.

Additional Science is more technical and ‘scientific’ than the core science modules and many students find the concepts much harder. We have found that students that achieved the lower grades in Core Science struggle much more with Additional Science than those that obtained higher grades (A*, A, B). This is often because the content is much more complicated and covered in a relatively short period of time.

GCSE Additional Science can be taken as a series of module tests – variations between exam boards exist so it is important to find and follow the correct syllabus. All syllabuses contain modules for Biology, Chemistry and Physics and can be taken at either Higher Tier (grades D-A*) of Foundation Tier (grades G-C). Most syllabuses allow a combination of tiers to be taken. A student may, for example, be struggling with Physics but be OK with Biology and Chemistry and so sit for Higher tier in Biology and Chemistry, but foundation tier for the Physics. Working out the marks is complicated – see our first post on GCSE Core Science for more information.

In our next post, we’ll look in more detail at some of the specifications for GCSE Additional Science.

Understanding GCSE Core Science – Part 2

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

In our previous post we looked at the basic structure of GCSE Core Science. To give you child the best possible support during his or her Core Science studies, it’s worth understanding exactly how it all works in detail.

The most important thing is to establish the exact specification your child is following. Most of our students, based in Manchester and Cheshire, take one of the following: AQA Science A or Science B, OCR Gateway or 21st Century Science or Edexcel Science. Summaries of each course are listed below.

AQA Science
The AQA Core Science course can follow two separate routes – both cover identical content, but the objective test route splits the content and tests into smaller pieces.

Science A – objective test route (multi-choice); 6 separate tests (x2 biology, x2 chemistry, x2 physics), each worth 12.5% of the total mark. Tests can be sat in any order/combination (schools decide the order in which modules are studied and when the tests are sat). Tests are at various times throughout the year – November, March, June. Tests can be re-sat to improve marks – the maximum mark is used to determine final grade.

Science B – written test route; 3 separate written tests (x1 Biology, x1 Chemistry, x1 Physics) sat in either January or June, again in any order and can be re-sat. Each tests accounts for 25% of the total marks.

• Both routes also have a practical element (“ISA”) worth 25% of the total marks.

• Both routes allow the student to choose between higher and foundation tiers, with a combination of tiers also permitted.

OCR Science
The OCR course follows one of 2 routes; either the 21st Century (Science A) or Gateway (Science B):

OCR 21st Century Science – Science A (J630)
There are 9 teaching modules (x3 Biology, x3 Chemistry, x3 Physics) tested as 5 units. Students sit either Foundation (grades G-C) or Higher tiers (grades D-A*).

• Unit 1 – Biology B1, Chemistry C1 and Physics P1 – 16.7% of final marks. Almost always sat first in January.

• Unit 2 – Biology B2, Chemistry C2 and Physics P2 – 16.7% of final marks. Sittings in January and June.

• Unit 3 – Biology B3, Chemistry C3 and Physics P3 – 16.7% of final marks. Sittings in January and June.

• Unit 4 – ideas in context – 16.7% of final marks.

• Unit 5 – practical element – data analysis (13.3%) and case study (20%).

OCR Gateway Science – Science B (J640)
There are 6 teaching modules (x2 Biology, x2 Chemistry, x2 Physics) tested in 2 units. Students sit either Foundation (grades G-C) or Higher tiers (grades D-A*).

• Unit 1 – Biology B1, Chemistry C1 and Physics P1 – almost always sat first in January.

• Unit 2 – Biology B2, Chemistry C2 and Physics P2 – sittings in January and June.

• Unit 3 – ‘Can do’ tasks and report on science in the news – no set date/exam for this, assessed/moderated at school.

Each unit contributes 33⅓% of total marks. Re-sits are possible, with best grades being used to determine final grade.

Edexcel Science
There are 6 teaching modules (x2 Biology, x2 Chemistry, x2 Physics) tested in 6 units. Students sit either Foundation (grades G-C) or Higher tiers (grades D-A*).

• Students sit 6 multi-choice unit tests (x2 Biology, x2 Chemistry, x2 Physics). Each worth 10% of the final marks.

• Tests can be sat in any order/combination [schools decide the order in which modules are studied and when the tests are sat]. Tests are at various times throughout the year – November, March, June. Tests can be re-sat to improve marks – maximum mark used to determine final grade.

• Practical assessment – practical skills (10%), Biology activity (10%), Chemistry activity (10%), Physics activity (10%).

GCSE Science Changes for 2011
Note that GCSE sciences will change slightly in 2011. This will affect children currently in year 8. The changes to core science appear to be minimal; content seems unlikely to change much, though the number of re-sits allowed will be limited. The structure of the science suite of exams doesn’t appear to be changing much – Applied science will no longer be available, but none of our students have taken it so this doesn’t seem to affect many.

If you live in Manchester or Cheshire, and you’d like help understanding the GCSE Core Science specifications and possibly some expert tuition for your child, get in touch for a chat.

Understanding GCSE Core Science – Part 1

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Understanding ‘How Science Works’ – as in how the combination of science GCSE specifications interlink – is almost worth a GCSE in itself!

The way Science is examined at GCSE level has become horrendously complicated with numerous choices of exam boards, variations of syllabuses within and between exam boards, and choices of when to take tests. In summary, students take Core and/or Additional Science (previously known as single or double awards respectively) or separate sciences (ie Biology, Chemistry, Physics – previously known as ‘triple’ award).

Courses do share common themes. In this post we’re going to discuss Core Science, but we’ll talk about GCSE Additional Science and separate GCSE sciences in later posts. Hopefully this guide will be useful for parents of students currently in Year 10 and for parents of secondary age children in Years 8 and 9 who about to decide on options. Please feel welcome to call us if you’d like further explanation and we will do our best to try to make everything clearer!

Understanding the structure of GCSE Core Science (a.k.a. “Science”) specifications

Core Science is a GCSE in its own right – it is also sometimes known by its older classification, single award science. The Core Science course also forms a part of the course for students taking ‘triple’ science Biology and/or Chemistry and/or Physics.

Most students study for the Core Science GCSE in Year 10, though less able students study the modules at a slower pace and over the 2-year period through Year 10 and Year 11. This is a very general GCSE that covers the key scientific ideas that students are required to learn at GCSE.

Core science can be taken as a series of module tests – variations between exam boards exist so it is important to find and follow the correct syllabus. All syllabuses contain modules for Biology, Chemistry and Physics and can be taken at either Higher Tier (grades D-A*) of Foundation Tier (grades G-C). Most syllabuses allow a combination of tiers to be taken. A student may, for example, be struggling with Chemistry but be OK with Biology and Physics and therefore sit for Higher tier in Biology and Physics, but foundation tier for the Chemistry.

Be warned, working out the marks is complicated – raw marks become “UMS” marks that get aggregated to give a final grade. Most students get an idea of the grade they are working towards, what they need to achieve and so on, so as parents let’s not worry too much for now; the main thing is to get to grips with when your child may be taking their ‘real’ GCSE exams (some, especially in yr 10, haven’t quite realised these are the ‘real’ things!). That way you can help them prepare, and if necessary get them extra tuition!

In the next post we’ll look at the most common specifications in more detail. In the meantime, if you’d like to give your child a little extra help navigating the maze of GCSE Science – whether he or she is studying Core Science, Triple Award Science or one of the intermediate options – get in touch and ask us about the Science tutors we have available in Manchester.

Get to grips with English Literature GCSE

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

In our last post we looked at some tips and tricks for success at GCSE English. Today it’s the turn of GCSE English Literature.

It’s important to clear up the confusion that exists between the two subjects. GCSE English is a compulsory subject for school students. It covers a range of skills that are broadly divided into reading, writing, speaking and listening. It usually includes some study of literary texts (usually short poems), but mainly focuses on day-to-day English skills. As we saw in the last post, GCSE English is sometimes referred to as English Language or “straight” English to differentiate it from GCSE English Literature.

Unlike “straight” English, English Literature is not compulsory at GCSE, but because it is so closely related to GCSE English many schools teach the subjects side by side, and enter a substantial number of students for English Literature as a matter of course. Less able students will sometimes not take GCSE English Literature in order to focus on the basic skills needed for a pass at GCSE English.

To clear up a further point of confusion, when colleges, universities and employers stipulate that applicants should have “GCSE English and Maths”, they are referring to GCSE English, not GCSE English Literature.

Your child will almost certainly have the same teacher or teachers for both GCSE English and GCSE English Literature. Any qualified English teacher will be able to teach both. So if, for example, you approach 121 Home Tutors for English assistance, we’ll be able to put you in touch with a tutor who can help your child with both subjects.

What does GCSE English Literature involve?
GCSE English Literature is focussed entirely on the study of literary texts – poems, novels, short stories and plays. This may seem pretty distant from the demands of everyday life, but in fact the subject helps students to develop a range of very valuable skills, and reinforces some of those developed during the study of GCSE English. In particular, studying English Literature is useful for developing close reading skills – the ability to “read between the lines” of documents that will come in useful during a career in law or business.

Your child will study a range of literary texts, and will be tested by a combination of written exams, coursework and – possibly – coursework written under controlled conditions in the classroom. In the past, some exam boards made it possible to complete a GCSE in English Literature just by submitting coursework. These days, the balance has shifted back towards exams. Most boards award final marks based on written exams (usually around 70% of the total mark) and coursework (usually around 30%) combined.

One of the key areas of difficulty students face during GCSE English Literature is dealing with literary texts written prior to the twentieth century. All English Literature GCSE specifications include a pre-twentieth century component, and all require students to study at least some Shakespeare.

Quite a few students – the technically and scientifically minded as much as the less able – find Shakespeare and other pre-twentieth century authors mystifying and intimidating. If you’re helping your child approach GCSE English Literature, there are some strategies you can use to help him or her cope with older texts:

    Remember that Shakespeare and co. weren’t writing in ‘Old English’ – people stopped speaking and writing genuine Old English half a millennium before Shakespeare was even born. Shakespeare’s plays are, in fact, written in early modern English, which uses some different vocabulary and constructions from the English we use today, but is basically the same language.

    The secret to reading books and poems that were written a hundred or more years ago is to take it slowly. It’s only in the last couple of centuries that the majority of people have become ‘silent readers’, able to understand the written word without reading aloud. In the 1600s, the poet John Milton – author of Paradise Lost – was considered remarkable because he could read without moving his lips. Because of this, writers in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries expected their readers to go steadily – they certainly weren’t writing for people who use the silent, ‘scanning’ method of reading that’s common today. Slow down, and everything will begin to make sense.

    A good dictionary is really useful. Go back a century or two, and most books were owned and read by wealthy, educated people. Writing for such an audience, authors didn’t feel the need to simplify the vocabulary they used. As such, some words are quite tough. If your child is struggling with a pre-twentieth century text, working through it slowly with a dictionary can be a big help.

If you and your child are really struggling with older texts – or with GCSE English Literature in general – feel free to get in touch with 121 Home Tutors. We’ll be happy to match you with a suitably qualified English tutor in the Manchester or Cheshire area.