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How to Pass Science GCSE (4 & 5) in 5 Simple Steps

27/07/2023 / Science Tuition

Science GCSE isn’t known for being easy. You’re learning three different disciplines of science, plus you’re using mathematics skills and remembering practical skills too.

However, a calm, planned approach can make a huge difference in your GCSE Science success. Today, we’re exploring how to pass Science GCSE, including a list of simple steps you can take to make the process easier.

Let’s get started!

How is GCSE Science graded?

Combined versus single science

You can choose a course of study that earns you two GCSEs in science or a more time-consuming course of study that earns you three. In both cases, you still study all three science disciplines (biology, chemistry and physics).

Combined science is the option that earns students two GCSEs. Combined science students receive what’s called a double grade to reflect their overall achievement in the three disciplines. Double grades can be two numbers that are the same, such as 5-5, or they can be two numbers that are just one apart, such as 5-4, which indicates that a student’s achievement was in between a 4 and a 5.

The alternative is single science, sometimes called separate sciences. Single science students have more lesson time devoted to science, and at the end of Year 11 they will earn three GCSEs. These three GCSEs are graded separately just like any other GCSE.

One big difference between the two is that single science requires more time and work. Another is that in single science students can score very differently on biology versus physics, for example. In contrast, the double grade for combined science students reflects their total science knowledge in all of the science disciplines.

Is it better to take combined science or single science? The answer depends on the individual student. Usually, students receive guidance from their schools as to which will suit them better. However, if a student doesn’t really love science and doesn’t intend to pursue a science-related career, there may not be a reason to take on the extra workload of single science.

Foundation versus higher tier

At exam time, GCSE Science students will sit either Foundation or Higher Tier papers. A Foundation Tier paper can earn students a grade from 1-5, whereas a Higher Tier paper is more challenging and can earn students a grade up to 9. Students will cover different content in the classroom depending on which tier of paper they’re working toward.

Generally, schools provide guidance on this as well. It’s difficult to switch tiers later in GCSE studies, so if you feel you want a different tier, it’s best to bring it up as soon as possible.

Which tier is better? Again, this depends on the individual student. If a student feels they can earn a 6 or higher, then Higher Tier is probably more suitable. However, if a student is really aiming for a 5, doesn’t intend to pursue science at A level, and would really struggle with harder content, then Foundation Tier may be the best bet.

Exams or practical experiments?

No matter which of the above options you choose for GCSE science, your grades will always be based on six papers taken at the end of Year 11. Each science discipline is covered in two of these papers.

That being said, you will do practical experiments during lessons, and you’ll be expected to remember what happened in those experiments for the exam. In fact, 15% of your grade will be based on questions connected to practical experiments and skills.

How to pass Science GCSE

Clearly, there’s a lot to think about when considering GCSE Science!

The good news is that there are many steps you can take to make your GCSE Science journey easier. To pass your science GCSE, you need to earn a 4 or a 5, and our tips will help you to get there.

1. Know your topics

It’s natural for humans to have a fear of the unknown. So, when GCSE Science feels shrouded in mystery, and you’re not sure what you’re meant to know or what you’re going to encounter, that can make it harder to do your work and revise.

That’s why our first piece of advice is to help yourself feel in control and informed about your own learning. By reading this article, you’ve already made a great start.

What you can do next is to take a look at the topics that will be covered in your Science GCSE course. BBC Bitesize has a handy guide that lists the topics covered in each exam specification.

Now, when you’re doing your schoolwork, you’ll know why you’re learning each topic and how it fits into the overall picture of GCSE Science. And every additional step you take from our list will help you to feel more confident and in control too.

2. Reflect on your own learning

Metacognition, or thinking about your own thought processes, can be a huge help for improving your learning. This just means asking yourself things like:

  • What did I understand really well in today’s lesson? What was unclear?
  • Which revision technique was most helpful to me? Do I understand things best with pictures and diagrams, when I’m listening, or when I read about them?
  • Did my teacher’s feedback on my schoolwork match what I thought they would say? If not, what did I overlook and what should I change next time?
  • Which topics on my GCSE science list do I enjoy? Which are the topic areas that I need to work on most?

These are really crucial skills for all of your GCSEs and for life as well. Thinking about your own learning in this way will really help you to pinpoint where you need to focus your energy and efforts.

If you’ve identified areas where you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to seek help. Most teachers will be impressed if you come to them with a specific question because it shows that you’ve been working hard and doing your own metacognition.

And if you need a bit more help, or if you need things explained in a different way, it’s also worth considering private tutoring. One-on-one time with a qualified teacher can give you a huge boost in getting past blockages in your understanding and figuring out what’s tripping you up on exam questions. Time to talk through your questions with a tutor can also really help anxiety too, since, since it helps de-mystify science content.

Hire a private online science tutor >

3. Ace your memorisation

A big part of passing science GCSE is tackling the “low-hanging fruit.” That just means get your easy wins so that you can earn all the points you can.

GCSE exams cover skills ranging from rote memorisation up to more complicated tasks like explaining and evaluating. In a way, memorisation is hard because it can be a bit boring. But it’s also the easiest on the exam because it doesn’t require you to write and explain a complicated answer – and you can start working on memorisation from day 1 of your GCSE course.

You’ll boost your grade and feel more confident on your exams if you work throughout Year 10 and 11 on memorising all the science terms that you’re required to know. That way, exam questions that are just about giving definitions should be mostly super easy for you. Even if you encounter a harder question, sometimes just using the right terminology in your answer can get you a point or two.

How do you know what words to memorise? A term that’s in bold in your textbook is often one that should be memorised. Your teacher may also specifically point out terms that you need to know. If you’re using the BBC Bitesize list of topics we pointed out earlier, then you’ll see that each page has a glossary of important terms.

Don’t forget that there will be mathematical formulae to memorise too, such as the formula for calculating speed.

Quizlet virtual flashcards are a great tool for this, though some people really like paper flashcards that they can physically touch. Go with whichever works for you!

4. Do practice papers and work on exam technique

There’s a reason that doing practice papers is such a common recommendation when people ask how to pass science GCSE. Practice papers let you work those metacognition skills we talked about and find out what you really know and don’t know. Then you can change your revision approach to match.

Practice papers also help you work on your exam technique. Taking exams is a skill all on its own. Examples of exam technique include:

  • Answering the question that is asked. You can help yourself do this by underlining the key word or words in the question. Does it ask you to state an answer, or explain why? Here’s a BBC Bitesize podcast about command words in exam questions.
  • Spending the right amount of time on each question. This means don’t spend too long stuck on super hard questions or questions you aren’t sure about. Do the questions that you feel more confident about first so that you can get all the points you can. Then go back and try some harder ones.
  • Look at how many marks are given for each question and answer accordingly – more marks means that the question requires more time and a longer or more complicated answer.

Lastly, doing practice papers can reduce your anxiety on exam day, which is really important.

5. Ensure you have a great, calm exam day

On the topic of exam day, don’t ever stay up late revising before an exam. Studies have shown that being sleep deprived makes your brain just as impaired as it would be if you were drunk!

The best thing you can do for yourself before an exam is get a good night’s rest and a good breakfast. Also, get your clothes, keys, phone and exam materials such as writing utensils and your calculator ready the night before. Then make sure you get to the exam nice and early.

Approach GCSE Science confidently with Principal Tutors

There’s no single secret that will tell you how to pass Science GCSE, but a reflective and confident approach to your learning will always be a huge asset. Private tutoring can also empower you to assess and improve your skills and enter your GCSE exams with self-assurance.

At Principal Tutors, all of our GCSE science tutors are qualified teachers with expertise in the UK science curriculum. You’ll get feedback after every single session to help you feel in control of your learning and progress, and you can even download resources and request a recording of your tutoring session to help you remember key points later.

Interested in learning more about how we can help with science GCSE? Give us a call on 0800 772 0974 or use our easy form to request a tutor online.


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