GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education, and this certification is awarded at the end of a two-year study programme after exams have been marked.
Traditionally taken by those aged around sixteen years-old, this course is compulsory for students in the UK. However, the Sciences have recently undergone some specific changes that might affect you.
The way in which pupils are assessed as part of the UK’s education system has been a hot topic in recent years. As it stands, British students are tested across each subject undertaken at GCSE level, a test which used to make up more than half of their overall grade, but is now more often than not the only way that exam boards assess students’ performance.
Yet, with children and young adults in our country allegedly being among the most tested on the planet, surely they should be accustomed to performing under pressure?
It seems, however, that the recurrent need to test performance and improvement during schooling is something that still causes a lot of distress for pupils, and the abolishment of coursework is making the importance of exams all the more stressful.
Biology GCSE exams are now marked solely on exams. Photo credit: c_H via Visual hunt / CC BY
One very important thing to note as you enter your first or second year of GCSE is that this course has undergone many changes in the last couple of years. This means that the structure of courses may be different than before, as well as how you are assessed.
Keep reading to find out how the changes affect you, as this could help you to feel more confident in the approach to the exams.
Most GCSE pupils will be familiar with the historical grading system, which awarded marks ranging from A*-G with A* being the highest attainable and G being the lowest (except for a U, which is for very poorly answered exams or ones that have been missed). However, a new grade system is currently being phased into the UK education system whereby pupils are marked against a 9-1 system instead.
This new grading method will have been applied for the first time on this year’s Year 11 students who studied English Language, English Literature and Mathematics, with the remaining subjects being changed over the course of the next couple of years.
Although it sounds reasonably straightforward, the letters do not translate seamlessly into the scale of numbers. As such, Ofqual, the exams watchdog, has advised educators not to make direct comparisons between the two because the boundaries do differ and it could be misleading for pupils.
While there is still a U, or ungraded, mark, grades 9, 8 and 7 are roughly equivalent to A* and A. Grades 6, 5 and 4 can be likened to a B-C, meanwhile a 3 is said to be similar to a current D. Finally, 2 and 1 are closest to E, F and G grades.
The traditional GCSE grading system is to be replaced by a numbering system. Photo via Visualhunt
If you are studying towards OCR’s Biology A, a component of the Gateway Sciences Suite, then this new numerical system should clear up on confusion! Unless of course you are happy to let everyone think that the A represents your predicted or final grade…
Moreover, if you have already selected your GCSE options, you will already understand that Science courses are marked differently now than before.
Whereas in previous years you would have studied Biology, Chemistry and Physics towards a Double or Triple Science award, you now choose one Core Science, which will be your academic focus during the course of the two years, and then select an additional subject, which will have a more vocational aspect. You get separate grades for each which allows students more opportunities to excel in Science.
Learn more about the curriculum here.
It is probably hard to get to grips with the fact that you will be participating in nationwide exams along with your peers across the country, especially if you have never been tested in this way before.
Nevertheless, your exams are going to happen and will make up all of your final grade, so it is time to start thinking seriously about them.
Having access to a timetable, even if only a provisional one, can really help to prepare you psychologically for the culmination of your course, because having a specific goal to work towards can be very motivating.
Using a calendar or a countdown app might make it even easier to remain focused on the exam period and might, on some level, build up a bit of anticipation for the day of the first exam to finally come.
Attempt to keep your spirits up by translating your nervous energy into positivity. Just think, once you have completed your last exam you will have an entirely carefree summer ahead of you!
Timetables for compulsory exams like GCSEs and A Levels are usually released a couple of years in advance, but do remember that these are only there for guidance and should not be taken as completely certain.
Although exams will usually take place across roughly the same 2-3 week period of each academic year, you should never attempt to predict when your exams will be based on information from previous years.
To be on the safe side, however, we would recommend that you do not make any arrangements for holidays or social events around the time of your exams unless completely necessary, as doing so could allow you to get distracted from your revision, cause unwanted stress due to losing precious revision time, or leave you feeling tired and less alert.
Your education does not last forever but you will have plenty of opportunities to go on trips or nights out in the future.
Think positive thoughts – the summer after your exams will be he best ever! Photo credit: Scarleth Marie via Visual hunt / CC BY
You should make sure that you do not accidentally make any plans which cause you to be away on the date of any of your exams. Failing to sit an exam could result in you failing the entire course and putting two years of study to waste.
If your family are looking to book a holiday which crosses over with the exam period, then every effort should be made for the trip to be booked for a later date, or rebooked for another year. Even a once in a lifetime trip will not sway the examiners, as the rules cannot be twisted for just one pupil.
If, however, you have a valid reason for missing an exam, such as being unable to make an exam due to the death of a loved one or as a result of having a funeral to attend, you should consult your school or exam board at the earliest opportunity. Be warned that your sixteenth birthday will absolutely not be classed as a reasonable excuse to miss or re-sit an exam.
In emergencies, the officials will work together to do all that they can to help you, whether that be awarding you a mark based on other assessed performances or using comparable units of a completed exam to predict how you would probably have been graded. This is called special consideration and applies to all GCSE students so long as they have completed 25% or more of the total assessment for the subject.
Similarly, special consideration can be applied to those who made it to the exam but were affected by circumstances out of their control, like sickness, a bereavement, or being in the midst of a court case, for example. In situations like these, exam boards will give an allowance (usually up to 5% of the raw mark) dependent on the severity of the circumstances.
For some students, knowing exactly what will be happening on a certain day or week in the future can really help them to visualise their movements on a given day and aid in putting their mind at rest. For those who are particularly susceptible to feeling stress on a severe level, being able to organise yourself far in advance can be quite satisfying.
Use this information to plan educational activities, like pencilling in revision sessions with friends or setting aside time to complete independent study prior to a certain exam.
If you and your fellow students want to go and visit a museum or gallery that has significance to your course, be sure to get this booked in before the exam comes around. There are no second chances when it comes to exam-taking so do not let yourself have any regrets.
As touched upon above, using a calendar or diary to effectively countdown to the date of an exam or the start of the exam period can be a great way of making what is a nerve-racking experience more positive.
As soon as you are given your final timetable, which will most likely be 1-2 terms in advance, be sure to give a copy to your parent or guardian.
To learn everything you need to know about Biology revision, you can visit our blog on GCSE Biology revision.
You can also discover where to find useful resources for revision by clicking here.