News from our Science Faculty
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Science Tips from the Chief Examiner
As Head of the Science Faculty, I recently went to a Science Conference in Central London. I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by a Chief Examiner for Science who is responsible for writing the final exam questions. Some of the more interesting points for thought were based around how students tackle exam questions. His key tips focussed on:
· how students often overlook the words in bold such as tick two boxes, and how students need to really focus on these.
· often students do not read what the actual question is asking and start to lose marks by giving irrelevant details as opposed to focussing on what the question is after.
· It was also suggested that students should always use rulers when extrapolating information from a graph, for example, for half-lives, as students often draw these free-hand leading to inaccuracies and ultimately loss of marks.
· Whilst also discussing graphs he went on to say when completing graph questions requiring students to draw graphs they only really have one chance to get it right and should always draw it in pencil, as once students start crossing parts of the graph out examiners find it increasingly difficult to mark it and award marks.
There is actually a lot of reading to be done in Science exams, and students are encouraged to read quickly. Often questions worth two marks, where only two minutes should be spent on them, can have a further two minutes of reading involved leading to a rush to complete other questions.
The Chief Examiner went on to discuss the maths aspect linked to the Science papers. He highlighted:
· that all students should understand what the mean, median and range are and apply this to questions.
· There are a large number of questions linked to calculating percentages so it should be made sure that students are able to calculate these.
· Equally, care must be taken with some calculations as some of the numbers given in the calculations are not needed and there is the false assumption that all numbers should be used.
· There was also a big emphasis on students knowing all of their units as these often pick up marks in calculation questions.
There was a lot of discussion about required practicals and it was suggested that students look over these on YouTube so they are familiar with them.
The questions may involve:
· writing a step-by-step practical or commenting on results.
· It was noted for risk assessment questions, students often answer about wearing goggles and tying hair back where a much more tailored response is needed, for example care with using a Bunsen burner as you could burn yourself, or care with acids as they are corrosive and could harm your skin.
One of the key messages coming across was that 17% of all questions used the word ‘explain’ which many students overlooked and they often responded by stating things. For example, there is a significant difference between stating the colour of the sky as opposed to explaining the colour of the sky. When the word ‘explain’ is used in a question students should be using the word ‘because’ in their answer. Equally, when answering more extended questions students need to get straight to answering the questions as opposed to reiterating part of the question in the answer which gains no marks!
The final tip offered by the Chief Examiner was that students should practise exam questions from all exam boards not just AQA (our exam board). As examiners often “borrow” questions from other exam boards and just change some of the numbers and slightly re-word them.
I hope our students will find these tips useful. They were invaluable to me as Head of Science and I have shared all of this with all science teachers at Walthamstow School for Girls who suggested that they be shared with you, and especially for our Year 11 students who will soon sit their Science GCSE exams.
Best of luck (and hard work) to all our students!