GCSE Combined Science vs Triple Science

GCSEs were first introduced in 1988. Back then, students could choose three separate subjects. This resulted in most girls dropping physics and most boys dropping biology as subjects. As such, the Association for Science Education requested that science education was more balanced.


It was eventually agreed that giving 30% of GCSE study time to the sciences was too much and the double award science or combined science was introduced in 2006. At the same time, the triple science option was still widely promoted by the government as well as various boards including the Confederation of British Industry.


GSCE Combined Science Vs Triple Science Explained


Triple Award Science is referred to by a variety of different names including:


  • Separate sciences
  • Single sciences
  • Triple sciences


Here, students study all three of the sciences and will end up with three different GCSEs at the end of the course.


Combined science is also known as:


  • Double award science
  • Triology science
  • Double science


Here students still study the three sciences - Biology, Chemistry, Physics - yet end up with two GCSEs.


As it stands, the majority of students in England will complete the Double award course. This covers two thirds of the content that is covered through the triple course. Despite this, the grades are still based on the performance across all three science subjects.


What Are The Key Differences?


Aside from combined science covering less content and resulting in one less GCSE the exams also tend to be about half an hour shorter. However, students will still be required to take a total of six exams, two for each core science subject:


  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics


Why Is This Controversial?


Aside from being confusing for both students and parents, there are some issues with offering two different routes for studying science at the GSCE level.


For instance, many people have noted that triple science is only an option in socially-advantaged areas. Schools that are based in deprived neighbourhoods are less likely to provide this possibility to students. As well as this, students are less likely to seek out the possibility if it is offered. Researchers also think that this has lead to a reduction in the number of students that progress to A-level science.


Triple science entry is often typically restricted and only accessible to students who reach a particularly high level of attainment. The key reason for this is that material is often included in fewer lessons and schools don’t want to encourage students to take a course where they would get lower grades.


As well as this despite triple sciences being beneficial, many students feel as though it is not designed for them because they haven’t reached the right level of academic achievement. This has also caused a reduction in the number of students moving onto A-level science.


Who Picks What Course A Student Completes?


Whether a student takes triple or combined science can be decided by the student themselves, the teacher, or the school. Be aware that this will differ depending on the school and there is no set rule in place by the government.


According to the latest research, most students are not provided a choice between triple and combined sciences. Instead, the route is laid out for them and the school is typically the key deciding factor.


Students may also start on a triple science course but be forced by the school to take a combined science course if they do not achieve the necessary grades.


Should Students Choose Combined Science Or Triple Science?


As mentioned, students are not always granted the option of choosing between combined or triplle science at GCSE level. However, where this option is available the main focus should be on whether the individual student finds science enjoyable.


Indeed, students should consider this option, even if they have not achieved a high grade in science thus far and instead are achieving more average grades. It is important to note that triple science will always be more difficult as there is less focus on exploring key concepts in detail. Instead, students will be required to develop their understanding outside of the classroom.


Schools do have complete power to restrict which of their students will be able to complete a triple science course, even where this option is available. For instance, they can reserve this choice for the higher sets or even ensure that their higher sets do complete a triple science course. There have been cases where schools have only allowed the top 30 students to complete a triple science course. Some schools can also choose which option they provide based on the decisions by students. For instance, if most students choose combined science then it may be that a triple science course will not be offered. Other schools may even only provide triple science if students agree to attent extra lessons each week to squeeze in all the necessary content.


Triple science will also be more beneficial for those students who are keen to pursue a career based on scientific knowledge and understanding such as:


  • Medicine
  • Research
  • Vetinary medicine
  • Physicist


The reason for this is that triple science provides an advantage for students who do want to move onto A level science and thus pursue these types of careers. That said it is still possible to progress to A-level science if you have not completed a triple science course at GCSE.


Despite not being offered by all schools, triple science courses are still being championed by the STEM (science, technology, engineering mathematics) industries and the government as a whole.


Benefits Of Combined And Triple Science Courses


The main benefit of combined science courses is that it makes science more manageable for those who are not interested in pursuing a career where science is the main focus. It can also be useful for those who are interested in science but are not planning on pursuing it with their A-levels.


The benefit of triple science courses is that it puts students in a stronger position for pursuing STEM careers and some research suggests that it gives them more confidence in terms of scienitifc knowledge and understanding.




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