New GCSE Science – Assessment

Any teacher will be all too familiar with that horrible question, “will this be on the exam?”. Who can blame students for asking it when everything’s about getting the marks in the exam?   One of the key features of the new science GCSEs is the assessment, which is designed to discourage ‘rote learning’ as a pathway to high grades.  We can expect that exam papers will be less formulaic and predictable than in the past, and students will need to be on their toes to get top marks.  While most teachers will welcome this, many will be concerned about how youngsters who have become accustomed to ‘learning what they need to know to pass the exam’ will adapt to new exams that will test much more than simple recall.

In order give students a great preparation and to build their confidence, teachers will want to set plenty of exam-style questions in lessons and for homework. There’s always a danger that this turns into ‘training to pass an exam’, so here are some creative approaches that teachers can use to breathe new life into preparation for assessment:

• Worked examples based on exam-style can help students get to grips with the different steps they need to take to answer a complex question.
• Videos/podcasts of worked examples are particularly helpful, as students can use the resources time and time again during their revision.
• To make the process more ‘active’, worked examples can be used to support self- and peer- assessment in the classroom, and also as part of homework activities.
• Including an element of ‘planning’ in any practical activity, however simple, will help students develop the skills needed to tackle the new ‘controlled assessments’.

A focus on scientific skills, rather than learning mark schemes, makes preparing for assessment more fun for students and teachers alike, and is better training for the future scientists who are going to solve our problems and make the world a better place.  It’s a no brainer!

David Read

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