Triple vs Double Science GCSE

In this article, we'll clear up any misconceptions about Triple Science and Double Science, and provide a clear overview for students or parents of students about to begin their GCSEs. 

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In my five years’ experience as a GCSE Science teacher, I gave advice to many students and parents about the differences between Double Award Science GCSE (also known as Combined Science) and Triple Award Science GCSE (also known as Separate Science). 

There is often a lot of confusion about these two courses. Some parents think that Double Science involves dropping one science and only taking two, or some students believed that taking Double Science stops you from pursuing an A Level science course, or science at university. In this article I hope to clear up any misconceptions about these courses, and provide a clear overview for students or parents of students about to begin their GCSEs. 

What is the difference between Double and Triple Science? 

For both courses students learn all three science subjects: Biology, Chemistry and Physics. However, the size of the course differs between the two options. Compared to Triple Science students, Double Science students learn two-thirds of the course content across all three subjects, with some of the more challenging content removed. As a result of this, Double Science students are only awarded two GCSEs at the end of the course, compared to three for Triple Science students. 

How is Double Science graded? 

At the end of the GCSE, Double Science course students will receive two grades for their two GCSEs. These two grades will either be the same, or there will be one number difference between the two, for example: 5-5, 6-5, 6-6, 7-6, etc. It is impossible to have two grades that are not structured in this way, such as 5-9. The reason for this is that the exam scores are averaged across the three sciences and all the exams (there is some variability of exam weight between boards). The scale goes from 1-1 being the lowest, to the highest score, 9-9. 

Let’s look at an imaginary scenario: a Double Science student takes GCSE exams in Biology, Chemistry and Physics and gets marks of 90/200, 167/200 and 159/200 respectively. The student wouldn’t get a lower grade for Biology and a higher grade for Chemistry and Physics; instead, the scores are averaged across the three, so they would be combined to 416/600, which is 69%. They would then be put into a category based on the grade boundaries for that year, and perhaps awarded a 7-7 overall grade based on that average score. 

Grade boundaries are different for each exam board and each exam year. These are published publicly online if you wanted to search for them for your specific exam boards. 

Should I choose Double Science GCSE or Triple Science GCSE? 

In many schools teachers decide the students who take each course. This decision is typically made based on academic ability, with high-ability students offered the triple course, and students who find science to be more challenging put forward for Double Science. 

The reason this decision is made is because the volume of information covered in the Triple Science course is high, and students need to be motivated to keep up with the rapid pace of the course. Students that thrive in slower-paced environments and that benefit from reviewing and recapping regularly are likely to find the Double Science course more suitable. 

Many teachers, including me, would often be faced with students and parents who were disappointed to be put into double award classes when they would have preferred triple. I often said to those students: “Would you prefer two 8 grades with double award or three 5 grades with triple?” This is an important factor to consider for students who struggle more with Science, or who are perhaps less motivated. The extra effort for Triple Science is required for the full duration of the course, not just a few months before the final exams. 

Students who feel very strongly about wanting to take Triple Science GCSE can improve their chances of being placed in a triple class by working hard in the year before starting the GCSE course. A lot of schools will make decisions based on tests taken at the end of Year 9, so preparing thoroughly for these tests is a good idea. I’d also recommend engaging with Science in the classroom to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the subject, such as putting your hand up in lessons to ask and answering questions. Talk to your teacher to understand the process at your specific school and they will be able to provide advice and support to help you achieve your goals. 

Will Double Science stop me from taking an A Level science subject in the Sixth Form? 

The simple answer is no. I taught many A Level Biology students who took Double Science and never came across anyone who was rejected from a science A Level on the basis of this alone. If you can prove that you are a skilled scientist by scoring highly, for example achieving 7, 8 or 9 grades across the two GCSEs, then you would be a suitable A Level science candidate. 

It should be said, however, that there is a slight disadvantage to being a Double Science student taking a science A Level, in that some of the course content covered in the A Level will overlap with the content that is covered in the triple GCSE, but excluded for the double. This will mean that the triple GCSE students will have covered that content before and may find it easier to pick up at A Level, but it will be new for the double award students. This shouldn’t be a big disadvantage because the teacher will typically cover all the basics at the start of each new topic and offer opportunities to ask questions and request help. Any A Level science student should have the work ethic and motivation required in order to catch up. 

Universities don’t often take into account details of GCSE subjects when making decisions about offers (especially if a student’s academic performance at A Level is strong), so for students who know that they want to pursue careers in science, such as veterinary science, dentistry or medicine, should not need to worry about Double or Triple Science so long as they take the correct A Levels for their course requirements, and are working towards the required A Level grades. 

How do the different exam boards structure their Double Science courses?

For each board I’d recommend reading the website page or specification for the courses you’re taking to make sure you have all the information you need. 

AQA GCSE: There are two different AQA GCSE Combined Science courses: Trilogy and Synergy:

The Trilogy course is very similar to the Triple Science course, just with some content removed. Trilogy students still take two papers per subject, but each paper is only out of a total 70 marks instead of 100 marks for the Triple Sciences, and the exam time is shorter at 1 hour 15 minutes per paper instead of 1 hour 45 minutes. 

The Synergy course is structured differently, with students only taking four exams in total, two in “Life and Environmental Sciences” and two in “Physical Sciences”. Each exam is out of 100 marks and takes 1 hour 45 minutes to sit. 

OCR Gateway GCSE: The Combined Science OCR Gateway course is very similar to the Triple Science course, just with some content removed. Students still take two papers per subject but each paper is only out of a total 60 marks (instead of 90 marks for the Triple Sciences), and the exam time is shorter at 1 hour 10 minutes per paper instead of 1 hour 45 minutes.

Edexcel GCSE: The Combined Science Edexcel course is very similar to the Triple Science course, just with some content removed. Students still take two papers per subject, but each paper is only out of a total 60 marks instead of 100 marks for the Triple Sciences, and the exam time is shorter at 1 hour 10 minutes per paper instead of 1 hour 45 minutes.

CIE (Cambridge) IGCSE: Coordinated Science students take three exams in total: one multiple choice paper worth 30% of the final grade; one theory paper worth 50%; and one alternative to practical paper worth 20%. Each paper has questions that cover all three science subjects. In comparison, Triple Science students take nine exams in total, with the same three types of papers required for each of the three science subjects. 

Edexcel IGCSE: The double award Edexcel IGCSE course is very similar to the Triple Science course, just with some content removed. All students, both double and triple, take Paper 1 for each subject, but the triple students also take another exam, Paper 2, which covers the extra content not included in the double award science syllabus. 

In summary: Triple vs Double Science GCSE

To summarise, Triple Science GCSE covers more content across the three science subjects than Double Science does. As a result, Triple Science students are awarded three GCSEs, whereas double award scientists get two. The decision about which option to take should be based on academic ability and motivation to study outside the classroom. 

My final advice would always be to talk to your individual science teachers to seek advice. Your teacher will have a good understanding about your science ability and will also be able to explain the specific system at your school so you can fully understand the differences between the courses and how they are taught. 

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Written by Emma Archbold

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Prior to working at SME, Emma was a Biology teacher for 5 years. During those years she taught three different GCSE exam boards and two A-Level exam boards, gaining a wide range of teaching expertise in the subject. Emma particularly enjoys learning about ecology and conservation. Emma is passionate about making her students achieve the highest possible grades in their exams by creating amazing revision resources!

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