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A level biology students show stronger practical skills

Sally Collier, Chief Regulator, Ofqual

Ofqual study shows that students studying reformed biology have stronger practical skills than those who took the pre-reform qualification.

Students studying reformed biology A level have shown stronger practical skills than those pre-reform, an Ofqual study has shown.

The study “Evaluation of qualifications reform“, published today (10 May 2018) by the exams regulator, saw students who studied the reformed biology A level show stronger practical skills than their counterparts who studied the pre-reform qualification. The practical skills of pre- and post-reform students studying chemistry and physics remained broadly similar and there had been no deterioration.

The 1,750 students who took part in the study also responded to a questionnaire, which encouragingly shows that the post-reform group reported doing practical work more often and feeling more confident than the pre-reform group.

Practical skills for science A levels are now assessed indirectly, by exam, at the end of A level courses where such questions make up at least 15% of the overall mark. Students must complete at least 12 practical activities during the course and will receive a separate endorsement that they have done so satisfactorily (a pass or an unclassified grade). Pre-reform science A levels involved students completing practical tasks under ‘controlled conditions’ and responding to written questions on them. This approach presented logistical problems as well as concerns about adequately differentiating between students’ abilities.

Reformed science A level exams were taken for the first time in summer 2017, after first teaching began in September 2015.

Sally Collier, Chief Regulator, said:

I am encouraged by this study, which suggests that the reformed A levels in biology, chemistry and physics have continued to see practical skills prioritised as important parts of the qualifications. I hope that it will provide some early reassurance that practical skills have not been unintentionally devalued in the reformed A levels. These are, however, early findings and we and will continue this research to include a new cohort of post-reform students later this year

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