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  • Writer's pictureDr Kate Nickson

IGCSE Course Dilemmas for Home Ed students - Chemistry vs Combined Science and Linear vs Modular

There are two main routes through Edexcel IGCSE Sciences. One option is to take individual Sciences and the other is to take the Combined Science (double award) qualification, which is a mix of all three Sciences and leads to two IGCSE grades.


If able to access a Tutors and Exams Centre, home educated learners are now able to choose a modular assessment approach as an alternative to the current linear assessment (exams sat at the end of the course).


It is important to understand that there is not necessarily a right answer to the question of which course or assessment model will best suit an individual learner. Outlined here are the main benefits of each, to help guide families in their choices.


Linear or Modular Assessment

Linear assessment  is the current model where all exams are taken in the same exam series at the end of the course. Exams are available in May / June and November. Many of the home educated families with whom I work already choose to take their Biology / Chemistry / Physics IGCSE exams in different sittings, helping to spread the revision.


One of the main advantages of linear assessment is that it enables learners to build their understanding across the whole course. This allows a teaching order driven by common sense rather than the module split, enabling more complex topics to be taught later when learners are better able to access them. Some learners really benefit from having longer to build their understanding and refine their exam technique before taking exams. For those who want to continue to A Level, there are benefits to having all of the content fresh in their minds as they make that step up. At present, learners also benefit from an abundance of past papers for the linear route, which are not yet available for the modular route, which help with exam preparation.


From summer 25 Tutors and Exams will also be offering a modular route to both Separate and Combined Sciences. They are the only exam centre that are currently endorsed to offer the modular route to UK learners. All other exam centres will continue to offer linear assessment.


One of the main advantages of the modular route is that it really enables learners to split up their assessment. For learners who find the Sciences more challenging this will help to reduce the cognitive load and can give them opportunities to potentially improve on their approach to revision and exams, as they can sit papers at different times and reflect on how to improve outcomes. They can also benefit from the opportunity to retake individual assessments, should they need to improve their performance.


Particularly for learners following Combined Science, the modular approach will allow much more of an assessment split across different sittings. Please see further detail under the Combined Science section.

Separate Sciences  

If learners are strong at Science and Maths and enthusiastic about them, then separate Sciences are usually a good choice. Learners are awarded an individual grade for each Science, which means that a weaker Science does not pull down their stronger options. For anyone wanting to continue to A Level, separate Sciences provide a better foundation; they cover more material, meaning learners will not have gaps to make up in their knowledge.


If taking separate Sciences, learners take two exam papers in each Science, leading to a grade for each.


For the linear route, Paper 1 is a 2-hour exam (61.1 % of the marks) and Paper 2 is a 1-hour and 15-minute exam (38.9% of the marks). Paper 1 is the same as for the linear Combined Science and Paper 2 covers all the content, with a focus typically on the extra material not covered in Combined Science.


For the modular route they take two 1-hour and 40-minute papers that are each worth 50% of the marks, with the content split between them.


Combined Sciences

For learners who perhaps find Sciences more difficult, or are not as enthusiastic about them, or who find Maths more challenging, the double award route might be a better fit than separate Sciences. One of the main advantages of this route is that they do not have to do some of the more complex material from each of the specifications. This can help to prevent learners from feeling overwhelmed and may result in them achieving higher grades. However, if learners have a specific Science that they are less keen on, then it can be more appropriate for them to take two separate Science IGCSEs in those that they prefer.


For the linear route (exams at the end), learners sit a 2-hour paper in each Science that is each worth 33.33% of the marks (3 papers total).


For the modular route (exams spread across any sitting), learners sit two 1-hour and 10-minute papers per Science that is each worth 16.57% of the marks (6 papers total).


If following the linear approach learners have to take all their papers in the same sitting. But for the modular route they could choose to focus on one Science at a time, taking their assessments for each Science in different sittings. Alternatively, they could study all three Sciences concurrently, but split their unit exams across different sittings, still helping to narrow the revision focus.

Which assessment model do my courses follow?

In the collaborative Combined Science Course, for which I teach the Chemistry component, we teach the content for Paper 1 first. This allows learners to choose whether they want to take a modular or linear approach to assessment. We will of course be happy to advise families individually on whether we think their learner will be ready to take their first module exams in either the May / June or November sitting, or whether we think the linear approach might suit them better.


Learners intending to take a modular route do not necessarily need to have the same start date for all three individual Sciences. E.g. if starting at the equivalent of Year 9, they might choose to start with one or two of the Sciences, beginning the remaining option(s) the following year. This allows families to choose a bespoke route to both learning and assessment, while benefitting from expert teaching from subject specialists.


For my Separate Science IGCSE Chemistry courses I will continue to teach them in an order that is appropriate for linear assessment. Many of my learners continue to A Level and I believe that the linear model prepares them better in terms of the teaching order and available resources for exam preparation. However, there will still be the option of taking modular assessment. Learners could choose to take Paper 1 in the summer sitting at the end of the course, rather than taking both exams for the linear assessment, and then take Paper 2 in the following November sitting. Some of my students already choose to delay their exams at the end of the 2-year course to the November sitting to help spread their exam load and buy themselves extra revision time. So this would be a very feasible option, which will enable them to benefit from the best of both worlds. I.e. sensible teaching order to build strong understanding and foundations for future learning, whilst splitting up the exams allowing a more focussed approach to revision for each. The modular assessment route split with exams sat in May and November will be most feasible fr students starting the course when they are year 9 equivalent and completing it in November of year 11 equivalent.


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