At times, we all have to make pretty big decisions, especially as students. At secondary school, one of the biggest decisions you need to make is choosing your GCSE options. You have to decide what you are going to study for the next 2- or 3-years. It’s tough!
A very common decision may be whether you should choose Combined Science or Triple Science. It can be hard to know which one to choose or even what the difference between them is. This article aims to help you make a much more informed decision.
To put it simply, the main difference between Combined Science and Triple Science is that you will get more GCSEs at the end of the Triple Science course (this is because you get 3 separate GCSEs rather than a combined grade for 1 or 2 GCSEs). To get the extra GCSEs, you also have to put in a bit of extra work as in the Triple Science course there is a lot more content (and sometimes extra topics) for you to learn. Triple Science also tends to be a bit more difficult than Combined Science but you will often be given more lessons per week than if you were taking Combined Science.
If you are struggling with the decision between combined and triple science then you should definitely read on for more information about the differences between the two.
What is Combined Science?
Combined Science (also known as Double Science) is where you study the sciences together and receive a combined grade of 2 GCSEs for it. The most common version of combined science is Trilogy. This is where you study the 3 sciences (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) separately but you still get a combined grade at the end.
However, there is also another version called Synergy, that combines the content of Biology, Chemistry and Physics and instead splits them into specific themes.
Combined Science is the most common science GCSE as it tends to be compulsory in secondary school.
However, some schools may choose to do Single Award Science or Triple Science instead. Single Award Science is a more basic version of science where you would still study Biology, Chemistry and Physics but only receive a single grade as you only receive 1 GCSE.
What is Triple Science?
Triple Science (also known as Triple Award Science or Separate Sciences) is where you study Biology, Chemistry and Physics separately and receive separate GCSEs for them, giving you a total of 3 GCSEs in science.
The Triple Science course is considered a way of preparing students for careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). This is because it is a lot more science-focused than Combined Science. Despite this, you can still have a career in STEM without taking the Triple Science course for GCSE.
Who Can Take Triple Science?
Different schools have different criteria for if you are allowed to take Triple Science. Some schools may require you to be in top sets in Year 8 or 9 for science, while others may allow you to make the decision freely.
Also, some schools may decide if you can take Triple Science depending on how well you have previously scored on science assessments and tests or depending on what set you are in for science.
Your school should inform you about this but if you wish to know more, I suggest you talk to your science teacher as they will know how well you have been performing and also about your school’s policies.
Even if you are can’t take Triple Science, remember that you can still take science at A level or still do science-related things after you finish your GCSEs.
How Hard is Triple Science Compared to Combined Science?
To say how difficult Triple Science is completely depends on the person. You may find it easy or you may think that it is impossible, it completely depends on you- your scientific ability and your viewpoint.
The individual sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) are considered to be some of the hardest GCSEs, along with 7 other GCSE subjects in this article about ‘The 10 Hardest GCSE Subjects’. Please note that this is once again just an opinion and not everyone will agree with the subjects chosen.
A less subjective way of finding its level of difficulty is by looking at the grade boundaries. Grade boundaries are how grades are assigned from the number of marks you get from the exams.
Grade boundaries change every year because they are based on how well students perform in exams. Click this link to find out more. If the grade boundaries are low then on average the students who took the exams got low marks. This is to say that the exam (and by extension the entire course) was quite difficult.
The grade boundaries in June 2019 for the AQA exams for the individual sciences were all very similar to or slightly higher than the grade boundaries for Combined Science.
This shows that to the students themselves the course isn’t particularly harder. This is most likely due to the increase in lessons compared to Combined Science, that allows Triple Science students to manage the work and difficulty.
How Much More Work is Triple Science?
Firstly, it depends on whether Triple Science is within one of your options or if you are expected to do it in the same amount of teaching time as Combined Science. If you do the Triple Science course within your normal science lessons then it is a considerable amount of work.
Triple Science has a quite a bit more content than Combined Science. It depends on what exam board but in some Triple Science students may even have to do whole extra topics that Combined Science students do not, such as the topic about space and astrophysics in AQA GCSE Physics that is not a part of the Trilogy course.
However, taking Triple Science as one of your options means that you don’t have the added work of an entire separate GCSE. This could also be beneficial when it comes to exam season and revision.
What Are the Exams Like?
As always, it depends on the exam board that your school has chosen. Exam boards are the organisations that create the GCSE courses and the exams and then mark them.
There are 5 main exam boards in the UK and all of them make slightly different courses for you to study at GCSE. Despite these slight differences, GCSE exams tend to be quite similar to each other.
For Triple Science, you will generally have to do 6 exams but the duration of each will fully depend on the exam board (they tend to be about an hour and a half or slightly longer). You will normally have to do 2 exams in each science and then you will get separate GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
For Combined Science, the number of exams you will take depends on if you are doing Single Award Science or Double Award Science.
If you study Single Award Science, then then you will only do up to 3 exams and may have a coursework element, depending on the exam board. If you study Double Award Science then it also depends on if you study the Synergy course or the Trilogy course.
For Synergy, you will take 4 exams and get a double grade. Whereas for Trilogy, you will generally have 2 exams for each science, so 6 in total (although this still depends on the exam board). For Trilogy, you will also receive a double grade.
The pass rates of the individual sciences are much higher than of Combined Science. In June 2019, 90.1% of students for the AQA GCSE Biology passed, achieving at least a 4. This number increased for AQA GCSE Chemistry, where 90.3% of students received a 4 or higher and AQA GCSE Physics, where 91.1% of students received a 4 or higher. This is compared to the 55.8% of students, that received a 4-4 or higher for an AQA Combined Science qualification.
This is most likely due to the fact that Triple Science students generally have a greater number of lessons than Combined Science students and often do not have to study for another GCSE subject. For Triple Students, there also tends to be a greater focus on science and so they may revise more for each science exam.
Do Colleges Prefer Triple Science?
Colleges and sixth forms will not require you to have GCSEs in each separate science, as they know that not all schools offer Triple Science. However, they may not allow you to study a science A level if you have a Single-Award Science GCSE.
Colleges and sixth forms tend to vary in their requirements so it completely depends on how competitive it is to get into that college or sixth form and what you are taking.
You may find taking Triple Science (and getting good grades in each) could help when you are applying to college or sixth form as it gives you more GCSEs at a high level. This could look good on your applications as it shows that you are able to manage the extra workload and the increased difficulty and still succeed.
However, if you are planning to take humanities subjects, such as languages, literature or even History, then Triple Science may be a lot less beneficial as these subjects tend to have a lot of essays and writing. Colleges and sixth forms may be happier with you taking Combined Science and another humanities subject that shows off your ability to write.
Triple Science is a subject that is more based around your ability to remember and apply information. This could make it more useful for STEM based subjects, such as Maths, Biology, Chemistry or Physics. However, it could also be quite useful for subjects such as Psychology or Geography, that while being essay-based, link rather closely to the sciences, especially Biology and Chemistry.
Can Combined Science Put You at a Disadvantage?
In Triple Science you learn more content and so it may make any A level science more accessible as you may have covered some of these topics already.
If you take Combined Science, instead, it may be a little more difficult for you when starting A Level science courses as more of the concepts will be brand new to you. As others in your classes are likely to have taken Triple Science you may also feel as though you are slightly behind, while you are still getting used to things.
However, there are still many completely new topics for science A levels that you would not have previously covered and so having taken Combined Science or Triple Science would be irrelevant as it would not give you extra understanding.
Also, you will most likely be taught all the content from the beginning, anyway, as there is quite a gap in between finishing your GCSE exams and starting A levels or whatever you want to go onto after Year 11.
What Are the Main Things You Should Consider When Choosing Between Combined and Triple Science?
You may still be finding this choice rather difficult to make and I would suggest that you do not rush your decision, as you may come to regret it later on. When deciding whether to choose Triple Science or Combined Science, there are some questions that you should probably ask yourself to help you make the choice. Such as:
What Are the Pros and Cons of Each Option?
Think about all the things you know about Combined Science and Triple Science. What do you like or dislike about each option?
You may want to write them down and compare them to make the choice a little easier for you. This may help to make things clearer as you can sort through your reasons for wanting choose either Combined Science or Triple Science more easily.
What Are You Planning to do in the Future?
Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Or do you know what you want to do after GCSEs? It’s perfectly fine if you don’t know but having an idea may help you decide if Triple Science is something that could help you.
Do You Enjoy It?
There is little point in signing up to study a subject that you hate for 2 or 3 years. It would make you a whole lot less focused and motivated and it may even make you feel miserable.
Combined Science is still a good GCSE that can let you study A level Biology, Chemistry or Physics (or whatever else you want to do after GCSEs) and you wouldn’t have as much to do.
You may also want to consider what other subjects you like and try and weigh up the pros and cons of taking Triple Science compared to these. This can help you see if you really enjoy it or at least enjoy it enough to get you what you want from it.
What Other Subjects do you Want to Study?
You may want to choose options that are all quite similar, especially if you have a plan for once you finish GCSEs. Or you may want to study more or less separate GCSEs. Is Triple Science or Combined Science more suitable with your ideas?
Alternatively, you may want to take subjects that leave you with plenty of options after you finish your GCSEs. You may want to study subjects that are in line with the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and studying Triple Science may make this easier or more difficult for you, depending on how you see it.
Can You Handle the Work Load?
Triple Science is known for being hard and it also has a lot more content than Combined Science, so you have to know if you can handle the extra work and the extra effort that you will have to put into studying Triple Science. But taking another subject instead of Triple Science can also be a lot of work (probably even more than Triple Science as it is a separate GCSE).
How Good Are You at Science?
If you are especially good at science or even just one science, it can make the high workload of Triple Science a lot easier to deal with. Or if science is a subject that you find quite difficult and struggle with, you may want to take Combined Science to make things slightly easier for you.
Alternatively, if you are good at science, you may decide that you just want to study Combined Science as you will have a lot less to worry about. Or if you find science a difficult subject, you may wish to study it for the challenge of it. Just make sure that you also work hard to earn the grades you want.
How to Prepare for GCSE Science?
Whether you are planning to take Combined Science or Triple Science (or even if you haven’t yet decided), then you may want to think about how you are going to prepare for it.
GCSEs are a massive step up from general learning in secondary school from Year 7 to either Year 8 or 9. This is because now you have specific content you need to understand and will be tested on. This also means that you may have to take tests or small exams more regularly than before.
As you haven’t yet started your GCSEs, you shouldn’t worry too much about them. Being prepared is a good way of starting your GCSEs but it is not crucial and you will probably be absolutely fine without doing so before you are actually taught the content.
Ask Your Teacher
Your science teacher is likely to also teach GCSE students and so they can help you prepare for taking GCSE Science. You can even ask them about what the main topics in either Combined or Triple Science are (if you have not already been told).
Recap What You Know
It can be easy to forget what you have already learnt in science from Year 7, 8 and 9 (depending on when you start learning the GCSE course). This isn’t helpful when starting GCSEs, as you will have to learn a lot of new content on top of what you have already learnt. To stop this from having any negative effects on your learning, you should make sure that you recap everything that you already know about science in secondary school. As GCSE content will generally build on what you have already been learning, it is important to fully understand all of the key topics.
Watch Some Videos
YouTube can be a great way to introduce yourself to the GCSE content as well as to get your head around some of the key topics that you are currently studying so that it makes GCSE-level science much easier to understand. (This can also help you to recap what you have been learning).
A great resource on YouTube is Free Science Lessons. This YouTube channel gives you sized down lessons (even if you don’t need it yet, it will be incredibly useful for revision when you do exams).
Think About What You Want to Achieve
Even from the start of learning the GCSE content, it is good to know what you want to achieve from the GCSE. This could be the grade, knowing what grade you want to achieve could help to keep you motivated and working hard through the entire time you are learning. Or it could be something else, like the learning or picking certain skills of using information. Keeping what you want achieve in mind while you learn may help to keep you focused and make it more likely for you to actually achieve your goals.
If you need some general help or advice about choosing your GCSE option then you should check out this article.