GCSE Combined and Triple Science: What’s the Difference?

In GCSE by Think Student Editor1 Comment

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. Triple science (also known as single science or separate sciences) gives you 3 separate GCSEs (physics, chemistry and biology). Combined science (also known as double science) provides you with 2 GCSEs.

Both combined science and triple science students sit 6 exams, but the triple science exams include more content and are longer. This can be seen in the table below:

Exam boards Combined science Triple science



Biology 1

Physics 1

Chemistry 1

Biology 2

Physics 2

Chemistry 2


*Exams 1 hour 10 minutes (AQA 1 hour 15 minutes)

Biology 1

Physics 1

Chemistry 1

Biology 2

Physics 2

Chemistry 2


*Exams 1 hour 45 minutes

*Foundation and higher tier papers are available for both combined and triple science.

If you are struggling with the decision between combined and triple science, then you should read on for more information about the differences between the two.

What is GCSE 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 referred to as trilogy. This is the version that most people mean when they talk about GCSE Combined Science. This is where you study the 3 sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics) separately, but you still get a combined grade at the end. For this version students have 6 science exams. You can learn more about this on the AQA website here.

However, there is also another version called synergy, that combines the content of biology, chemistry and physics. The AQA exam board offers this option. You can read more about this here.

Combined science is the most common science GCSE and it tends to be compulsory in secondary schools. To learn more about other compulsory GCSE subjects check out this Think Student article.

What is GCSE Triple Science?

Triple science (also known as single sciences or separate Sciences) is where you study biology, chemistry, and physics separately and receive separate GCSEs for each of them, giving you a total of 3 GCSEs in science. 

The triple science course is considered a way of preparing students for further studies in science, whether that be at sixth form college or university. It is particular beneficial for those planning on doing STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). This is because the content is generally more advanced than combined science. Despite this, you can still have a career in STEM without taking the triple science course for GCSE. 

Who can take GCSE 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 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. Make sure you check with the college you are applying to to see the entry requirements for subjects you are interested in.

Can you do foundation tier paper for GCSE Triple Science?

Yes! Whether you chose to do combined or triple science you will have the option to do either foundation or higher tier exams.

Foundation tier is for students aiming for grades 1-5. Higher tier is for students aiming for 4-9. You must speak to your teachers to help you get the paper best suited for you. It’s worth noting you will have to do all 6 exams in either foundation or higher tier, so this is an important decision.

Triple science vs combined science: which is harder?

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 and past GCSE results. We will be doing this in the next section of this article.

What are the GCSE Science grade boundaries?

Grade boundaries change every year because they are based on how well students perform in exams. Edumentors discusses grade boundaries in more detail, 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 displayed below are from 2022 GCSE exams. This data is for the higher tier AQA exam board, you can view more details on their website here.

GCSE Triple Science (single sciences):

GCSE subject Maximum Mark 9 8 7 6 5 4 3
Biology 200 132 118 104 86 68 51 42
Chemistry 200 144 123 103 80 58 36 25
Physics 200 150 134 119 98 77 56 45
72% 61% 51% 40% 29% 18% 13%

*Percentages based off chemistry

GCSE double award:

GCSE subject Maximum Mark 99 98 88 87 77 76 66 65 55 54 44 43
Combined Science (Trilogy) 420 276 257 238 220 202 183 164 145 126 107 89 80
66% 61% 57% 52% 48% 44% 39% 33% 30% 25% 21% 19%

As you can see from the tables above the grade boundaries are similar when comparing the percentage mark required for both combined and triple science.

This may suggest that difference in course isn’t that great. This data could have been affected by many variables. For example, students that take triple science are likely higher performing students, so can do equally as well in more challenging exams. Another factor to consider is, in GCSE Triple Science students have more lesson time with their teachers. This extra learning time could help them combat the increased difficulty. Whatever the reason there isn’t a clear winner by looking at the grade boundaries.

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.

How are GCSE Science exams structured?

As always, it depends on the exam board that your school has chosen. There are 4 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. The 4 exam boards are listed below:

How are GCSE Triple Science exams structured?

For triple science, you will generally have to do 6 exams. Each exam is 1 hour 45 minutes long. You will have to do 2 exams in each science and then you will get separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry, and physics.

If want to see what is included in each exam go to your specific exam boards website to look at the specification.

How are GCSE Combined Science exams structured?

For GCSE Combined Science, the number of exams you will take depends on if you are doing trilogy or synergy.

If you study GCSE Combined Science (trilogy), you will have to do 6 exams which is the same as triple science. However, these exams will have different content and are shorter. These exams have a duration of 1 hour 10 minutes (excluding AQA which is 1-hour 15minutes).

For Synergy, you will take 4 exams. More on the synergy specification can be found on the AQA website.

Both trilogy and synergy receive a double grade.

What are the pass marks for GCSE Science?

The pass rates of the individual sciences are much higher than of combined science. In June 2022, 91.9% of students passed GCSE Biology, achieving at least a grade 4. This number was 92.8% for GCSE Chemistry, and 93.7% for GCSE Physics. This is compared to the 60.5% of students, that received a 4-4 or higher for a combined science qualification.

If you look at the amount of 9’s achieved in Physics (50.3%) compared to students achieving 9-9 in combined science (1.2%) we also see a huge difference suggesting that combined science students find it harder than triple science students.

This data can be found on Ofqual’s website.

This is most likely because of some of the reasons mentioned earlier. GCSE Triple Science students generally have a greater number of lessons than combined science students. Also, the students taking triple science are usually the higher performing science students. Whereas combined science being compulsory is taken by everyone, including students who would choose to drop science if it was an option for them.

Once again looking at the data may give the impression that triple science is relatively easy. Ultimately everyone will have a different experience with GCSE science. Seeing as the data hasn’t helped much lets look at some other factors to consider before selecting your GCSEs.

Do colleges prefer triple science?

Colleges and sixth forms will not require you to have GCSEs in each separate science. However, they may not allow you to study a science A-Level if you haven’t achieved a certain grade in combined science. You can check the entry requirements on the college’s website.

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. In this case colleges and sixth forms may be happier with you taking combined science and another humanities subject.

What this shows is it really depends on what you are planning on studying at college to whether triple science would be beneficial to you.

Can GCSE Combined Science put you at a disadvantage?

In triple science you learn more content than combined science. There are also some crossovers into the A-Level syllabus.

If you take combined science, 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. Because of this having taken either combined science or triple science wouldn’t be as important.

Alsoyou will most likely be taught all the content from the beginning, as there is quite a gap in between finishing your GCSE exams and starting A-Levels. This will give combined science students time to understand the same concepts that may already be familiar to triple science students.

You may still be finding this choice between combined and triple science rather difficult to make and I would suggest that you do not rush your decision. When deciding whether to choose GCSE Triple Science or Combined science, there are some questions that you should probably ask yourself to help you make the choice. The next section will get into these questions.

What should you consider before deciding between double and triple science?

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 to choose either combined 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. If this is something relating to science, then triple science could be a good option for you.

Do you enjoy science?

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. 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 workload?

Triple science is known for being hard and it also has a lot more content than combined science, so you must 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 (possibly 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. However, 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.

Ask your teacher what they think

Your science teacher will have a good understanding of your ability and is a great person to talk to when deciding between combined and triple science.  After all they have likely been teaching you for several years so will have access to all your classwork and previous test results.

I hope this article has helped you understand the differences between GCSE Combined and Triple Science. If you need some help or advice about choosing your GCSE options, then you should check out this Think Student article.

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1 year ago

Thank you