The OCR exam board has suggested that A-level science should contain more assessed experiments. This comes as governmental reforms look to prevent coursework (including science practicals) from counting towards final A-level grades.

I don’t see how you can have both. Either practical skills are important enough to assess or they aren’t. I agree with OCR: A-level students must maximise their time in the lab developing their practical skills. By removing assessed practicals, you are sending a message that practical work is not as important as the final exam. You are also reducing the amount of compulsory practical activity in the qualification.

According to the BBC, Ofqual say they “want experiments to feature more in lessons, but not to be included in a student’s final grade.”

Is this not wanting your cake and eating it too? How do the exam boards know that experiments have featured in lessons without assessment? This relies on the teacher including practical on a non-compulsory basis. Or is Ofqual advocating compulsory formative assessment of practical skills?

Teachers have a limited amount of time. We focus on getting students the best grades possible. I fear that removing coursework assessment could lead to teachers focussing more on areas of the syllabus that count towards the final grade.

Worst case scenario: mock exams and exam technique replace practical lessons.

Practical work can embed learning and is certainly vital for any career or higher education in science. But given that experimental experience is so vital, why reduce the amount of assessed practical work in the course? Why not expand the amount of assessed practical work? This doesn’t mean increase the weighting of coursework in the overall grade, but requires grades from many, smaller experiments. This doesn’t need to increase workload either, if the marking of such experiments is made simple enough. It would be replace some of the teacher’s normal marking.

I can’t understand the logic in reducing/removing assessed practicals – what are your thoughts? How should controlled assessment be changed? Is there a justification for reducing the amount? How could Ofqual lower the numer of assessed practicals but increase the amount of experimental work overall? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!


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