Changes to biology A level test-methods result in stronger practical skills

A study from the exams regulator Ofqual has shown that students studying reformed biology have stronger practical skills than those who took the pre-reform qualification.

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

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 per cent 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.

Previously, 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.

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.

The practical skills of pre and post-reform students studying chemistry and physics remained broadly similar and there had been no deterioration.

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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