A-levels 2017: Top science grades take a tumble

There was a sharp fall in top grades for science A-levels this year, following significant reforms to their content.

The proportion of A* and A grades awarded to 18-year-olds in England has dropped 2.3 percentage points in biology, 2 points in chemistry and 1.6 points in physics.

Biology, chemistry and physics were among the 13 A-level subjects reformed this year, in which optional first year exams were removed from counting towards the final grades.

The material within the content and the skills that are required now are significantly less familiar

Mark Bedlow, from the OCR exam board, said content in sciences had been changed to “address some of the demands” made by universities, which wanted “more mathematical content”.

“Particularly in biology we’ve introduced much more mathematical content and that is an area that candidates have struggled to adapt to,” he said. “We will see different subject and candidates sitting those subject adapt in different ways.”

Gareth Pierce, chief executive WJEC, also said the content and skills required for the the new science A-levels was “significantly less familiar” for pupils this year.

All boards used a “comparable outcomes approach” to overcome these issues by adjusting grade boundaries so pupils of similar ability to those in last year’s cohort achieved similar grades despite the changes.

The proportion of A* and A grades awarded to 18-year-olds in England this year fell from 29.9 per cent to 27.6 per cent in biology, from 35.3 per cent to 33.3 per cent in chemistry and from 32.3 per cent to 30.7 per cent in physics.

There was also a drop in the proportion of A*s, which fell from 10.8 per cent to 8.6 per cent in biology, from 9.5 to 9.1 per cent in chemistry and from 10.1 per cent to 9.8 per cent in physics.

Sharon Hague, from Pearson, said the focus on the results of 18-year-old pupils specifically was in order to “get a simple like-for-like comparison”.

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