A lot of you will have either completed a final mock or will be completing one in the net few weeks for the new science 9-1 GCSE. There’s a good chance that these are the specimen materials that have been released by the exam board to best prepare you for the real exam.

Specimen papers

Depending on what your school has done, if they’ve used the specimen papers straight from the exam board’s website, then they are going to be really, really, really hard! Your school may have changed them a little (or a lot), slotting in older exam questions, or changing parts of the questions/mark schemes.

The specimen papers the exam boards have released have not gone through the normal standardisation process that the summer exams will (the paper or the mark scheme). This means that while the questions may be in line with what you could expect to see, their wording or structure may be slightly different (especially if they are too hard/ambiguous/just plain wrong!). What I’ve noticed is that it’s the mark schemes that make it too hard to get a decent mark (not the grade, but the number of actual marks); in fact some mark schemes have required for a single mark, what a pupil would get 3 or 4 marks for a similar answer at A-level.

Are they really too hard or is this just my teachers saying this as we’re all doing terribly?

This seems to be the norm for specimen papers of new courses. When the new A-levels came out a few years ago, I had students achieving around 30% on the ‘official’ specimen papers, and then going on to achieve an A/A* in the final exams. It’s true that the level of difficulty has increased quite a lot, however you have to remember that exam boards are businesses and they cannot have every single person failing the course! Of course, you know if you’ve done terribly because the mark schemes are too specific, or the questions are worded in a way which made it really hard to know what the question wanted you to actually write. What you cannot do though, is bury your head in the sand and use this as an excuse for you doing badly, because you a) don’t understand the science b) haven’t committed it to memory c) didn’t both trying in the exam.

If everyone did badly, but you were towards the top end of the year, then you know that it may not be as bad as you think. Similarly, if you did the worst in the year, then there’s a good chance that unless something changes, then you’ll remain there and achieve a low-grade.

The big problem that all teachers are having across the country, is that we just don’t know though! The government wants GCSEs to be harder, although they there’s a nice normal distribution curve of grades (few get the worst grades, most get middle grades, few get top grades) so you’ve just got to make sure you do better than everyone else.

What’s the point of doing them then?!

These are the only past paper questions that have been released for the new 9-1 science exam board, so they at least give you a glimpse into what you could expect to see and the more exposure to exam questions the better.

When you go over the papers in class, it’s less important to know what you got correct, but rather what you didn’t in terms of the content! Even if you got a question correct, make sure you understand the additional marking points. Don’t put it in your book/folder and forget about it. Update your own revision notes with content from the mark schemes; updated your tracker sheets so you know what you’re weakest/strongest at;  go back over that content from the questions that you really didn’t have clue about.

Are there any more exam questions that I can use?

Your exam boards may have released additional material. These can usually be found on their websites, but it’s easiest to ask your teachers. I’ve also found that the old IGCSE biology, chemistry and physics past paper questions are most in line with the new course, so these could be a good place to go. The joy of science is that there is only a certain number of ways the same question can be asked, so the more you’ve done the higher chance you’ll recognise a similar question in the real exam.

Final thought

The mocks are there are a ‘dip test’ to see how you’re doing at this exact moment. If you did really well, great, keep it up and you should be happy with your results. If you didn’t, well now’s the time to make those changes you’ve been telling yourself you’ll do for the last 4 years. You’ve still got weeks left to fine tune those perfect answers, but it’s down to you!