Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Sciences - Chemistry

For Catholic students wishing to study Chemistry either at IGCSE or A level it poses no problems morally!

Chemistry has always been regarded by the majority as the toughest science and most children who study it will have been studying basic Chemistry  for at least three years previously.

From personal experience (and not all positive!) children who wish to study the IGCSE Chemistry really should be very familiar with all the basic formulas and so on and this whole course is extremely rigorous and demands previous knowledge. It is also a course that needs time dedicated to it- at least a year. (It is a two year course anyway so completing it in one academic year is no mean feat!)

As Chemistry is a rather abstract subject it is useful to have various thought provoking programmes on hand as supplements to the course itself. The Khan Academy and Dr Brown's Lab      can provide animated and stimulating lessons on line which may make the science more real for the student.

Again, as with the other subjects, the GCSE requires course work and they are also far less demanding than the IGCSE. As I have mentioned numerous times already, the standard of the IGCSE sciences compared to that of the GCSE is really apparent. They demand more depth and call upon knowledge the student will have studied rather than just facts which are learnt and regurgitated.

The two main boards offering the Chemistry IGCSE are CIE and Edexcel. They consist of three separate exams; multiple choice, an intense theory paper (usually the arduous of the three!), and the alternative to practical paper which is as it sounds, a paper which students take if they're not in school and able to do practical tests. It presents a scientific experiment and the student must answer questions based on this.

A friend and fellow home educator has designed IGCSE courses for the three sciences. She writes;

' I have written distance learning courses to help home educators to study for Biology, Chemistry and Physics as single IGCSE subjects and also for the Double award Science IGCSE. All these courses are available for both the CIE and Edecxcel specifications. There is no practical examination necessary so they are perfectly accessable to private candidates.

 Do take a look at my website for more information or email me I am a home educating mum, of four myself, and took my BSc Hons degree with the Open University so I understand all about distance learning and studying at home.  '

Many home educators use Sam's courses with success. A list of the required books are given and the student's work is marked by Sam and corrected.

The C.I.E board offers IGCSE Chemistry;

The Edexcel board offers IGCSE Chemistry too;

A sample paper from C.I.E November 2010, not for the faint hearted!;

Chemistry is an absorbing subject yet I honestly believe children need good grounding in all three sciences before embarking on the IGCSE.

Not being a scientist in any shape or form myself  (English, Catechism and Art are my favourites) I especially welcome any wise words on this subject!


  1. The following comment is from Tom Winsdor, a science teacher who has taught home educated children for 10 years and has a host of experience. Thank you Tom!

    After my sometime boss Sir Richard Sykes (and other scientists) described what was then the new GCSE science qualification as being more suitable for the pub quiz, than a career in science, and had a look and I agreed fully with their findings.

    I then started by looking at the IGCSE qualification after a group of parents asked me to start a GCSE science group. I looked at both the Cambridge (CIE) and London (EDEXCEL), that are still the only boards I know of that set IGCSE.

    CIE (Separate sciences)
    This is a very good qualification, it is more like an O-Level... The past papers are easy to access and their seems to be a good deal of support. The text books I have seen are very similar to old O-level books I have in my vast collection of school text books.

    The only problem with this exam is that it is much more difficult than the London board's IGCSE. I have not recommended this exam to anyone although in hind sight I would recommend it to the most academic of pupils, that also importantly have an interest in science. I have tutored only 4 or so pupils who have all sat the Biology exam. These were all girls who really enjoyed the extra content, and the in-depth explanations (well in-depth compared with GCSE!)

    These lot want to make money... Exam papers can be difficult to get, although this has improved after Government action. The syllabus for each of the separate science IGCSE is very narrow and the same questions are asked again and again... The Pass marks are very low, which can be a good thing for those with little experience of exams.

    I have used both the Collins and the Pearson text books, I prefer the Pearson (so many of the examples used in the text have appeared later as exam questions!), the Pupils usually prefer the Collins (I think this is because the layout is clearer, and there are bigger pictures!)

    While the Biology text book contains a section on Evolution, this can be removed, as the syllabus only mentions adaption of species to their environment. The other key section for Catholics is that of Reproduction, and this section of the syllabus is so brief and therefore so much better than any other I have ever seen. The exam papers have shown an obsession this the female reproductive system with at least 4 questions over the last 6 or so years.

    1. Thank you for such an insightful comment.

      It is refreshing to hear your opinion that the CIE board is a harder exam than the Edexcel.
      Both my teens did the CIE Biology and found it very rigorous and trying.

      I think it is a good idea for home educated children to receive some elementary science in the early years to prepare them fittingly for these exams as they are of a high standard.

      God Bless your work!