As anticipated the exam Boards such as Edexcel and AQA have published their “advance information” changes to assessment content for the 2022 exams including GCSE. If you recall, the purpose is to offset the difficulties pupils have endured due to the Covid disruptions. The indication is this is just for 2022.
I myself would have kept the content pretty much the same but made the questions easier by making them more on-syllabus, and less obtuse and wordy; but anyway we now have the Boards’ pretty specific topic list of what will or won’t be assessed, and I have taken a quick look at my specialities for Edexcel Maths and AQA Triple and Combined Science (see also web links at the end of the article which cover all subjects). I am sure teachers will be explaining these to pupils and parents alike, but here is my immediate take, initially on Higher.
Towards the end of this document, I also include a little on grade boundaries, formulae sheets and Mock exams and finish with some overall conclusions and take-aways. Also I have included an update on topic-targeted mocks I’ve created.
But let’s start with what is in (the “main focus areas”) and what is out.
For Higher Pearson Edexcel Maths, the amount of content reduction is very low, so most topics are still in there – about 90 topics are listed as “main focus areas” i.e. are “in”. It looks like a few difficult ones like Quadratic Sequence, Completing the Square, Congruence, Volume of cone and sphere, Proofs, and Iteration are excluded from assessment now.
Sometimes there is some ambiguity: compound interest is mentioned in the formula sheet but not in the list of included assessed topics so perhaps will be needed for growth, decay, depreciation; while for Angles the easier parallel line topic seems excluded while the more difficult polygon and circle theorem topics are included.
Mostly the topic list is precise enough to revise from but not so specific so as to tell you the question – this is as it should be. But sometimes the description is so specific that you can almost anticipate the question – such as capture recapture, and equation of a tangent to a circle.
Overall the Maths changes are fair. About 90% of topics remain included. Any exclusions are spread fairly evenly across the main headings of Algebra, Geometry etc.
Ideally (like science below) a list of exclusions (as well as inclusions) would have been stated by Pearson, but hopefully my pointers above will help and no doubt teachers will firm up on these in due course. The implied exclusions will reduce revision time slightly, but note the preamble does ask teachers to teach the full content anyway.
For AQA science the picture is different from Edexcel Maths; from modest exclusions for Chemistry to almost the opposite for Biology i.e. very few Biology inclusions (Bizarre, I know!). Let me explain.
First Triple. For Chemistry the content at first sight seems to remain largely untouched. There are only two minor “not to be assessed” exclusions listed – nanoparticles and (strangely considering their importance) greenhouse gases.
There are a large number of topic headings listed as “main focus areas of assessment” such as Periodic Table (section 4.1.2). So far so good.
But then you think, what about 4.1.1? This is the all-important atomic and electronic structure section – which helps you understand 4.1.2 Periodic table – yet is not listed in the inclusions. Similarly, section 4.8 is not mentioned at all – Chemical analyses such as Chromatography and Flame tests – and yet the core Practical involving Flame tests IS included.
(And although I have not looked at Foundation in detail, strangely there are MORE listed topics in Foundation than Higher; so while atomic structure is not listed in Higher, it is included in Foundation. My take on that is this: in Higher there won’t be a specific question on, for example, atomic structure; but pupils would be advised to learn it anyway because it informs so many other parts of the syllabus from Periodic table onwards. I wonder if the Examiners have thought the communication of this through! I think maybe teachers will agree with me and err on the side of caution and continue to teach fundamental topics like this anyway)
I think there is some clarification needed on what needs to be revised. In the preamble to the lists (for all Sciences) the Board indicates that topics not specifically listed as “in assessment” may still be included in “low tariff or linked questions” which confirms my view that pupils should still revise most of the syllabus to be on the safe side.
On balance I think the list of Chemistry “in topics” does indeed help and is sometimes very specific , like section 4.10.4 (Haber process/NPK fertilisers – so there’s almost certainly a question on this- and it links to another inclusion on Reversible reactions) ; although sometimes less specific (like 4.4.3 Electrolysis). I think they are trying to pinpoint the particular questions likely to be asked. For all the sciences the devil may be in the detail: the specific numbered subsections may sometimes give the game away. Myself and teachers will no doubt be trying to second guess these questions!
Note that for Chemistry and all Sciences the Board emphasise that the type of question will not change and the general scientific methods including maths skills and practical experiment interpretation are still needed. The specific core practical list (a bit reduced ) is well pinpointed and I strongly recommend pupils revise the short videos available on these; high chance of specific questions on these practicals.
For Physics the list of inclusions is narrowed down considerably to essentially Particle Model, Energy, Forces, Momentum, Pressure, Waves and Space.
And unlike Chemistry above, the list of “exclusions from assessment” is very long and specific. So out go most of Electricity, most or all of Radioactivity and Atomic Structure, and Magnetism altogether. And yet there is some ambiguity to resolve. Section 4.2.4 energy transfer is included and this includes Power, Current and Voltage i.e. electrics; and yet the basics of that, namely amps, potential and circuits from 4.2.1 to 4.2.3 are specifically excluded.
Some of these exclusions are topics which have been a staple for pupils at school since Year 7 and before and it seems actually unfair on pupils to exclude the basics of electricity and magnetism which for some would have been easier than let’s say Space. I suppose you can’t have it both ways: since broad education is meant to be more important per se than the exams themselves, in a sense it does not matter if they are examined on a topic. On the other hand, to “waste” five years work with just a few month’s notice may annoy many pupils, who having already finished the topic by now and would be quite happy to be examined upon them.
For Biology triple, like Physics there are considerable reductions; the inclusions are narrowed down to Cell Structure, tissues, organ systems, diseases, antibodies, nervous systems, hormones, reproduction, parts of ecosystem.
There are a long list of exclusions, for instance the whole of staples like Evolution won’t be assessed. And again there are ambiguities: nothing from the large section on Section 4 Bioenergetics is included; and yet only a small part (126.96.36.199 Taking Exercise) is specifically excluded. Bioenergetics describes the core biology fundamentals of Photosynthesis and Respiration and pupils have learned these no doubt from year 7 and they have featured in almost every past paper. To not test pupils on this seems perverse. But since very little has been specifically excluded from section 4, should pupils after all revise it anyway? My take is that there won’t be a specific question on section 4 Bioenergetics, but it would be prudent to still revise as it infuses the remainder of the syllabus and there may be a “linked” or low tariff” question on this core topic.
Similarly, 4.5.2 Nervous System is a main focus area, but from it 4.5.1 (structure function), 4.5.2 (brain) and 4.5.3 (eye) are excluded. This is useful as it leaves only 4.5.4 (temperature), implying a specific question. But it would be unwise to ignore the introductory 4.5.1 as it informs 4.5.4.
The list of required Biology practicals, as for other sciences, is reduced but still very specific. So the staple Quadrat and Mass of Potato chips practicals are included as ever and the fact they have survived points very clearly to a question this year (as almost every year) and their video should be watched, understood and learned.
In Combined Science (Higher) the picture is similar as for Triple;
Combined Chemistry lists several very specific inclusions, similar Included content to Triple Chemistry, and almost zero exclusions mentioned.
For Combined Physics a focus on Energy and particles as with Triple, but this time including Radiation and Motor Effect and EM Waves (so Combined has more extensive content than Triple!) And again ambiguity: series and parallel circuits are excluded as an assessment topic, yet the required practical on these is Included. Similarly 6.7.2 the Motor Effect – which has its roots in magnetic fields – is included, yet 6.7.1 the basics of magnetism is excluded.
For Combined Biology, a very short specific list of inclusions and very long list of exclusions. The list of inclusions is slightly different to Triple, for instance Photosynthesis is included.
Discussion on science lists.
There is some ambiguity to be resolved, by the AQA Board or perhaps by teachers. If something is neither included in assessment, nor specifically excluded from assessment, should it still be revised, to be safe, in case “linked or low tariff” questions arise? I think in some cases a topic can be eliminated altogether, but in others it would pay to revise just in case; so some detailed analysis will be required to make that call. If the Exam Boards’ “exclusion lists” are taken too literally, some precious revision may be missed which in fact may contribute to “linked” questions.
For English, if a set book is excluded that presumably can safely be put aside. But for chemistry, if “atomic structure” is not to be assessed, then it would be a mistake to simply not revise it, because it informs so much of the surviving other topics.
The Boards have indicated that boundaries will be set somewhere between normal, and the last two years.
Many schools have already penciled in exams for after half term in late February 2022. The dilemma for teachers is, shall we complete the syllabus testing as normal to encourage a full learning experience; or shall we adjust them to exclude the “not being assessed” topics, in order to avoid wasted revision time? No doubt teachers will be crawling through the fine detail of today’s lists, just like I have done above!
For Physics, as before the formulae are extensive. For Maths, intriguingly, some of the few formulae which were given last time are not this time (for spheres and cones) confirming their probable absence from assessment. While formulae like quadratic formulae and sin and cosine rule are included now, indicating their probable inclusion in assessment.
The Boards have rightly kept their promise to publish by February 7th
The timing of the announcement seems about right; earlier, and some topics would not have been taught at all; later and some revision time would have been wasted.
The Exam Boards in their announcements and preambles have stressed they still want as much of the content to be taught and revised as possible. But with their list of exclusions, inevitably the precious, finite teaching and revision time will not be devoted to topics on the “not to be assessed” lists. This is useful , as long as care is taken when dropping topics.
Maths is relatively untouched compared to the sciences and revision should still cover around 90% of topics. The basics are all still there and the exclusions are often niche standalones.
Chemistry has very few specific exclusions, and a broad list of main inclusions, but gaps in this list indicate some additional topics will not be assessed.
Physics and Biology have long lists of exclusions and short lists of inclusions. The topics have been considerably reduced. In my opinion reduced too much – some fundamentals have been eliminated.
But for the Sciences the sub-section numbers listed from the specification which do survive as “included” can often give very specific pointers to the content of the question
A key phrase in the Sciences preamble is “Topics not explicitly given in any (main focus) list may (still nevertheless) appear in low tariff questions or via ‘linked’ questions, (but) topics not assessed (at all) either directly or through ‘linked’ content have been listed as “not to be assessed”.
Hence there is some ambiguity to be resolved in Science in terms of what topics to revise – there are three categories: first, about 70% are essential to revise; and then (15%) topics not listed as key focus areas, yet are fundamentals so may crop up in linked or low tariff questions, and so should probably be revised anyway; and finally (15%) those definitely excluded from assessment – only these can be truly de-prioritised.
The type of science question is not altered i.e. could still include unusual applications, maths calculations, and practicals: the core practicals listed are very specific and may indicate precise questions – so have high revision priority.
I think the above lists will be communicated and ambiguities resolved for pupils in the coming weeks. If any parent or pupils have questions please don’t hesitate to ask your teachers, or myself as I believe I can help.
Update March 7th 2022
I have created Mock exams featuring two or more questions on every one of the Paper 1 , 2 and 3 Higher and Foundation maths Pearson Edexcel inclusion lists. Their specific topic list for each paper is very useful, for instance: in Higher Maths the highly niche topic of Capture Recapture appears only in paper 2 and likewise Frequency Polygon only Paper 3, and a quick refresh just before those exam dates would pay dividends.
I also created topic targeted Mocks for AQA Triple and, separately Combined science, and together with Maths these proved very useful to pupils in their actual Mocks especially as I added my own explanatory notes over and above the sometimes rather bare official mark schemes. I also managed to get some of the very latest exam Board questions in too.
I have also begun to research the 2022 topic lists for the specialist qualifications like Further Maths, iGCSE, and OCR FSMQ and also the Edexcel Sciences.