Assessment objectives and GCSE Science

Assessment objectives

It is important to understand what is being assessed in the GCSE examinations. Assessment objectives are common across all examination boards because they have been set by OFQUAL. 

There are three objectives that are assessed in GCSE papers. They broadly link with Bloom’s taxonomy.

GCSE Science Assessment objectives


This assessment objective is defined as being able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of: scientific ideas; scientific techniques and procedures. In the AQA GCSE suite of subjects, the assessment has about 40% AO1 marks.

Arguably, AO1 marks are the easiest to access in the GCSE assessment as this is learning information from the specification and reproducing this in the examination. This is usually tested with command words such as: State, Describe, Define, Give, Label. 

So, with a good memory and being able to decode the examination, AO1 are marks that candidates can obtain without really understanding the information.  This is where low stakes testing to embed key information and the use of Knowledge Organisers can be really useful.


Apply knowledge and understanding of: scientific ideas; scientific enquiry, techniques and procedures is what is being assessed AO2.  This too forms about 40% of the GCSE assessment. 

AO2 is considered to be more challenging as students have to use their knowledge and skills to apply it to a given situation.  So, it is a step up on the Bloom’s taxonomy, compared to AO1.

It is interesting to look at the context of AO2 assessment in the different tiers. Often, in the foundation tier, familiar situations are used such as potato osmosis, but for higher tier it tends to be unfamiliar situations such as osmosis in carrots. These questions featured in the 2018 examination series. 

This Assessment Objective is usually tested with command words such as: Compare, Explain, Estimate, Use. By supporting students with applying what they have learnt or experienced in a lesson to an unfamiliar situation by modelling how to approach these questions can be really helpful. Share the decoding of the question, showing the students the information, the examiner has given them in the rubric and connect it to the information in the spec and show ho to synthesis this into an answer.


This assessment objective is widely considered to be the most challenging and makes up just 20% of the AQA GCSE assessment. It is defined as analyse information and ideas to: interpret and evaluate; make judgments and draw conclusions; develop and improve experimental procedures.

AO3 is usually assessed using command words such as:  Evaluate, Justify, Predict. To help students approach these questions, it can be useful to encourage small groups of students to collaborate. They can work together to brainstorm what they know and plan the answer together before writing their own personal answer. Then show students the mark scheme so they can reflect on their own answer and encourage them to annotate improvements. This is an exercise in critical thinking, with practice, confidence will grow and technique will become more refined and students will become increasingly successful at achieving marks for this learning objective.

Upcoming mock exams

It is reasonable that any Mock exams that we:

  • Give students a list of topics to revise and include helpful links such as BBC Bitesize to aid with revision
  • Have targeted revision lessons with low stakes tests to help students remember the key information
  • Modelling of answering examination questions
  • Give students a modified equation sheet for their Physics Mocks

Remember that these assessments could be used as evidence for the candidate’s grades. So, although they can be used as a learning resources afterwards, the school must retain them.

Author Sam Holyman's blog on supporting the new cohort in A Level Chemistry.

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