What is the difference between GCSE Combined Science, Triple and Separate Science?

Deciding on GCSE options? Or wondering about course content and structure? This might help.

The GCSE science course names can be a little bit confusing if you are not a teacher. But, as a student, it is important to know the difference so you know what to study and what you can do once you achieve your qualification. Here is a quick guide for parents, students and trainee teachers.

Remember the grades are no longer letters, A*, B, C, etc. but are now numbers with the highest being 9 and the lowest being 1.

Combined vs Triple vs Separate Science

The first thing is, that triple science and separate science are the same thing when talking about GCSE science courses in the UK. For this article I will use 'Triple Science'. So really, the courses available to school are:

1. Combined Science

2. Triple Science

What is GCSE Trilogy?

This is the name that the AQA exam board gave to their Combined Science course. So for AQA, Combined Science and Trilogy are the same thing. There is also a Combined Science course for AQA called Synergy, which is a course that fewer schools do.

What is Gateway Science and Twenty First Century Science?

These are the names of the courses for science from the OCR exam board. The idea is the same, there is Separate Science or Combined Science. It’s just that schools have a choice of studying Gateway or Twenty First Century Science. So if a student is doing Separate Science (triple science) with OCR, they could be doing Gateway or Twenty First Century.

Worth noting that the Edexcel exam board have kept it nice and simple, you can either study Combined Science or Separate Science, no fancy names.

So, as you can tell, it can be very confusing! However the key decision for which course you follow, is not so much about the names of the courses, but is about a student’s interest in science and possible future aspirations.

GCSE Combined Science

GCSE Combined Science is worth 2 GCSEs. It used to be referred to as double science but the exam boards call it Combined Science. It can be sat at higher and foundation level. Students gain two grades shown as, for example, 8-7 or 7-7. The grades are always one apart at the most so you won't see a grade 8-6 awarded. This course takes up less time and there is less content to learn. There are six exam papers to sit and the papers are shorter than those taken for Triple Science. The lessons and exam papers are however, separated into Biology, Chemistry and Physics but you don't get separate grades for each paper.

GCSE Triple Science

This course is worth 3 separate GCSEs. You can achieve different grades for each of the sciences, for example Biology 8, Chemistry 9 and Physics 7. Most students do all three but some schools may allow students to sit one or two of these GCSEs. This course is sometimes perceived to be more prestigious than Combined Science and those students wanting to pursue science at A level will often take this option. However you don't have to do this course if you want to do one or more science subjects at A level. Some students take this option simply because they are interested, but don't necessarily want to do A level sciences.

Triple Science can also be sat at higher and foundation levels, but not many students do the foundation level. The course has more content to cover than Combined Science, but there are still the same number of exams to sit - 6. The papers are longer because they assess more content.

Is Triple Science harder than Combined Science?

Not really. The higher level content is about the same difficulty but because there is more content in triple science, there is often more higher level content to learn. For example in Chemistry, there are more of the tricky calculations to learn. They are not necessarily harder to learn, there are just more of them.

Can I get grades 7 to 9 in Combined Science?

Yes you can! Both Triple Science and Combined Science qualifications give access to the higher grades.

Shall I do Triple or Combined Science?

The main thing is, if you enjoy science, then you might consider the triple science course. Remember, you will be doing a lot more science in the week so you have to like it. You don't have to do triple if you want to choose one or more of the sciences at A level, although some sixth forms will be picky and insist you have Triple Science. Check with the sixth for you want to attend, just in case.


Triple Science has more content to learn, the exam papers are longer but you get 3 separate GCSEs. You will spend more of your week doing science. Combined Science will give you 2 GCSEs because there is less to learn but you can still do A level sciences if you do this course. You can achieve all the way up to grade 9 for either course.

And finally

Remember, you can get access to all of the lessons needed for AQA GCSE Combined and Triple Science for paper 1, by registering for free. Or if you want the top level package, subscribe for video lessons for all the paper 1 and 2 content plus exam questions and answers for every single lesson. Have questions of comments or want to leave a review? Use the contact form, I'd love to hear from you.

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