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Hi, my name is Amy, and i am a self confessed Chemistry nerd, and life long science enthustist, come and read my blog as I document my time at through college and university as I study chemistry to become a chemistry teacher. Please note, glasses are optional

February 2013 - The C Word

There is one C work that makes every students blood run cold in terror.....COURSEWORK. Investigative skills assessments or Externally Marked Practical Assignments are universally described as the bane of most students’ existence! I cannot tell you the amount of students I speak to that find practical exams the hardest part of their a-level courses. I am quite surprised by students that say that they hate practicals in science. To me, science is a practical subject, with chemistry being the most ‘hands-on’ of them all. Essentially within science, we are understanding the world around us, and being able to model its applications into situations where it would not necessarily commonly be found. However, this entry is not meant to discuss the big issues of science in the world, for that there are many arguments to even consider an informed opinion, instead, I wish to talk about practical’s within school/college laboratories and the evolution of practical coursework.

I am in a fortunate situation, where the college that I currently attend have a very hand on science department, and practicals are conducted with gusto and enthusiasm. When choosing my college after returning to conventional education, this was one of my biggest contributory factors of why I made the college my first choice. I had previously been at a college where practicals were few and far between. When I had left due to my ill health, I barely knew how to light a Bunsen burner! Coursework had also been a major part of our A-level and GCSE examinations, however, its practical nature had a lesser influence over the more modern coursework that takes place in colleges and schools across the nation today.

In 2007, the scientific coursework, (at least for biology and chemistry which I took at the time) was largely essay based, requiring the students before any practical work to research thoroughly the methods they were going to used to perform their experiments. Students were required to construct their own investigation for their individual topic, consider an objective and analyse any results and come to their own conclusions of the experiment and critique themselves, almost completely independently. This would sometimes take students an age, and I can remember one of my own pieces, when partially written up, as being over thirty-four pages long. It was essential a magnum opus of chemical knowledge! This coursework could take a student up to three to four weeks to complete, and at each stage, a draft would need to be submitted and critiqued by tutors. Though to many students this would seem to be a welcome relief from the pressure of practical coursework under time conditions, essay based coursework was extremely hard to get good marks on for most students, and was often left to the last minute, requiring many a sleep-less night and a cafe full of coffee to complete this tedious task by the deadline.

Having undertaken coursework in both forms, I am very grateful that coursework has now evolved into the more practical, ‘hands on’ examination it has become. To me, I feel better prepared by it, to be able to carry out practical’s in a laboratory setting than I ever have before. However, with any examination, the current coursework has its bad point. The integrated, ‘how science works’ part of the syllabus for all exam boards, like for many students, is rather hard to understand, it seems to only partially prepare you for the practical assessments that make up part of the course, it therefore falls to the ability of the teaching staff to get you through these tough, but rigorous parts of the A-level examination.

However, once fully understood coursework can either make, or break your grade, thus for this reason, it should be properly prepared for, and not treated lightly.
Posted by Amy King on Feb 13, 2013 12:57 AM GMT

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