In this blog, Sobia gives you an idea of what to expect in 16+ Biology, Chemistry and Physics entrance exams. While knowledge recall is important, schools will be looking for candidates who illustrate strong analytical skills and a real understanding of key scientific concepts.
One question I am commonly asked by students preparing for the 16+ Science papers, is whether the content will be similar to the standard GCSE Science curriculum, or whether it will include some areas that they might not have studied at GCSE.
The answer to this is that the content of 16+ Science papers should not include anything you haven’t studied at school. In fact, because the 16+ exams happen around January, which is before students have had time to cover everything in the science curriculum, there may be some flexibility here in terms of levels of knowledge. It is frequently seen as acceptable if a student cannot answer a question about some area that hasn’t been covered at school yet.
So what is the difference between 16+ papers and GCSE papers? The examiners at 16+ are more interested in your level of understanding and ability to analyse, rather than your recall of knowledge. What they really want to test are your thinking skills. Therefore, the questions you encounter are likely to be unusual in their style rather than content.
For example, in a Biology 16+ paper you could be asked to do an extended question, which is a bit like a mini-essay, on a particular topic e.g. Homeostasis. To answer this question effectively you would describe homeostasis and give examples, but also demonstrate that you understand the mechanisms behind homeostasis, and the underlying principles of how it works. If we look at biology as a subject, there are certain principles that apply across many topics such as surface area, or diffusion, regulation or balance, pressure and circulation, and so on. You could also be asked to analyse data which may be slightly more complex than that in GCSE papers.
In Chemistry, you might have to demonstrate that you can understand graphs and data as well. This could be to do with rates of reaction, enthalpy changes and so on. As in Biology, the emphasis is on understanding the underlying dynamics of a process, and being able to apply your knowledge. There will also be run of the mill GCSE type questions, but this also varies from school to school, and you may just be faced with 6 structured questions (as per a recent Wycombe Abbey format), all of which are quite challenging.
Physics is probably the paper which would be the most challenging at 16+, but presumably, you would only apply to sit this paper if you are strong in this area! There is simply more room to include challenging questions in Physics, because you can be made to apply your knowledge quite extensively without going off the curriculum. This could be anything from orbital gravity to Newtons Laws of Motion. It will all be related to what you have studied, but go beyond in terms of thinking skills.
It is also a good idea generally, across the sciences, to be aware of general scientific principles such as variables in an experiment, reliability and validity, and so on.
The best preparation, apart from knowing your subject content really well, is to sit actual 16+ past papers (or questions of this style that are designed to test your understanding of a subject) as practice. It will allow you to get used to the type of question you could face, and gain confidence in completing them under exam conditions.