Science

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The Independent Online

What is it?: All the science subjects rolled into one A-level. Students study hot scientific topics such as atmospheric pollution, genetically modified foods, and climate change. In doing so, they dip into physics, chemistry and biology, as well as earth and environmental sciences. For their coursework module, students can pick any scientific topic that interests them.

Why do it?: "This course makes you scientifically literate," says Helen Eccles, chair of examiners in science A-level at OCR. "From the rights and wrongs of GM crops to cloning to whether it's safe to have a satellite telephone mast outside your house, this course enables students to get to grips with the important scientific issues of the day." If you enjoyed science at GCSE, but can't face a specialised science A-level, this could be the course for you.

What skills do you need?: Grade C in any science subject at GCSE.

How much practical work is there?: It's up to individual schools. For example, you might study the water quality of a nearby river.

Ratio of coursework to exams: 20:80.

Is it hard?: You won't study topics in as much depth as for A-levels in physics, chemistry or biology, but the breadth of your studies will be impressive. "Students have to master all aspects of science," says Helen Eccles.

Who takes it?: A select few.

How cool is it?: As cool as science A-levels get. You'll get a grasp of science, without being seen as a geek.

Added value: It's more student-focused than other science A-levels. Learning is often done by reading scientific articles, doing presentations and conducting experiments, rather than via lectures.

What subjects go with it?: Designed to be taken with non-science A-levels, geography goes well with it.

What degrees does it lead to?: It doesn't qualify you to do a science degree in itself, but it is useful in other degrees, from nursing to geography to media studies.

Will it set you up for a brilliant career?: It will give you the edge over applicants who can't tell a neutron from a crouton. Useful for nursing, the civil service, the media and the law.

What do the students say?: "I chose it because I'm interested in the environment," says Melanie Kerr, 17, who is also doing A-levels in media studies and geography at Queen Mary's College, Basingstoke. "I particularly enjoyed studying remote sensing, when a satellite is used to observe the health of vegetation and global land-use.

Which awarding bodies offer it?: OCR.

How widely available is it? Only 50 centres offer it.

c.rudebeck@independent.co.uk

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