Biology 07/10/2019

Biology GCSE 2019 – Examiner report update


This blog provides an updated summary of the examiner reports for the Biology GCSE Science papers. It covers both 2018 and 2019.

The introduction of the 9-1 Science GCSEs has been a challenging experience for students and teachers alike. Consequently, examiners’ reports are more useful than ever as a diagnostic tool to help teachers provide targeted guidance to students taking these exams in future.

This blog provides a summary of the examiner reports for both the 2018 and 2019 Biology papers, with a focus on 2019. Next to each point, we highlight the relevant year.

The summary covers both combined science and the separate sciences, foundation tier and higher tier. We have used the examiner reports prepared for the AQA exam board, but the same lessons apply to students taking Edexcel and OCR exams.

The links below provide tables of grade boundaries for all three sciences.


Traditionally, Biology has had the highest grade boundaries of the three sciences, as students found the subject more accessible than Chemistry or Physics. But that is no longer the case, because the introduction of more advanced topics to the Biology specification (some of them previously taught at A-level) has proved a major challenge. Below we highlight key points from the examiner reports, which help explain why grade boundaries in Biology remain relatively low.

The examiners reported that, overall, AO1 (knowledge) questions were answered well, including answers to simple factual questions and questions which required basic calculations such as percentage change. The problems were with in-depth knowledge: answering AO2 questions (apply knowledge) and AO3 questions (analyse, interpret, evaluate, draw conclusions). [2018]

We’ve split the examiners comments into five categories: Key exam skills, Maths skills, Graph skills, Required practicals and Subject areas for development.

Key exam skills

Key exam skills were lacking in both 2018 and again in 2019 and accounted for a large share of lost marks, according to the examiners. Many marks were missed due to students giving vague ideas. Examiners suspected that many students may well have known the answers if they had “stopped to think”. [2019]

They suggested that teachers encourage students to stop and review answers to check that they have included the required scientific detail. [2019] When dealing with extended response questions, examiners recommended that students are reminded to give attention to all information in the stem of the question rather than to just a few aspects and added that students should be advised to “marshal their ideas in a brief plan” before answering. [2018, 2019]

The examiners commented regularly on errors that could have been addressed by improving students’ exam technique. Specifically:

The errors above can be addressed by using My GCSE Science to help improve students’ exam technique. My GCSE Science long-form exam-style questions and corresponding mark schemes help students build an in-depth understanding of each topic while at the same time developing exam technique.

Our teachers have also prepared blogs that deal directly with exam skills:

Graph skills

A significant number of students were unable to read values from a graph accurately, or plot an even scale and axis. [2019] Students struggled to compare data from the graphs provided and found It difficult to deal with data with unusual scales. [2018] Many students lost marks when drawing scale pyramids of biomass, for example, by forgetting to label axes. [2018]

My GCSE Science teachers have written a blog that deals directly with many of the graph-related issues raised by the examiners in 2018 and 2019. It is available here:

Maths skills

More students are showing their working for calculations and students generally demonstrated good maths skills, according to the examiners. [2019]

Our teachers have written blogs on maths skills, which cover all of the issues raised by the examiners above, and are available free on

Required practicals

In 2018, examiners reported that students lacked exposure to and in-depth understanding of required practicals and, as a result, they lost many marks on a number of exam questions. In 2019, examiners reiterated the necessity for all students to have the opportunity to carry out all required practicals throughout their GCSE course. However in general, questions regarding required practical showed an improvement compared with 2018.

It’s clear that, in preparing students for the 2020 exams, a focus on the teaching and learning of required practicals continues to be essential for all schools.

My GCSE Science complements lab demonstrations with learning videos on each of the required practicals. These videos are useful as preparation ahead of a class demonstrations and can also be used for revision. Our exam-style questions on practicals thoroughly test students’ knowledge and help prepare them for the exams. All videos on required practicals are available by clicking on the PRACTICALS button at the top of the video dashboard, or by using the SEARCH function.

In addition, our teachers have prepared a number of blogs that deal directly with the issues raised by examiners and summarised above. The blogs are invaluable sources of advice on required practicals and graph skills, for teachers and students alike. They are available free on

Subject areas for development



My GCSE Science

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