Mathematics in science

The issue

Mathematics enables students to understand and describe many scientific phenomena, but there is concern that assessment of the sciences at A-level do not properly reflect the analytical nature of the subjects. However, there is little evidence of the type and amount of mathematics that are required in order to access the science in the current A-level specifications.

Policy advice

  • There should be a review of the current mathematical requirements for each of the sciences at A-level to ensure the inclusion of appropriate areas of mathematics to support the science.
  • A framework should be developed to regulate the way mathematics within science A-levels are assessed, covering frequency and extent with which mathematical requirements are included in assessments, and the number of marks available for each level of difficulty.
  • University admissions should stipulate more clearly the appropriate mathematical requirements for STEM course entry.
  • The scientific community, including SCORE organisations, should work with ACME to consider appropriate and realistic post-16 options in mathematics to support the teaching and learning of the sciences at A-level.

Activities

The Institute of Physics led the 22-month research project on behalf of SCORE. The overall objective for the research was to provide evidence on the type, extent and difficulty of mathematics assessed in science A-levels and to establish whether the current assessments reflected the mathematical requirements of the sciences.

The findings show that a large number of mathematical requirements listed in the biology, chemistry and physics specifications are assessed in a limited way or not at all within these papers. The mathematical requirements that are assessed are covered repeatedly and often at a lower level of difficulty than required for progression into higher education and employment. Also highlighted is a disparity between awarding organisations in their assessment of the use of mathematics within biology, chemistry and physics A-level.