Can you study science A levels by distance learning?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Editor's note: since this post was first published there have been a number of positive developments and NEC's exam booking service now offers non-examination assessments (NEA) such as A level science practical endorsements in addition to written exams. Please contact us if you would like to know more. You may also find this more recent post useful.

A series of glass test tubes containing different colored liquids

Sciences at A level are NEC’s most popular subjects and one question we are asked on a regular basis is ‘is it possible to study a science by distance learning?’

The answer: Absolutely yes!

NEC have just launched 3 new Gold Star A levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

One of the reasons we’re often asked if science A levels can be studied at a distance is the practical work. Can you really do this from home?

We’ll answer this in two parts: the core practicals throughout the course and the assessment of practical work.

What are the core practicals?

At A level you’ll be expected to gain knowledge of certain practical procedures and processes. Throughout the course you’ll come across core practicals which are designed to help you achieve this.

In the course the practicals that you need to have knowledge of will be explained in a lot of detail and have accompanying questions to help you to understand the process and operations you’re using. We’ll always give sample results as part of the knowledge you are expected to gain is how to present and analyse these.

On some occasions though, you will have your own results to analyse because where possible, we’ll also show you how you can do the practical in your own home. We’ve put an example below, you might want to give it a try!

A level Chemistry: Making a standard solution

What you’ll learn:

This practical will help you to develop the skill of making a solution of accurately known concentration. Not as straightforward as it sounds, each operation needs to be done in a specific way.

  • How to make a standard solution
  • Taking a correct reading from the meniscus on a liquid surface
  • Calibration of glassware


What you’ll need:

  • Scales accurate to 0.01g- Your kitchen scales might work for this
  • Volumetric flask - You can pick these up on Amazon for around £5
  • Beaker and glass stirrer - you can use a clean cup and teaspoon for this (but only if your substance and solvent are things you would usually find in the kitchen)
  • A substance such as citric acid  or sodium hydrogen carbonate (better known as sodium bicarbonate) or tartaric acid (better known as cream of tartar)
  • A solvent - distilled water is ideal
  • Container for weighing such as a weighing boat or small container (note: it needs to be washable so you cannot use paper)


What you do:

  • Weigh your empty container
  • Add your substance and then weigh again, making a note of the weight
  • Add the substance to your beaker (unless of course, you’ve used your beaker as as your empty container)
  • Add some of your solvent-about a third of the quantity you will need overall
  • Transfer your solution to the volumetric flask
  • Rinse the beaker and anything else you have use for the solid and transfer the washings to the volumetric flask
  • Add solvent to the flask until the lower edge of the meniscus reaches the mark on the neck


You’re done! You should now have enough data to calculate the concentration of the solution you have made.

What about practical exams?

The A level exam is written, with no practical element. Having said this, throughout the exam you will be expected to use your understanding of practical theory to answer questions. You will have gained this knowledge through the core practicals we talked about above.

For some university programmes, like medicine, you will need to demonstrate practical skills as well as knowledge. In addition to the A level, you will be able to gain a practical endorsement to show this. This practical endorsement does not form part of the full A level, but is an additional grade that you can achieve.

Find out more

To learn more about NEC and our full range of flexible distance learning courses, including A levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, visit our website or speak to our team. We can also be found on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Keep up with all the latest news and events by subscribing to our newsletter!
 

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