Using a Course Specification

Using a Course Specification

October 1, 2021 | 3years | Home Education


What do I need to know in order to pass an examination? What do I need to do in order to pass an examination?

Often students will resort to trying to find the extent of a course’s requirements by trying to digest the contents of a book or course materials.

In fact the simplest answer to how to identify what you need to know and be able to do, is to get a hold of the exam specification document issued by the awarding body such as EDEXCEL or AQA.

These are freely available to download in PDF format from their respective websites.

Using a course Specification

OK, let’s look at some real examples.

You can access the EDEXCEL IGCSE science qualification or the AQA A level in English Language and Literature online.

So now you have the specification – what do you do with it?

The key element of the specification, from a student’s perspective, is the content section.

Let’s look at an example from the EDEXCEL IGCSE science specification:

2.16 write the word equation and the balanced chemical symbol equation for photosynthesis

Now, this element, tells you exactly what you need to know and do in the exam. Notice that the statement begins with a verb. In education this is known as “framing a question in behavioural terms.” In other words, the verb tells you what behaviour you need to carry out in order to demonstrate your knowledge or skill. In fact, in the exam, questions are also framed using the same behavioural terms.

So, an exam question based on this objective would look like:

Write down the word equation for photosynthesis.

Or, it could be:

Write down the balanced chemical symbol equation for photosynthesis.

Notice that the original statement defined two possible behaviours and therefore two possible questions.

Here is another example:

2.18 describe the structure of a leaf and explain how it is adapted for photosynthesis

Again, we have two different behaviours defined – an “explain” and a “describe”.

And that is it – they can’t ask you to do something in the exam that isn’t expressly written down in the specification document.

Differences in Specifications

Not all specifications are written in the same style. Many of the maths and science specifications go in for long lists of objectives that are easy to access and tick off as you master them.

Other specifications are less helpful and require much more interpretation. For example the AQA specification for English Language and Literature contains the following type of entry under the Assessment Criteria for Coursework:

Lower band 4 (23–25)

  • skilful and secure analysis and commentary
  • clear sense of context/variation/contextual influences underpins reading
  • sustained focus on texts and theme
  • coherently compares and contrasts writer’s choices of form, structure, mode, language
  • confident comparison

This sort of information gives you an idea of what the marker would be looking for in the written work.

Can Using a Course Specification Replace Books or Courses?


I suppose you would like some justification? The specification, even a detailed one like the science and maths ones, are simply a list of targets. Getting to those targets can often require a great deal of learning and practice. That is where good course material comes in.

The course material and the specification go together. You use the course material to get to the point where you know a lot, understand a lot and can do a lot. You use the specification to see just precisely what the examiner will want you to do.

Using the two, course and specification, is a real chicken and egg thing. A sensible approach is to have a quick look at the specification before you start a new section of work. Then do the work and then check the specification again to see if you really have got what they are looking for AND then, when you realise that you haven’t quite got everything, go back to the course materials with the gaps that you have identified and re-do those bits.

If you want to see the course materials that we have check out our GCSE courses and A LevelCourses.  You can even take a sample course for a spin.

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