Key Stage 3 Science – Why it is important for students?

Posted on August, 2021

Key Stage 3 Science – Introduction

Key stage 3 science is often underestimated and underappreciated. It is very important for students to build their knowledge of the basics during the first three years of secondary school, and key stage 3 provides the time and opportunity for students to work towards their GCSEs.

In my view, there are three main ways these years should be used:

1. To reinforce topics that are extant areas of weakness from primary school

Number 1 is important because primary school has a few science topics which have to be covered in some detail such as the human body, skeletons and bones, the water cycle, animals and insects, etc. Most of these scientific topics are not covered in great detail at primary school, but it is important that students have built a wide-foundation. A really effective resource for helping children with primary school science and early key stage 3 is the First Aid in Science & the answer book.

2. To explore experimental methods

Although there is a little scope for students at primary school to conduct experiments, they usually have a few opportunities to engage in some observational projects. I remember, even when I was at school, we saw frogspawn turn into tadpoles, and would have had the chance to observe the tadpoles turn into frogs, had a girl in my class not broken the tank with a rock. We also had the chance to raise caterpillars so they could form cocoons and eventually emerge as butterfly. In addition, I remember a particular time when we actually attemped to grow some grass seeds in different media, to see how environments affected plant growth.

Even though there are these opportunities, the majority of experience in experimental methods happens at secondary school, as there is access to science teachers, labs and equipment. Certainly, there is opportunity at secondary school to conduct more dangerous experiments involving chemicals and fire. My first encounter with a bunsen burner left my timetable somewhat charred, but I did learn a critical lesson about combustion reactions. Key stage 3 science grants students the opportunity to learn the basics of scientific method, record results in tables, present data in graphs and interpret findings.

3. To progress onto more difficult topics that will be relevant during GCSEs

One reason why key stage 3 science is so important, is because it is a great opportunity for students to pre-learn fundamental concepts which will come up in their GCSE exams.

For instance, during key stage 3, students find out about how mixtures are separated in different ways. These ways are filtration, distillation, and evaporation. These concepts not only appear in the GCSE course, but learning about distillation students understand the linked concept of fractional distillation which is a crucial concept when learning organic chemistry.

Similarly, in biology, your understanding of osmosis will be built-upon the key stage 3 science topic of diffusion. Diffusion is a process that describes the net movement of particles from a high-concentration to a low concentration. Osmosis, on the other hand, is the movement of water from a high water potential  to a low water potential, across a semi-permeable membrane. A student who is able to understand the concept of diffusion, has less of a struggle learning about osmosis.

In physics, students learn about speed, distance, and time at key stage 3. These simple concepts get expanded upon at GCSE where students learn about how to use a graph to calculate total distance travelled by finding the area under a speed time graph, and finding the gradient of a line on a speed time graph to find acceleration.

Key Stage 3 Science – An afterthought?

Some parents are quite keen to prepare their children for exams in particular, such as GCSEs, A-Levels or the 11 plus. Key stage 3 can appear almost irrelevant in comparison. However, I have noticed that the students who put the work in during key stage 3, are usually in a strong position once GCSEs come around.

Our top performers in GCSEs, are typically the students who have entered before, or during the key stage 3 years, and have therefore built excellent foundations in their base knowledge. Consistency tends to be an important factor when it comes to achieving success.

To further illustrate how crucial the key stage 3 years can be, I just have to look through the various past assessments of year 10 and 11 students. Many of them have huge gaps in their learning, which should have been filled during the key stage 3 years. I think that wasting the key stage 3 years is something that can happen very easily, so it is crucial that students work hard during this period.

Key Stage 3 Science – Motivation

At the end of the key stage 3 period, at the end of year 9, students used to take their key stage 3 sats exams. Although I understand that reducing exam pressure on students is important, I think that the formal sats exams at the end of year 9 should have been kept, as it is useful to have a set-standard for students across England. It also would help ensure that students are on track and that students have had some testing experience before their more critical GCSEs.

Furthermore, keeping key stage 3 sats would help teachers identify students who would be suited for GCSE higher or foundation tier. In GCSE science, it is also important to identify whether separate sciences, double science (trilogy), or double science (synergy) would be the best option. The end of year 9 is the ideal time to assess students and their capabilities.

Lessons from my Personal Experience of Key Stage 3

I remember that taking the key stage 3 exams, were useful as it was one of the first times I engaged in proper revision.

Our school used the results to determine sets, and I managed to move up into set 2 as I was able to produce some strong results. Key stage 3 was a key developmental point for me in maths as I started to understand areas that were sources of difficulty such as algebra, ratio and percentages. Also, I became much more adept at using a calculator quickly and effectively, as well as utilising brackets. These improvements at key stage 3 level in mathematics were also important for my development in science.

In science, my understanding of graphs and data-handling improved a great deal during key stage 3, and this proved to be critical during GCSEs. Also, my understanding of changes of state, plants, electricity and circuits, basic space physics, scientific method, group 1 reactivity trends, energy, coloured-compounds, natural selection, and so on, were developed during key stage 3 and contributed to my success at GCSEs.

Key Stage 3 Science – Resources

Unfortunately, there is not as much available for key stage 3 science as there is for GCSEs. Key stage 3 science is not as marketable, and as there are no formal exams or qualifications associated with it, there is less incentive for companies to produce extensive resources.

CGP, love them or hate them, always deliver educational books on time. On the left, I have posted the higher version of science complete revision and practice. On the right, I have included the foundation version. Pick the one that works better for your child’s level. CGP books are always very approachable and condensed. There are quite a lot of practice questions too.


I think that Collin’s series is a bit different from most as it has split the topics across three books. I spent a lot of time looking for a good set of books to support students across all three years and teach the material for each topic. These three books were useful resources, although I think the condensed way CGP books are put together may appeal to certain students more. I also think that this Collins series is a little bit expensive.

Test Practice

There are no official sats exams at key stage 3, schools tend to conduct their own internal examinations to test students’ knowledge. I recommend, however, that students at least attempt some key stage 3 test papers to gain vital exam experience and practice exam style questions.

There are a few commercially available resources from CGP and Letts:


Furthermore, there are a lot of past papers available. These past papers may have slight contents differences, but are still an excellent resource for questions:

I’ve spent the time sorting all these papers into folders, so they are really easy to view and use. If you’re a science tutor, teacher or student, feel free to use them.

For more information on key stage 3 science, head over to the BBC Bitesize Key Stage 3 science pages, as they has some really excellent resources for learning.

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