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A brief guide to mathematics in A level science

Published: Nov 23, 2020 3 min read

STEM learning

Meeting the demands of A level science can be a challenge for students. Here at STEM Learning, we're supporting teachers of science to help ensure that the mathematical content found in the Key Stage 5 science curriculum is not a barrier to student progress.

Since 2015, 40% of physics, 20% of chemistry and 10% of biology A-level marks assess mathematical skills. With that in mind, here’s a quick outline of some of the key topics students will encounter when studying A-level science - and links to some valuable courses and other resources to ensure it's taught successfully.

Logarithms and exponentials

These topics are particularly vital as many students will not have covered them before. To understand logarithms and exponentials, they need to be confident using the rules of indices. They will know how to explain the meaning of 23, but what about 23.4? They may be able to sketch the graph of y = 2x but are unlikely to be able to explain why log28 = 3. We work with teachers of science by exploring methods to enable new, unfamiliar mathematical content to be taught with confidence.

Rearranging and solving equations

Students will start A level science having had varying degrees of success in GCSE mathematics. One area of mathematics that science teachers consistently tell us their students find challenging is algebra: rearranging equations, substituting numbers into an equation and solving equations. They’ll be required to attempt relatively simple equations, like F=ma, trickier examples such as deriving the constant acceleration equations and even more advanced examples involving indices and exponentials, such as the Arrhenius equation, k = Ae(-Ea/RT)

Our professional development for teachers of science will provide strategies and action plans to help students who will all have different levels of understanding.


The A level biology specification includes some mathematical content not covered in the mathematics specifications at GCSE or A level. Chi-squared, Student’s t-test and Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient are required to be taught. We’ve worked with teachers of biology to devise techniques and resources to help students understand which statistical test should be used in which situation, and how the results of these tests are to be interpreted.

We’ve got a range of courses in this area designed to improve teachers' knowledge and understanding of this. The first – Maths for A level biology starting on 30 November – is being held remotely due to the national restrictions, but remains an intensive, interactive, impactful, bursary funded two-day session. You can also book on to our Maths for A level physics and Maths for A level chemistry which both start in February. Each course is designed improve knowledge of the mathematical topics required for A level, and identify pedagogies and resources to help support learning.

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