Is Combined Science Easier than Pure Science?

Is Combined Science Easier than Pure Science?

Share with a friend

The purpose of this post is to not to discuss if you should take combined science (physics and chemistry) or pure physics and chemistry during the sec 2 streaming.  It is to bust the myth that Combined Science is less demanding than pure science and it is easier to pass or score an A for combined science than pure science at the GCE O level exam.

We have divided this post into three sections to help you easily find what you’re looking for:

Reasons Combined Science’s workload is lighter than Pure Science

The long standing argument for students choosing combined science over pure science has been the perception that the workload for combined science is lighter.  This is also the reason for school requiring students to drop to combined science if their secondary 3 results for pure science is not satisfactory.  The basis of the lighter workload perception is observed from the number of topics, learning objectives and question types in combined science vs pure science.  To understand better, we need to take closer look at each syllabus.  Click on the links for the syllabus in each subject for a better understanding the content requirements:

Pure Physics 6091

Pure Chemistry 6092

Combined Science (physics and chemistry) 5076

Number of Topics

Combined Science (Physics)

19

Pure Physics

22

Combined Science (Chemistry)

10

Pure Chemistry

11

Combined Science (Physics & Chemistry)

29

combined science physics, combined science chemistry

Learning Objectives

There are 10 to 20% fewer learning outcomes within each topic in combined science vs pure sciences. Some of these outcomes deal with abstract concepts like air resistance in pure physics and molecular explanation for chemical energetic in pure chemistry.

Question Types

The assessment format in pure science would contain about 10 to 15% higher order thinking or application question types.  The breakdown of the question types in Pure Science and Combined Science are as follows:

Question Type

Pure Science

Combined Science

Practical Examination

20 %

15 %


Theory Examination


80 %

85%

Question Type

Pure Science

Combined Science

Knowledge with recall

15 %

20 %


Knowledge with understanding


30 %

30 %

Handling Information and Solving Problems
55 %

50 %

Reasons Combined Science’s workload is not lighter than pure science

If you sum up the workload for both pure physics and pure chemistry and compare that with combined science (physics and chemistry), anyone will agree that combined science workload is lighter. However, that is not a fair comparison.  Pure Physics and pure Chemistry students will secure 2 separate grades for GCE O level vs 1 grade for the combined science student.  Hence a fairer way is to look at the workload for combined science as a single GCE O level subject.

Number of topics and papers in exams

Pure Physics: 22 topics in 3 papers as a single GCE O level subject

Pure Chemistry : 11 topics in 3 papers as a single GCE O level subject

Combined Science (Physcics and Chemistry): 29 topics in 4 papers as a single GCE O level subject.

Curriculum Time to Fulfil Learning Objectives

A combined science student will be spending more time on a single subject compared with either pure physics or pure chemistry alone. In other words, a combined science student studies close to 150% of the topics in order to obtain a single grade for the O level exam.  This is not exactly fair value for your time spent on a single GCE O level subject. 

Are you equally good in Physics and Chemistry?

Pure physics and pure chemistry students will obtain 2 separate grades at the O level exams.  A student can afford to demonstrate better skills at physics and not chemistry or vice versa.  Not so for the combined science student. The combined science student needs to master a total of 29 topics in both physics and chemistry.  In order to score distinction, the combined science student must demonstrate good skills in both the physics and chemistry topics.  For example, a combined science student who excels in chemistry but not physics cannot hope to get distinction during the exams.

Examination Demands and Question Types

Question Type

Pure Science

Combined Science

Theory Paper 1

30 MCQ on one subject in 1 hour

40 MCQ on two subjects in 1 hour


Practical Exam


one subject in 1 hour 50 min

2 subjects in 1 hour 30 min

It is easy to understand why a student taking the combined science feels overwhelmed before their paper 1 and paper 5 exams. A combined science student will need to be adequately prepared in all 29 topics in physics and chemistry before these two papers.  You can imagine the amount of information the student will need to cram in before these 2 papers. Not to mention the amount of pressure the students face during the actual papers themselves.  Being well prepared and good time management will be of the essence.

Pressure to Perform

Minimum entry requirement for polytechnic science courses

The grade requirement is from A1 to C6 for either pure science or combined science subjects.  It should be noted that for similar E1B2R2 cut-off point, a student with the same grade in pure physics or chemistry will have a slight edge over another student in combined science. Hence, a combined science student who wants to secure a polytechnics science related course is under pressure to secure at least a pass at the GCE O level exam.

Minimum entry requirement for JC science courses

For JC science related courses in jc, science subjects will be required. If you are opting for a physics or chemistry at the H2 level, a minimum A1 grade is required in combined science.  The grade requirement is A1 to B3 for the corresponding pure science subject.  It is necessary to point out that some top JCs do not recognize the A1 grade in combined science, i.e., they only accept the corresponding A1 to B3 grade for pure physics or chemistry.  It is obvious that for similar E1B2R2 cut-off point, a student with A1 grade in pure physics or chemistry will have a definite edge over another student with an A1 grade in combined science.  

Hence, if you are a combined science student since sec 3 or if you have dropped from pure science to combined science sec 4, you will be under tremendous pressure to achieve an A1 grade if you aspire to get into a JC science related course.

Why do students find it a challenge to pass or secure A1 for combined science (Physics and Chemistry)?

If you have opted for the combined science thinking that the workload is lighter and less demanding than pure sciences and it is easier to pass or get an A1, you will probably find out for yourself why this is not always the case.

 A Teacher who is Competent in teaching both Physics and Chemistry

All pure science students will get a dedicated teacher for physics or chemistry. Not so for the combined science students.  If resources allow, schools will allocate 2 separate teachers for the combined science classes. Some schools may face constraints with manpower and can only allocate one teacher to teach both physics and chemistry.  Such teachers may not be well-versed in teaching both physics and chemistry at the same time. This will in some way affect the learning outcomes of combined science students.

Engage a Tutor who is Competent in teaching both Physics and Chemistry

Students taking combined science may face a similar situation when they look for tutors to help them excel in the subject.  The tutor will need to be someone who demonstrates high competence in teaching both physics and chemistry. This will inspire the student to strive for an A1 grade at the GCE O level exam.

If you are a combined science student or you have dropped from pure science to combined science in sec 4 and you are looking for a tutor, you will need to find someone who is competent in teaching both physics and chemistry.   You can make use of our expertise at Tuitioncafe in our years of helping past combined science students secure their passes and distinctions. 

If you like to engage our tuition services, please use the form below or whatsapp 96355763 for faster response.

Have a query? We are happy to help.

Mr Tan, the Online Tutor @Tuitioncafe, ex-HCI teacher

Are you looking for a trusted Tutor for Physics, Chemistry and Math? We are a team of experienced ex-teachers from HCI/RI. Our substantive student-teacher interaction coupled with reliable and handy resources is back by a strong track record of student satisfaction, learning outcomes and exam results.