2013. Vol.4, No.11, 713-717
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.411101
Open Access 713
Science Process Skills in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary
Education Biology Practical Examinations
Richard Owino Ongow o*, Francis Chisakwa Indoshi
Department of E d u cational Communication, Technology and C u rriculum Studies,
Maseno University, Maseno, Kenya
Received September 10th, 2013; revised Octob er 10th, 2013; accepted October 17th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Richard Owino Ongowo, Francis Chisakwa Indoshi. This is an open access article distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction
in any medium, provided th e o riginal work is properly cited.
The purpose of the study was to determine the science process skills included in the Kenya Certificate of
Secondary Education (KCSE) biology practical examinations in Kenya for a period of 10 years (2002-
2012). Ex-post facto design was adopted for the study. The content of KCSE Biology Practical Questions
(KCSE-BPQ) for the period was analyzed based on 12 categories of science process skills and their de-
scriptions. The data were analyzed descriptively using percentages. The five most common science proc-
ess skills identified out of the 12 examined in the study are observation (32.24%), communicating
(14.63%), inferring (13.13%), experimenting (12.21%) and interpreting data (11.94%). The results also
revealed a high percentage of basic science process skills at 73.73% compared to the integrated science
process skills at 26.27%. It is recommended that the Kenya National Examination Council should include
more integrated science process skills into the KCSE biology practical examinations to enable the stu-
dents to develop problem solving abilities and creativity which are important tools for biotechnology.
Keywords: Biology; Practical Examinations; Science Process Skills; Kenya
The goal of science education is to enhance all students’ sci-
entific literacy; that is to help students grasp essential science
concepts, to understand the nature of science, to realize the
relevance of science and technology in their lives and to will-
ingly continue their science study in school or beyond school
(AAAS, 1993). The student-centered active learning process
within which the teacher is merely a guide is the focal point of
contemporary education systems. The active learning is a learn-
ing process in which the learner takes the responsibility of
learning and is given the opportunity to make decisions about
various dimensions of the leaning process and to perform self-
regulation. In an active learning process, learning is no longer a
standard process, but transforms into a personalized process
where process skills are developed (Akinoglu & Tandogan,
There are three important dimensions of science, viz: 1) con-
tent of science, the basic concepts and scientific knowledge 2)
the process of doing science and 3) scientific attitudes (Opateye,
2012). One of the domains critical for the development of sci-
entific literacy is science process skills. It is natural for science
process skills to be learnt since when learners interact with the
world in a scientific way, they find themselves using process
skills (AAAS, 1993). Understanding of the world around indi-
viduals depends on the development of concepts. The devel-
opment of concepts depends on the process skills. The concepts
and process skills are interrelated. As concepts gradually be-
come sophisticated, process skills need to be refined and ex-
tended. The implication is that the goal of any science teacher
should be to foster the development of science process skills.
The application of these science process skills allows the stu-
dents to investigate important issues in the world around them.
The term science process skills refer to a set of broadly trans-
ferable abilities appropriate to many science disciplines and
reflective of the behavior of scientists (Padilla, 1990). Accord-
ing to Nwosu and Okeke (1995), science process skills are
mental and physical abilities and competencies which serve as
tools needed for the effective study of science and technology
as well as problem solving and individual societal development.
Akinbobola and Afolabi (2010) view science process skills as
cognitive and psychomotor skills employed in problem solving,
problem identification, data gathering, transformation, inter-
pretation and communication.
According to Ozgelen (2012), science process skills are
thinking skills that scientists use to construct knowledge in
order to solve problems and formulate results. Implicit in these
definitions of science process skills is that these skills are inte-
gral and natural to a scientist; they are instruments for the study
and generation of scientific knowledge; science learning and
development of science process skills are integrated activities.
Categories of Science Process Skills
The commission on science education of the American As-
sociation for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) launched a
program named Science A Process Approach (SAPA), which
emphasized the laboratory method of instruction and learning
of scientific processes by children. SAPA grouped process
R. O. ONGOWO, F. C. INDOSHI
skills into two types—basic and integrated (AAAS, 1993).
According to Rambuda and Fraser (2004), the basic science
process skills apply specifically to foundational cognitive func-
tioning in especially elementary grades. They represent the
foundation of scientific reasoning learners are required to mas-
ter before acquiring and mastering the advanced integrated
science process skills (Brotherton & Preece, 1995). Funk et al.
(Cited in Rambuda & Fraser, 2004), maintain that basic science
process skills are interdependent, implying that investigators
may display and apply more than one of the skills in any single
activity. For instance to measure the area of a habitat, the biol-
ogy student may start by observing the habitat, then measure
the dimensions and communicate the same using a symbol.
Thereafter the student may calculate the area. In this scenario,
the student was involved in the skill of observing, measuring
and calculating. The basic science process skills include ob-
serving, inferring, measuring, communicating, classifying and
predicting (Padilla, 1990). From this, it appears the basic sci-
ence process skills provide an intellectual groundwork in prob-
According to Rambuda and Fraser (2004) integrated science
process skills are the immediate skills used in problem solving
or doing science experiments. As the term integrated implies,
learners are called upon to combine basic science process skills
for greater expertise and flexibility to design the tools they
apply when they study or investigate phenomena. The inte-
grated skills include controlling variables, defining operation-
ally, formulating hypotheses, interpreting data, experimenting,
and formulating models.
The Rationale for the Process Approach
According to Harlen (1999) and Sevilay (2011), the mastery
of science process skills enables students to conceptualize at a
much deeper level, the content they do know and equips them
for acquiring content knowledge in the future. Content knowl-
edge is acquired more efficiently and understood at a deeper
level when obtained through inquiry using science process
skills. The science curriculum that emphasizes science process
skills will be able to help students to improve the skills in criti-
cal thinking, creative thinking and decision making. These
skills can be transferred to other disciplines (Meador, 2003;
Halim and Meerah, 2012). According to Brotherton and Preece
(1996) and Sevilay (2011), the basic science process skills
helps in providing the intellectual groundwork in scientific
inquiry such as ability to order and describe natural objects and
events. The ability to apply basic science process skills is at-
tributed to the ability to perform empirical inductive reasoning
or piagetian concrete operational reasoning. Sevilay (2011),
holds that the integrated science process skills are the terminal
skills for solving problems or doing science experiments. The
ability to carry out integrated science process skills are attrib-
uted to hypothetico-deductive reasoning. Sevilay (2011), con-
tinues to hold that science process skills help the students to
develop a sense of responsibility in their own learning, increase
permanency of learning as well as teach them research methods.
According to Opateye (2012) and Okere (1997), science proc-
ess skills are helpful on the development of favorable scientific
attitudes and a disposition in the learners. These include being
curious and imaginative, including enthusiasm about inquisi-
Science Process Skills and Inquiry Approach
Science curricula around the world emphasize the philosophy
of inquiry in science teaching. In the context of science, inquiry
refers to the abilities students should develop to be able to de-
sign and conduct scientific investigations. In the context of
instruction, inquiry refers to the teaching and learning strategies
that enable concepts to be mastered through investigation and
practical work (National Research Council [NRC], 2000). Ac-
cording to Gagne (1963), scientific inquiry is constituted by a
set of activities characterized by problem solving approach in
which a newly encountered phenomenon becomes a challenge
for thinking. Such thinking begins with a careful set of system-
atic observations, proceeds to design of measurements required,
clear distinction between what is observed and what is under
ideal circumstances, brilliant leaps but always testable and
drawing reasonable conclusions. Brickman et al. (2009) ob-
serve that in sciences, inquiry based learning increases literacy
and skill development.
According to Maundu, Sambili and Muthwii (2005), in the
inquiry approach, learning is by discovery and is characterized
by the development of science process skills. Uno and Bybee
(cited in Brickman et al., 2009) hold that inquiry is a laboratory
inquiry in which the instructor leads the students to discover a
specific concept after being prompted by a basic question or
problem. Kim (2007), posits that inquiry based teaching that
engages students in various hands on activities in the science
laboratory is likely to enhance science process skills. Implicit in
these arguments is that science process skills are encompassed
in the conduct of scientific inquiry and these skills are devel-
oped in the laboratory practical situations.
In the Kenyan context, the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE)
reorganized and rationalized the current biology curriculum
with a strong recommendation for the employment of inquiry
approach to teach biology concepts and the development of
science process skills and problem solving abilities as some of
the broad objectives (KIE, 2002). According to sevilay (2011),
students can acquire the science process skills by participating
in inquiry in the science laboratory. Ango and Gyuse (Cited in
Ango, 2002), argue that practical work engenders not only the
science process skills appropriate for scientific inquiry but also
inculcates attitudes and conceptual perspectives which are nec-
essary for skilled scientific inquiry. The inquiry approach to
teaching can only be enhanced through the application of sci-
ence process skills.
The biology practical skills are science process skills. They
are taught as part of the biology curriculum. These skills can be
acquired and developed through activities involved in the biol-
ogy practical sessions. According to Maundu, Sambili and
Muthwii (2005), one of the ways of assessing the objectives of
teaching biology is through practical work. In practical work,
an opportunity is provided for testing application of scientific
procedures, manipulative abilities as well as scientific skills.
The Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) makes
use of practical examinations to test students’ acquisition of
various biology practical skills which in essence are science
process skills. In these examinations, students are required to
carry out biology practical activities following some given in-
structions. The performance of students in the Kenya National
Examinations Council in Biology practical examinations has
been below average. For instance in the years 2008, 2009 and
2010 the students scored means of 17.30, 15.86 and 18.42 re-
R. O. ONGOWO, F. C. INDOSHI
spectively out of 40 (KNEC, 2011). The scores that students
obtain from their practical exams are indirect reflections of the
process skills they could display during the practical examina-
tion. At the same time, the final score that a candidate scores in
biology is contribution of both the theory examination and the
practical examination scores. According to Afolabi and Akin-
bobola (2010), the practical assessment score of a student is a
reflection of the teaching approach that a teacher employed
during the learning situation especially the process approach.
Problem and Purpose of the Study
The science process skills are practical skills important in the
construction of scientific knowledge especially biological
knowledge at secondary school level in Kenya. However, for a
long time, no analysis has been done on the KCSE biology
practical examinations to determine the science process skills
present. There is therefore need to investigate the level of test-
ing of the science process skills and also to identify the science
process skills inherent in Kenya Certificate of Secondary Edu-
cation (KCSE) biology practical examinations and classify
them to their various categories. The purpose of the study was
to determine the science process skills included in the Kenya
Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) biology practical
examinations in Kenya for a period of 10 years.
Objectives of the Study
The study was guided by the following objectives:
• To determine the science process skills included in the
KCSE biology practical examinations in Kenya.
• To compare the basic and integrated process skills included
in the KCSE biology practical examinations in Kenya.
The study sought to provide answers to the following ques-
• What are the prominent science process skills in the KCSE
biology practical examinations i n Kenya?
• What are the percentages of basic and integrated process
skills included in the KCSE biology practical examinations
The design adopted for the study was an ex-post facto design.
The instrume nt used for the study was the Ke nya Certificate of
Secondary Education Biology Practical Questions (KCSE-BPQ)
across the years 2002-2012. The researchers and three biology
teachers collected the biology practical papers for the 10 year
period and identified all the basic and integrated process skills
for each year independently based on the descriptions of the
categories of science process skills in Table 1. Thereafter, the
researchers and the biology teachers discussed and agreed in
cases where differences in the numbers of the process skills
The study adopted the categorization of science process skills
according to American Association for the Advancement of
Science (AAAS, 1993). According to this categorization, the
basic science process skills comprise of Inferring, observing,
measuring, communicating, classifying, predicting. The inte-
grated science process skills comprised of controlling variables,
Basic and integrated science process skills.
Basic process skills Description
Observing Use of five senses to derive characteristics
of living organisms
Inferring Explanation of observations and data
Measuring Using standard and non-standard measures
to describe dimensions
Communicating Using words or symbols to describe an
action, object or event
Classifying Sorting, grouping and arranging b ased
similarities and differ ences
Predicting Stating the outcome of a future event based
on a pattern of evidence
Integrated Process skillsDescription
Controlling variables Identifying variables, keeping variables
constant and manipulatin g
Defining operationally Stating how to measure a variable in an
Formulating hypotheses Stating the expected outcome of an
Interpreting d ata Organizing , conclu di ng from data and
making sens e of data
Experimenting Testing by fo llowing procedures to
produce verifiable results
Formulating models Creating a mental or physic al model
of a process or event;
defining operationally, formulating variables, interpreting data,
experimenting and formulating models. The data were collected
using simple percentages. Each of the basic and integrated
process skills are briefly described in Table 1.
Results and Discussion
Research Question 1: What are the most common science
process skills in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education
biology practical examinations i n Kenya?
From the analysis shown in Tables 2 and 3, out of 330 proc-
ess skills identified within the period of 10 years (2002-2012)
in the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) biology
practical examinations, the most common science process skills
are Observation with a total frequency of 108 (32.24%), Com-
municating with a frequency of 49 (14.63%), Inferring with a
frequency of 44 (13.13%), Experimenting with a frequency of
41 (12.21%) and Interpreting data with a frequency of 40
(11.94%). This implies that out of the 12 process skills ana-
lyzed in this study, experimenting and interpreting data are the
most common integrated science process skills. On the other
hand, observation, communicating and inferring are the most
common basic science process skills. The implication is that 5
out the 12 science process skills are more common within the
years under study in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Educa-
tion biology practical examinations.
Research Question 2: what are the percentages of the basic
and integrated science process skills included in the Kenya
Certificate of Secondary Education biology practical examina-
The analysis is as shown in ables 2 and 3. The analysis T
Open Access 715
R. O. ONGOWO, F. C. INDOSHI
Basic science process skills in the KCSE biology practical examinations from 2002-2012.
Basic Science Process Skills
Year Infer Obs Meas Comm Class Predic Total
2002 7 12 3 3 3 0 28 (8.36)
2003 8 10 5 6 2 2 33 (9.85)
2004 9 15 0 5 1 0 30 (8.95)
2005 7 14 1 5 6 0 33 (9.85)
2006 3 4 0 2 1 0 10 (2.99)
2007 3 8 0 2 3 0 16 (4.78)
2008 1 7 2 5 0 0 15 (4.48)
2009 3 9 0 7 3 0 21 (6.27)
2010 0 12 0 3 0 0 15 (4.48)
2011 0 8 1 8 1 0 13 (3.88)
2012 3 9 10 3 1 1 27 (8.06)
Total 44 (13.13) 108 (32.24) 22 (6.57) 49 (14.63) 21 (6.27) 3 (0.89) 247 (73.73 )
Note: *The figures in brackets are percentages KEY: Infer = Inferring, Obs = Observing, Meas = Measuring, Comm = Communicating, Predic = Predicting.
Integrated science process skills in the KCSE biology practical examinations from 2002-2012.
Integrated Science Process Skills
Year Cont. Var Def. Oper Form. Hyp Int. Dat Expt Form. Mod Total
2002 0 0 0 2 5 0 7 (2.09)
2003 0 1 1 0 6 0 8 (2.38)
2004 0 0 0 6 4 0 10 (2.98)
2005 0 0 0 9 6 0 15 (4.48)
2006 1 0 0 3 1 0 4 (1.19)
2007 1 0 0 2 3 0 6 (1.79)
2008 0 0 0 3 3 0 6 (1.79)
2009 3 0 0 3 2 0 8 (2.38)
2010 1 0 0 4 4 0 9 (2.68)
2011 0 0 0 5 0 0 5 (2.13)
2012 0 0 0 3 7 0 10 (2.98)
Total 6 (1. 79) 1 (0.30) 1 (0.30) 40 (11.94) 41 (12.24) 0 (0.00) 88 (26.27)
Note: *The figures in brack ets are percentages KEY: Cont. Var = Controll ing variables, Def. Oper = Defining Operationally, Form. Hyp = Formulating Hypotheses, Inte.
Dat = Interpreting Data, Expt = Experimenting, Form. Mod = Formulating models.
shows that among the basic science process skills identified in
this study, observation was rated highest with a frequency of
108 (32.24%), seconded by communication with a frequency of
49 (14.63%), and followed by inferring at a frequency of 44
(13.13%). Other basic process skills were rated very low. These
are Measuring at a frequency of 22 (6.57%), Classification at a
frequency of 21 (6.27%) and Prediction is the lowest at 3
(0.89%). From Tables 2 and 3, among the integrated science
process skills identified in this study, experimenting was rated
highest with a frequency of 41 (12.21%), followed by inter-
preting data at a frequency 40 (11.94%), controlling variables at
6 (1.79%). Other process skills were very low in frequency or
not tested during the period under review. These are defining
operationally, formulating hypotheses and formulating models.
From the results in the above tables, there were more basic
science process skills than the integrated science process skills
in the years under investigation. Of the basic science process
skills the skill of observation was the most emphasized. The
skill of observation is the most basic skill in science and is
subsumed in all the integrated science process skills. The inte-
grated science process skill that was most common was the
skill of experimenting which was tested in almost equal meas-
ure with the skill of interpreting data. The most probable ex-
planation is that for every experimental data gathered, and there
is need for interpretation.
The findings of this study are similar to those of Afolabi and
Akinbobola (2010) and Nwosu (1994). These studies revealed
that more basic science process skills are tested than the inte-
grated science process skills in national examinations. The
reason for overemphasis on the basic skills could be due to the
fact that these skills are easily learnt and transferable to novel
situations unlike the integrated ones that require a series of
consistent, multiple practical sessions. At the same time, the
integrated science process skills require higher order cognitive
abilities which might have not developed well or have not been
allowed to grow in the learning environments.
R. O. ONGOWO, F. C. INDOSHI
The five most common science process skills identified out
of twelve examined in this study are observation (32.24%),
communicating (14.63%), inferring (13.13%), experimenting
(12.21%) and interpreting data (11.94%). Out of these, the only
integrated science process skills are experimenting and inter-
preting data. The results also indicate a high percentage of basic
science process skill at 73.73% compared to the integrated sci-
ence process skills at 26.27%. The results indicate that there
was a significantly higher percentage of basic science process
skills than the integrated science process skills in the Kenya
Certificate of Secondary Education biology practical examina-
tions within the years 2002 to 2012.
Implications of the Study
The study has implications for practice and further research.
The findings of this study have indicated that in the years con-
sidered, more basic science process skills were tested than inte-
grated science process skills. In this state of affairs, there is a
likelihood that integrated science process skills are not being
emphasized in the teaching and learning process. By extension
this means that the learners graduate that from grade 12 in the
Kenyan system may not be in a position to participate effec-
tively in activities requiring problem solving skills which are
developed from the acquisition of integrated science process
The implication of this study is that there is a need to make
deliberate efforts to develop the integrated science process
skills during the teaching/learning process and thereafter test
them in the biology national examinations. There is a need to
determine from a point of study the extent of mastery of inte-
grated science process skills among the secondary school stu-
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