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A-Level Biology

Background information about studying Biology

This course builds on knowledge, understanding and practice skills that you have developed during your GCSE science course. You should have gained at least a GCSE grade B in biology or BB in science (double award), both of which provide suitable preparation for the a-level.

Biology, with its mixture of scientific method, problem solving, practical skills and socially relevant content, provides a useful complement to arts humanities among mixed A levels. It also enables students to develop the essential skills of synoptic essay writing, an aspect of modern education highlighted as missing by the major universities. This makes the qualification highly sought after.

How will it differ from GCSE?

Difficulty

Comment: Very difficult, one of the hardest A Levels. Really consider that this is what you want to do.

Another opinion: The subject is a big step up from GCSE but if you are good at remembering lots of facts you could find it relatively straightforward as all you need to do is memorize the textbook to get high grades. I would not consider biology to be anywhere near as difficult as A level maths and it seems to be the easier of the three sciences.

Another opinion: It's not that hard. A fair bit of memorisation required, but nothing too bad. I don't really think you need to "really consider" as the person above says. (And anyway, A Level maths isn't that hard.)

Another opinion: I agree; it's easy than chemistry or maths (and much more interesting!)

Another opinion: It is definitely easier than chemistry and more enjoyable, if you like learning facts. If you enjoy reading biology topics especially human biology, it becomes easier to learn. There are no 'hard' concepts -not in AS anyway-.... just a lot of content to know, which needs to be broken down and learned effectively and applied to questions. Best thing about biology is, if you miss a class, you can read it over a few times and teach yourself just as well, whereas in chemistry for example, sometimes you'll need the teacher to explain hard topics well and then do a couple of questions to fully understand.

My opinion: Biology isn't massively hard to understand, it's just that there is a lot of information that you need to know for the exams. It is quite interesting, but I might find it easier because I have a really good teacher, other classes at my school find it harder as they don't have great teachers. GCSE biology was the easiest thing ever so it's certainly a step up from that

Another opinion: Having completed Units 1 - 6 at AS and sitting the exam soon. I can honestly say out of my 4 AS subjects , Biology is the hardest. In comparison to GCSE , it requires a lot more understanding and in depth knowledge of the subject matter. Biology is my only science but from what I can gather from friends , everyone is finding it the most difficult. The exam style itself is quite hard in practice papers , as opposed to the "spraying" out of knowledge as GCSE you need to focus on the question and be very specific in your answers.

Another opinion: I find its easier and more interesting than chemistry. Biology has quite a few odd application questions but its mainly memorising. Its not very hard to understand and personally I don't think there was much of a step up from GCSE. From AS to A2 though its more noticable. The important thing is to remember the keywords needed to get marks when answering questions.

Another opinion: Difficult? A level biology difficult? Its comparable to a stroll along the beach

Another opinion: In summary: workload. There is alot of information to learn and cover and believe me it is not something you can simply cram before the exam. It's very time-consuming and will take up a decent amount of your time. I suggest you read into what topics you will cover and ask yourself if you really really like biology that much to put in time every week.

Workload

Quite a lot, but mostly near the end of the year with revision.

Comment: Basically making sure you know all the stuff in the textbook.

Required Individual Study

Comment: Really very little outside the textbooks, honestly. Obviously it would be good if you are considering Biology/Biological Science related subjects to show outside interest in personal statement and potential interviews.

Comment: That is flat wrong im afraid! You need to learn mark schemes and be naturally good at How Science Works.

Comment: You don't NEED to learn mark schemes. I certainly didn't, and it didn't do me any harm. Really, as long as you learn the textbook stuff, you should be fine. No "extra" effort required.

Comment: Learning mark schemes is definitely essential! Biology is marked very specifically so you need the correct phrases and exact key words.

Comment: From my experience, make sure you brief yourself on the whole of your A-Level course before your exams because you can be tested on things from your AS too on your second year. Some of the questions you have to use some general knowledge for too.

How is it assessed?

Exams

Awarding Body : AQA

AS units;

Unit 1 - biology and disease

  • Examination paper (100 ums)
  • One paper, 1 hour 15 long
  • 33.33% of total As marks
  • (60 Raw Marks)

Unit 2 - Variety of living organisms

  • Examination paper (140 ums)
  • One paper, 1 hour 45 long
  • 46.67% of total As marks
  • (85 Raw Marks)

Unit 3 - Investigate and practical

  • AS Centre assessed unit (ISA) or externally assessed EMPA (60 UMS)
  • 20% of total As marks
  • (50 raw marks)

A2 units;

Unit 4 - Population and environment

  • Examination paper (100 ums)
  • One paper, 1 hour 30 long
  • 16.67% of total A2 marks
  • (75 raw marks)

Unit 5 - Control in cells

  • Examination paper (140 ums)
  • One paper, two sections - short answer questions and long answer questions. 2 hours 15 long.
  • 23.33% of total A2 marks
  • (100 raw marks)

Unit 6 - Investigate and practice

  • Examination paper (60 ums)
  • 10% of total A2 marks
  • (50 raw marks)

Awarding Body: OCR

AS Units

Unit F211: Cells, Exchange and Transport (15% of total A2 Level marks)

30% of the total AS GCE marks 1 hour Written paper 60 marks

Unit F212: Molecules, Biodiversity, Food and Health (25% of total A2 Level marks)

50% of the total AS GCE marks 1 hour 45 minutes Written paper 100 marks

Unit F213: Practical Skills In Biology 1 (10% of total A2 Level marks) Practical tasks

20% of the total AS GCE marks 40 marks Candidates complete three tasks set by OCR and are marked by the centre.

A2 Units

Unit F214: Communication, Homeostasis and Energy

15% of the total A2 marks 1 hour Written paper 60 marks

Unit F215: Control, Genomes and Environment

25% of the total A2 Level marks 1 hour 45 minutes Written paper 100 marks

Unit F216: Practical Skills in Biology 2 Practical tasks

10% of the total A2 Level marks 40 marks Candidates complete three tasks set by OCR and are marked by the centre.

Coursework

In EDEXCEL there is CW in As and A2 worth 20%. As is a report into a topical issue and for A2 you carry out a research project.

In AQA there isn't coursework as such but you have an ISA similar to the one at GCSE but is more heavily assessed. (ISA - Investigative Skills Assessment)

Practicals

About 20% of the exam is practical. This includes a main one e.g. Measuring Enzyme activity and microscope work. If your worried about dissections, don't be! There have been removed from the syllabus as a result of complaints.


If you're doing Edexcel there will be no practicals. There used to be an alternate to practical paper but they have changed the syllabus this year so dont know what they're doing now. Rest reassured practicals are not part of an assessment in Edexcel biology.

Field trips and excursions

There are lots of opportunities for field trips. At my college we went to the south of france for a week to carry out our A2 research projects. Obviously this will depend on the college.

Where can I go with a Biology A-Level

Students who take A Level Biology can go on to study veterinary science, medicine,optometry psychology, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, physiotherapy, sports science, microbiology, forensic science, biophysics, genetics, neuroscience, botany, zoology, ecology and environmental science and of course, biology.

User Opinions

Username: Agent Smirnoff

What I like about studying this subject: I enjoy Biology as it helps me understand new and previously learnt concepts in a more in depth nature. AS Biology has so far helped me to understand a lot more about the processes and functions of our body and its components. Biology is a nice challenge and quite an easy subject for me. It is not just memorising facts and information. It is much more than GCSE Biology.

What I dislike about studying this subject: You do have to memorise a lot of stuff and you have to answer some questions in a certain way.

Username: bluemax

What I like about studying this subject: Studying biology in so much depth was actually very interesting

What I dislike about studying this subject: Had to memorize so much stuff its not even funny. In the end I actually started forgetting stuff


Username: shadowplay1991

What I like about studying this subject: In contrast to just memorising things and not understanding them in GCSE, you get to explore why things happen in biology i.e. why oxygen is a product of photosynthesis

What I dislike about studying this subject: Nothing :D Best decision I took was to take biology - i almost didnt


Username: i.am.lost

What I like about studying this subject: It is the most interesting subject of the (6) A Levels I'm taking, you cover a wide range of topics in moderate depth at AS (or extreme depth at A2 - extreme to the max), you can pass with flying colours if you stick to the "learn the book by heart according to the specification", and it includes essays and long-paragraph style questions which is nice every once in a while

What I dislike about studying this subject: hmm A2 is a bit tedious what with learning so many things (it is very in depth), but I really can't fault the AS apart from OCR having stupid coursework where you're assessed on crap like drawing borders around tables rather than your knowledge


Username: Oxy402

What I like about studying this subject: Very interesting(it broadens your thinking).

What I dislike about studying this subject: The pastpapers and mark schemes. The answer to some of the questions are really dimwitted,many marking scheme points are irrelevant and many important ones are ommited.. If you study hard and get a B i really don't blame you. The solution to this problem(a problem that should never have exsisted) is doing loads of past papers and killing your own analysis and judgement(becoming a robot really and a pretty stupid one of that).

Cheers!


Username: HighSkies

What I like about studying this subject: It is very interesting. Apart from some of the dry ecology parts it never fails to get me interested and I'm proud to say when choosing what to keep and drop at A2, even though I want to do psychology at uni I never for a moment considered dropping biology. :) There is just something about it which makes it stand out from the other sciences. And after knwoing for 6 years that CO2+H2O+light energy ---> O2+Glucose I *finally* at A2 learned as to why that is the case!

What I dislike about studying this subject: The mark schemes can be a bit dodgy. The sometimes don't include perfectly logical, correct answers which should be awarded marks and they are very very specific. You could argue that its just being concise but sometimes its just annoying.


Username: AAfc

What I like about studying this subject: It is very interesting the practicals are quite fun if your that way inclined. Finally it didn't require too much outside reading.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Revision at the end. Revision is long and tedious and there is a high emphasis on exam technique and perfectly specific answers so text book definitions are vital. There is so much content to know too so its stressful fitting it all in before your exams. You cant miss anything otherwise you get confused as it builds off previous knowledge a lot.

Username: naza911

What I like about studying this subject: Its definatly a good science subject, with some interesting and relevant topics. Goes nicely with essay type subjects. Pretty simple method of work just memorize everything.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Like others have said there is a hell of a lot to remember. I mean you really do have to memorize every page to get good grades in the exam. Theres no real quick or efficient way to do it, and theres not much logic to it, so that even if you forget you would be able to work it out. Its also one of the fustrations of revision with the subject when it comes to revising, once you forget somnething you can get questions right and it really knocks you. Of course though if you do it with courses like english, phycology, business, etc then it will work well as the skill is common across all the subjects, REMEMBER!

Username: Akbar2k7

What I like about studying this subject: Awesome and amazing, Its beautiful how all of biology comes together to really animate the human body after doing biology I see myself in a whole new light a great science.

What I dislike about studying this subject: I hate the fact the exams are based on exam technique more than biological knowledge you can 'think' in the exam its a mere application of the mark scheme nothing more its the sad truth about AQA Biology the Exams are very dodgy and rarely express true Biological understanding especially the ISA. Its more about using the right words than understanding Biology. For this Reason I prefer chemistry since you cant rely on memorizing mark schemes in the exam.


Username: anonymous2889

What I like about studying this subject: Nothing

What I dislike about studying this subject: The mark scheme is too random.

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