Biology is usually a given at GCSE - you normally have
to study it, whether you like it or not. But what can you expect from the subject? Here, we will answer all of the FAQ regarding GCSE and A Level, giving you insight into what's studied and whether it's right for you.
What's the workload like?
The workload is probably one of the highest, just because it's a science subject. I'd say there's less work than physics, chemistry and maths but there's still a considerable amount.
What will I be studying?
Lots of people think biology is just about human anatomy - but this isn't the case! You can get a taste of some of the topics below.
- Cell biology, for example, mitosis, organelles and differentiating between plant and animal cells.
- Tissues, organs and organ systems - for example, the digestive system
- Infection and response
What is it useful for after GCSE?
GCSE Biology is usually mandatory in schools, whether you take it separately from chemistry and physics, or if you take a combined qualification like Science, Combined Science or Additional Science. You will usually need a C or potentially a B grade at GCSE to get into A Level Biology and some level 3 BTECs that involve science.
What practicals will I have to do?
You can see the AQA required practicals below, but they are similar in all exam boards.
- Use a light microscope to draw and label plant & animal cells
- Use agar plates to investigate the effect of antiseptics
- Investigate the effect of salt/sugar solutions on the mass of plant tissue
- Use reagents to test for biological molecules
- Investigate the effect of pH on amylase
- Investigate the effect of light intensity on rate of photosynthesis
- The effect of a factor on human reaction time
- Investigate the effect of light/gravity on the growth of seedlings
How is it different to GCSE?
In terms of the subjects and topics, GCSE and A Level are quite similar - GCSE basically sets you up for A Level. Just be aware that there is more maths and a lot more content! Under no circumstances should you choose A Level biology because you were "good at it" at GCSE, or you think it's "easy". A Level is a big step up. The people who choose biology because they think it's going to be easy are usually the people who drop out or fail their first year. You must only choose biology if you have a genuine interest in it.
What sort of topics will I be studying?
The topics for all specifications are quite similar and can be seen below.
- Biological molecules (carbs, lipids, proteins)
- Cells (eukaryotes, prokaryotes, viruses, HIV, cell division, organelles)
- Organism substance exchange (gas exchange, osmosis, digestion, insects, mass transport)
- Genetics (DNA, protein synthesis, genetic diversity, adaptation, taxonomy, biodiversity)
- Energy transfers (photosynthesis, respiration, ecosystems, nutrient cycles)
- Response to environments (receptors, homeostasis - heart rate, nervous communication, blood-glucose, blood water potential)
- A2 genetics (inheritance, speciation, gene expression, genome projects, recombinant DNA, genetic fingerprinting)
What is the workload like?
Pretty heavy. There are a lot of processes you need to remember and while the A Level topics may look pretty easy at a first glance, once you start studying it, it gets a lot more complicated (e.g. respiration is no longer just C6H12O6 + 6O2 -----> 6CO2 + 6H2O. Now, you will have to learn glycolysis, the link reaction, the Krebs cycle and oxidative phosphorylation. It just gets even more complicated when you study it at degree level!)
What is it useful for after A Level?
Lots of science university courses will require at least one science subject, sometimes more. Occasionally, some courses will ask for "hard science" subjects, which usually excludes social sciences and geography, although it thankfully includes biology! Biology sets the foundation for many courses and can give you an edge even if you are not applying to a biology related university course or higher apprenticeship.