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Biology is the study of life and organisms and the systems they live in. (This is a brief introduction to the subject and what it is all about.)



Biology is a subject most are introduced to at school, often as part of a general Science course. By Year 9 in England and Wales, most pupils have separate Biology lessons, but the National Tests such as SATS are general science tests. Many students study Biology as a GCSE subject, often alongside other sciences. It is also a popular subject at A-Level and at university.


At GCSE you may study Biology as a separate subject, or as part of a general science course, such as the dual award science courses where it is studied along side chemistry and physics. Whatever course you study, you'll see mostly the same key topics: human biology, animal and plant cells, basic genetics, health and ecosystems. There is also a practical element to the course, with regular experiments carried out by students in most schools.

Biology is offered by all the major exam boards at GCSE; check with your school for which one your exams will be with.

GCSE Biology may also take on a modular structure where you sit exams throughout the two GCSE years, or it may be linear; where you sit all your exams at the end of the course.

Why Study Biology?

If you want to go and study Biology at a higher level, the GCSE is a must. It gives you an understanding about how biology affects things: from hormonal processes going on in your body to the carbon cycle in the environment. It links closely to other science courses and so works well with Chemistry, Physics, Maths, PE, Geography or other STEM subjects. It is also a core subject.

Course Format

Biology can either be taken as a standalone GCSE or as part of a GCSE in Science - the latter often counts as the equivalent of two qualifications, with the course being made up of one third of each of Biology, Chemistry and Physics. The Biology GCSE aims to give students a basic background into the main principles of biology - evolution, human biology, genetics, pathogens, the environment, biology in industry, and bioenergy. Topics included depend much upon the course and syllabus followed. Many GCSE courses involve a practical assessment which can often be a simple experiment regarding, for example, seaweed on a seashore. Here, the student may have to plan an experiment to find the factors affecting the distribution of seaweeds there. After doing the experiment, they must come to an answer from the data, draw conclusions and evaluate the reliability/flaws of the experiment.

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A Level

At A Level, Biology is studied as an individual subject. The course is based on 6 modules, three studied for at AS Level (normally in your first year) and three more to get the full A2 grade, usually sat in the second year of study. The Biology course varies by exam board, but will generally contain in each year elements of biochemistry (e.g. studying the uses and synthesis of carbohydrates and proteins and other molecules), physiology (e.g. the structure of bacteria and viruses, or the human kidney) and ecology (e.g. foodwebs). You may have to do coursework as part of your A-Level, counting for 1/3 of the total marks for an A2 grade. This may include practical exams, field work or a separate paper to show your ability to understand practical experiments.

You can also take a biology AEA to extend your studies.

Biology makes a good addition to many groups of subjects. It supplements other science subjects well (as there is significant crossover), but is also a great contrast to other subjects such as History or English. Those considering studying Biology at undergraduate level will usually be expected to have Chemistry to at least AS-level, although this is not the case for every university.

Revision Notes

The 4 most common elements in living organisms, are Hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. Carbon is mostly as it is the basic skeleton for organic molecules to bind to. organic molecules always contain carbon. Macromolecule means giant molecule. 3 types of macromolecules in living organisms, polysaccharides, proteins and nucleic acids. They all contain poly, as the are all polymers, therefore they are easy to produce as they are made of repeating subunits (monosaccharides) natural examples of polymers are; cellulose and rubber. industrial produced include, PVC

Carbohydrates contain the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen and oxygen present in ratio 2:1 carbohydrates can be divided into 3 main catorgies, monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides

Monosaccharides are sugars that disolve easily in water to form sweet solutions the consist of a single sugar molecule hence the word mono. 3 main types are trisoses (3c), pentoses(5c) and hexoses (6c) notice monosaccharides all in,-OSES

The important structure of pentose and hexose is that, they are long enough to close up on itself and form a more stable structure

International Baccalaureate

An option in the IB is biology. It can be studied at both standard level and higher level.

Scottish Standard Grade

You can study biology at Standard Grade. This course gives a basic introduction to all the main concepts in biology. This is a MUST if you want to do Higher. Alternatives to Standard Grade are Int 1/2 Biology.

Scottish Higher

Study of biology can be continued on to the Higher stage.


Biology is a popular subject at university and is offered by a wide number of universities. It is common to study it as a single subject, or as a joint honours course with many other subjects. There are also many degree courses on specific areas of biology, such as human biology, marine biology or biochemistry.

The Course

Biology course content can differ a great deal between universities. Most will usually cover some key basic areas in the first year while you pick more specialised areas in the following years. Pretty much every course will have a significant experimental element with regular lab sessions.


When applying for biology at university it is a good idea to have a look at the course content to see what each one contains - think about your current interests in biology. Which universities offer modules in those areas? Also look at your predicted grades and what the universities want. You also need to think about what experience you have beyond academic qualifications to back up your application. Do you have conservation work? Optional visits to biology themed field trips?

Personal Statements

If you are thinking of applying for a biology degree or a degree in a related subject, then take a look at our sample personal statements which were used to apply for biology courses. We also have some for Bioengineering too.

Also, once you've written your own personal statement, why not get it checked by our team of volunteer helper?

Get more detailed information about Biology at university on the 'Biology Degree' page.

Study Help

Do you need help with your biology homework or coursework or have a general biology question? Ask away in the biology help forum.

Links for pages like study tips, websites, books, and anything else.

Revision notes

TSR Wiki has a large number of biology revision notes for all levels and qualifications.

There is also a list of web resources for studying biology.

Other Info


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