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A level Biology

What is the A level about?

The AQA exam board for A level Biology has produced an interesting, stimulating and relevant course that opens pupil’s minds to the wonders and intricacies of how living organisms survive and function. A level Biology suits anyone who is naturally inquisitive and does not accept simple explanations for how something works. It is ideal for those who are able to hold lots of ideas in their mind and make links between them. Because it is such a broad course, it caters for those who enjoy, on the one hand, finding out about how molecules within the smallest part of a cell work (e.g. proteins in membranes) to those, on the other hand, who delight in exploring how organisms in whole ecosystems interact and evolve. 

Biology is fundamentally an experimental subject and there are numerous opportunities to use practical experiences to link theory to reality, and to equip pupils with the essential practical skills they need. There is no coursework but practical skills and understanding will be assessed in the final exam and pupils will need to complete the required practicals to receive their certificate of competency.

Modules

Lower Sixth

  • Biological molecules
  • Cells
  • Organisms exchange substances with their environment
  • Genetic information, variation and relationships between organisms

Upper Sixth

  • Energy transfers in and between organisms
  • Organisms
  • Genetics, populations, evolution and ecosystems
  • The control of gene expression

Assessment

A level Biology is examined through three exams which are taken at the end of Upper Sixth. Each exam is 2 hours long. The practical component is examined through questions in each of these exams. 

Whom does the subject suit?

A level Biology is a fabulous subject for pupils who are interested in anything that has to do with living organisms and have a sense of awe in how living organisms interact with each other. It suits someone who is naturally inquisitive and doesn’t accept simple explanations for how something works. It is ideal for those who are able to hold lots of ideas in their mind and make links between them. Because it is such a broad course, it caters for those who enjoy, on the one hand, finding out about how molecules within the smallest part of a cell work (e.g. proteins in membranes) to those, on the other hand, who delight in exploring how organisms in whole ecosystems interact and evolve. It is ideal on the one hand for someone who can see themselves in a high-tech laboratory working on molecules you can’t even see to someone who wants to get out to exotic locations to find out about how pollution is affecting an endangered species.

What skills should I have?

Those who do best at Biology have a great command of the English language, have a good vocabulary and an ability to learn new Biological terms to allow them to cope with what, at times, seems to be a different language. Being able to pay attention to detail and the ability to communicate complicated ideas using precise terminology. There is a relatively high demand for good mathematical skills and although this won’t be at a higher level than GCSE Mathematics, it can often seem tricker because it is mathematics that is applied to a Biological context.

What trips are involved?

We take the L6th pupils to the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham which exposes the pupils to the vast range of careers that are available for pupils who have studied Biology. This fair is usually at the start of March and so is just at the time that the pupils are starting to think about university courses that they might be interested in.

What else should I consider before choosing?

It might be helpful to consider what other subjects you could do alongside Biology which would complement the subject. The obvious ones are Chemistry, Animal Management, Sports Studies and Mathematics. Other students have also studied DT or Art or English and all of these subjects help to develop analytical and observational skills that are very useful in Biology.

What books should I read?

  • Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson
  • Lessons from the Lobster: Eve Marder’s Work in Neuroscience by Charlotte Nassim
  • Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Professor Menno Schilthuizen
  • First in Fly: Drosophila Research and Biological Discovery by Stephanie Eliza Mohr
  • Blossoms: And the Genes that make them by Maxine F. Singer
  • How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls: Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future by David Hu
  • Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything by Helen Scales
  • End of the Megafauna: The Fate of the World’s Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals by Ross D. E. MacPhee

Exam Board

AQA

Entry Criteria

Grade 7 at GCSE Biology. Pupils also need to have passed Maths with a grade 6.

For American Program pupils: successful completion of Algebra I, Geometry, Biology and two years of English maintaining at least a B+ average.

Career Pathways

A level Biology is a useful stepping stone to future study in any Biological Science degree courses such as

  • Botany
  • Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology
  • Sports and Exercise Science
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry and Psychology