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Biology A Level Exam Boards & Grading System

By Laura, published on 30/01/2018 Blog > Academia > Biology > A Level Biology Grading & Exam System

Studying Biology At A Level

Your grade in Biology could determine if you can go on to study at university, which establishment you get into and it can influence your CV, especially if you have your mind set on a career in the Live Sciences sector.

But, even if none of that matters to you and you’ve chosen to study Biology because you did OK in the subject at GCSE level, then you should by no means underestimate the power that a Biology qualification can have for you.

Biology is essentially a subject that teaches you about life, so one could argue that the subject is applicable to a large number of things we see or do as we go about our everyday lives.

For instance, we might walk past rows of trees on our stroll to work, we might sit and eat our breakfast in the tube when doing our daily commute… all processes related to humans and plants come down to Biology.

So many things around us relate to Biology - including the food we eat and how it affects our bodies. Even what and how we eat is directly related to Biology. Photo by SteFou! on VisualHunt

It is easy to go through days or weeks without giving a thought to the biological processes that shape our lives and environment, but learning about Biology helps you to embrace the wonders of nature.

In fact, these essential processes should, in an ideal world, be learned by everyone if we truly want our population to have a good awareness of the planet we live on and to help us to appreciate the power and complexity of the Sciences.

So, with this in mind, you choosing to be a Biology student for the second times means that you are taking notice and are, in a roundabout way, giving back to the environment and community.

Grading And Exam System

The GCSEs, which stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education, are a two-year study programme traditionally taken by those aged around sixteen years-old, compulsory for students in the UK.

If you are in the middle of or have just completed this course, you will already know that you now choose one or two scientific subject to focus on for this qualification instead of splitting your studies equally between Biology, Chemistry and Physics and being given an overall grade for the three.

As such, you may already have a strong grounding in Biology as you enter A Levels and have a more meaningful qualification to display in your CV to highlight your strengths in the Biology field.

Students who are new to the A Level Biology curriculum in particular can look forward to expanding their knowledge and understanding of the subject and getting involved in even more practical activities in the classroom and lab.

Some of the core topics you will be faced with on your A Level course are Biological Molecules, Cells, Genetic Information, Energy Transfers and Gene Expression, the last two being taught at A Level only.

As you might have noticed, some of these topics were already covered by the GCSE syllabus, but will be looked at in more detail now that you’re on a higher level course.

Getting Your Head Around Your Upcoming Exams

According to research, children and young adults in our country are among the most tested on the planet, so does this mean that UK students should be accustomed to performing under pressure?

The only way to get around stress before the exams is to work hard. Despite being some of the most tested pupils in the world, students in the UK still find exams very stressful. Photo by half alive – soo zzzz on Visual hunt /

On the contrary, it seems that the recurrent need to test performance and improvement during schooling is something that still causes a lot of distress for pupils, and the abolishment of coursework is making the importance of exams all the more stressful. What do you think?

Many admit to finding it hard to get to grips with the fact that they will be participating in nationwide exams in the not so distant future. Nevertheless, your exams are going to happen and will make up all of your final grade, so it is time to start thinking seriously about them.

Having access to a timetable, even if only a provisional one, can really help to prepare you psychologically for the culmination of your course, because having a specific goal to work towards can be very motivating.

Using a calendar or a countdown app might make it even easier to remain focused on the exam period and might, on some level, build up a bit of anticipation for the day of the first exam to finally come.

Attempt to keep your spirits up by translating your nervous energy into positivity. Just think, once you have completed your last exam you will have an entirely carefree summer ahead of you!

When Will My A-level Exam Timetable Be Released?

Timetables for compulsory exams like GCSEs and A Levels are usually released a couple of years in advance, but do remember that these are only there for guidance and should not be taken as completely certain.

Although exams will usually take place across roughly the same 2-3 week period of each academic year, you should never attempt to predict when your exams will be based on information from previous years.

To be on the safe side, however, we would recommend that you do not make any arrangements for holidays or social events around the time of your exams unless completely necessary, as doing so could allow you to get distracted from your revision, cause unwanted stress due to losing precious revision time, or leave you feeling tired and less alert.

Your education does not last forever but you will have plenty of opportunities to go on trips or nights out in the future.

What If I Am Away On The Day An Exam Is Set?

You should make sure that you do not accidentally make any plans which cause you to be away on the date of any of your exams. Failing to sit an exam could result in you failing the entire course and putting two years of study to waste.

If your family are looking to book a holiday which crosses over with the exam period, then every effort should be made for the trip to be booked for a later date, or rebooked for another year. Even a once in a lifetime trip will not sway the examiners, as the rules cannot be twisted for just one pupil.

If, however, you have a valid reason for missing an exam, such as being unable to make an exam due to the death of a loved one or as a result of having a funeral to attend, you should consult your school or exam board at the earliest opportunity.

Be warned that your eighteenth birthday will absolutely not be classed as a reasonable excuse to miss or re-sit an exam (and neither will being hungover on the morning you are supposed to sit the assessment!).

There are no excuses for missing exams, especially not if you have drunk too much alcohol the night before. Don’t plan to attend or host any parties around the exam period because being hungover won’t get you out of doing your exam! Photo by Flóra on VisualHunt.com

In emergencies, the officials will work together to do all that they can to help you, whether that be awarding you a mark based on other assessed performances or using comparable units of a completed exam to predict how you would probably have been graded. This is called special consideration and applies to all students so long as they have completed 25% or more of the total assessment for the subject.

Similarly, special consideration can be applied to those who made it to the exam but were affected by circumstances out of their control, like sickness, a bereavement, or being in the midst of a court case, for example. In situations like these, exam boards will give an allowance (usually up to 5% of the raw mark) dependent on the severity of the circumstances.

How Are The Exams Graded?

When you sit your exam, you will be asked to write your answers in a booklet which will be collected once the assessment time is up. These booklets, known as scripts, get sent off to examiners to be marked. Examiners are more often than not qualified teachers, but don’t worry as they are vigorously trained to mark to a particular standard.

The exam marking period usually lasts for around 12 weeks, so don’t bank on getting your result until the end of the summer. Throughout this time, the examiners’ work is checked externally to ensure their marking is consistent and fair and to ensure that they are applying the mark scheme correctly. If not, the examiner won’t be allowed to continue marking.

Once all of the marks have been collected, the exam boards set the grade boundaries. This process, called awarding, is carried out by senior examiners who are experts in their particular subject field, and overseen by the qualifications regulator.

They look at scripts in relation to the grade boundary from the previous year as well as a range of scripts from the current year and then compare the scripts to decide the mark for this year’s boundary.

To find out how using past papers can benefit you, visit our blog on the importance of past papers.

Furthermore, to find out what other resources are available to you, see this article on revision resources and techniques.

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