An Introduction To A Level Biology

Historically, Biology made up one third of a Science qualification at GCSE level, along with Chemistry and Physics. These subjects were usually taken as part of a Double or Triple Science award, which would lead to the equivalent of two or three GCSEs respectively.

Now, however, students tend to study one main or 'core' Science, which they tackle academically, along with an additional Science which has a vocational focus. They are then graded individually for each, which actually has made it easier to get a good grade in your preferred scientific subject.

You may have realised even before your GCSE course that your preferred Science was Biology.
Thanks to the changes to GCSEs, you may have had the opportunity to study Biology in more depth prior to starting your A Level. Photo on Visualhunt

As a direct result of these changes, students are now entering their A Levels with a better focus on their chosen scientific course and a more profound knowledge. All in all, this means that Biology students are approaching their higher level course with much more enthusiasm and with a better grounding of the subject than ever before.

During your Biology GCSE, you will have had the opportunity to learn about a variety of biological functions including the human body, organisms, evolution and the environment, all taught with everyday relevance so that that you were able to draw much more from the content.

Hopefully, by now, you will have some idea of just how much Biology affects our everyday lives and will be eager to learn more.

The A Level course too offers an array of fascinating and useful information about our bodies and the world around us. Also similar is the duration of the course, which takes two academic years to complete in full. The main difference, however, is the level of detail at which you will explore these biological concepts during this more advanced curriculum.

As a result, by opting to study Biology at AS and A Level, you will be up-skilling your existing knowledge and becoming much more aware of the ins and outs of our bodies as well as how we fit in to the work around us.

What’s more, with all of the additional Biology learning under your belt, you will be on track to apply for and be accepted on a further education course related to the science as well as a career in Biology further down the line.

Biology Past Papers & Exam Boards Offering A GCSE Biology Specification

Biology at A Level is offered by AQA, WJEC, Eduqas and OCR, among others. Below are two of the most popular exam boards for Biology A Level and their grading systems.

AQA A Level Biology Past Papers (7401, 7402)

At a glance, this linear specification offered by AQA covers a range of core topics such as Biological Molecules, Cells, Genetic Information, Energy Transfers and Gene Expression, the last two being taught at A Level only.

The AS Level course is split into two exams, each worth 50% of the final grade and lasting 1 hour 30 minutes. The second year, however, is assessed over three written exams, each taking 2 hours to complete and making up 35%, 35% and 30% of the final mark respectively.

OCR A Level Biology Past Papers (H020, H420)

This specification leans on the practicality of Biology for students and integrates problem-solving to help pupils understand biological concepts and scientific methods. Like the above, the course is split between the two years of study, with the first being a valid stand alone qualification.

The course is said to refresh the popular themes from GCSE Level specifications and embeds new teaching modules centred around answering the all important question: How does Science work?

Is My Biology A Level Still Going To Be Relevant In Years To Come?

Not only are there administrative changes for exam boards to consider, like those set out by the government and Department for Education, but naturally they also need to ensure that their courses are always up to date and focus on contemporary scientific research as well as the content that was discovered many years ago.

Although the basics will always remain the same, students can look forward to seeing references to new technology and more recent breakthroughs to support their learning of key concepts as the A Level syllabi embrace the latest trends in biological research.

Biology is a continuously evolving subject with much more to reveal.
Thanks to innovative tools, a Biology research is still being conducted and new discoveries found. Photo by longlabcomms on VisualHunt

That said, as with any subject that is still being developed, discovered and experimented with daily, there will of course be some boundaries to your qualification. Clearly, you can only learn as much as the field and syllabus currently allow, so if a huge breakthrough occurs in the next couple of years, or a brand new species of animal is bred, then these will not be things that you will have covered as part of your high school education.

However, Biology as a subject teaches pupils how to problem solve themselves so it is essentially producing biologists who can, in turn, manipulate their existing knowledge and tools to make new, groundbreaking discoveries relating to the Science.

With Biology being such a continuously evolving study of life, concepts and processes will naturally change as our world, population and species evolve. But that is ok - we expect that in 20 or 30 years' time, your qualification will still be as relevant as it is today because your generation will only see and experience slow and steady changes in the grand scheme of things.

Take your A level biology courses here.

Looking Beyond The Classroom For Revision Help

Why Use Past Papers?

Your teacher will no doubt have already told you, but past papers are one of the best forms of revision that you can do.

Doing past papers is especially useful to help you to formulate exam-style responses that are suited to your course level. By using past papers properly, you can work on improving your technique and growing in confidence. However, it is no good simply reading past paper questions or just jotting down answers haphazardly.

You must train yourself to cope with the pressure of exams so make sure that you put yourself under the same conditions as you would in a real exam. Below are more tips on how to benefit from past papers in your subject.

How To Use Past Papers To Your Advantage

Your teacher may organise a mock exam for you, or set a classroom task which simulates an exam. Either way, the key is to stay focused and to take away the maximum from this very valuable experience.

If you are practicing at home using past papers, don't shy away from doing them properly. Ask your family not to disturb you for the duration of the trial exam (if you consult your exam board's website, you can find out exactly how long your exam will be, although this should be clear enough on the paper you have downloaded and printed out too).

Be sure to get yourself in the zone beforehand - make sure you have used your revision cards, read through your textbooks and classroom notes, have been to the toilet and only have the essentials with you like a bottle of water and some stationery.

Most importantly, make sure you have switched your mobile phone off so that you are not distracted. Also, to avoid any temptation to look at your phone display during the course of the task, don't use it as your stopwatch. Look for a timer or alarm clock around the house or even ask a parent or guardian to come and alert you when your time is up.

As you will recall from your GCSE exams, the exam conditions are very strict!

Exam-taking is not all about what you know and how well you cope under pressure though. A very important aspect of being assessed is the way you write your responses. Consulting past papers can enhance your ability to respond well and gain extra marks by teaching you what it is the examiner is looking for.

If you put in the effort to prepare yourself for the exams, you have no reason to be nervous.
Use the documents and resources provided by the exam boards to ensure you are as happy and confident as can be entering the exam. Photo by SGPhotography77 on

Familiarise yourself with the types of questions that are commonly set and ask yourself what it is they are trying to get out of you. Furthermore, find out what can add or lose you points in the exam, as mastering this technique could be the difference in you getting one grade or another when the results are published.

You can do all of this by checking out a range of valuable resources for revision like past papers, the mark scheme and examiners' notes, all of which can be found on the relevant exam board's website and are usually free to download.

For further help, you can search the web for 'biology tutors near me' or 'biology a level tutor'.

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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.