If you know already you are going to opt for A Levels, and have already chosen to go down a different avenue, then you could be about to say goodbye to Biology forever! As sad as that is, not everyone takes to scientific subjects and every individual has their personal strengths and preferences.
However, even if you are taking Biology with no clear direction of where you want to go after that, you should nevertheless really embrace the subject and take as much knowledge away as you can because Biology is essentially a subject that teaches you about life.
These essential aspects of biological life should really be learned by everyone, if we truly want the world to have a certain level of awareness of the planet we live on and to help us to appreciate the power and complexity of the Sciences.
As a Biology student, longer will you take for granted the true wonders of life and the natural world, as you will be able to understand the fascinating medical and scientific processes behind them.
Remember, also, that if you decide to study towards the International Baccalaureate, you will have to select one of three Sciences to complete your all-round studies.
For those who are keen to pursue Science, and particularly Biology, through to their higher education, a GCSE in the Sciences could set the foundations for a strong scientific education and could even lead you into a profession within the Live Sciences sector.
Naturally, Biology leads the way to a career in Medicine (along with other Science-based subjects) as well as a job as a scientist. However, there are various branches of Biology which can open up many alternative professional doors, including Ecology, Marine Biology, Zoology and many more.
Biology opens up a number of career opportunities, such as jobs in Medicine. Photo via VisualHunt.com
GCSE Biology courses have been carefully put together to be informative whilst encouraging curiosity. Pupils will learn about human biology, including how their body works and how it reacts to external factors, as well as finding out more about other living organisms, evolution and the environment.
The aim of the course is to develop students’ scientific knowledge, (particularly biological concepts), to apply observational and problem-solving as well as develop analytical skills, all through a series of relevant topics. The range of the topics is very broad, giving students a wider understanding of the world and those living in it.
Due to government changes to GCSE courses and exams, many exam boards have amended their specifications to reflect these alterations. For this reason, many new courses emerged around 2016, with many new exams due to be sat for the very first time next summer (2018).
The updated AQA Biology GCSE (8461) first made its way to classrooms across the country in 2016, and its up to date exam will therefore be sat by students for the first time at the end of this academic year.
The principal changes, which have been trialled and developed with the help of teachers, are that exams are more straightforward. This means that less scientific language is used in questions to avoid any confusion, there are fewer contexts to further improve understanding and the questions increase in difficulty to build up the students’ confidence during the course of the assessment.
Exams have also received input from GCSE Maths teams (because Mathematics is very closely linked to Science) as well as A Level Science teams to ensure that the content flows consistently through to the next stage of learning.
As previously mentioned, with any Biology GCSE you can expect to explore a very broad range of topics, such is the breadth of the subject. Yet, here are the main categories that you will encounter on the AQA syllabus:
Cell Biology is the focus of one of the AQA topics. Photo credit: kaibara87 via VisualHunt / CC BY
The exam is divided into two papers, covering topics 1-4 in the first instance and then 5-7 in the second. The first assessment is a written exam which last for 1 hour 45 mins and counts for half the final grade.
The latter, also the same duration, makes up the other 50% of the grade, which means that marks are based purely on performance in exams and not on coursework carried out during the two-year course. Both exams mix up a variety of styles of questions, including multiple choice, structured, closed short answers and open responses.
You can find out more about the exam boards and past papers here.
School isn’t easy for anybody, no matter what it might like seem on the outside. Some students may struggle more academically whilst others might have emotional difficulties to keep on top of… the main thing is to not suffer in silence!
There are many ways that you can make life easier for yourself when studying towards your GCSEs, and the great thing is that many of them are free. The key to learning success is to plan, so get organised now and take inspiration from our tips below to help you with your Biology studies.
It is never too early to start thinking about your exams, even if they are over a year away. We bet you are more than happy to think about the summer holiday that you have been promised after the exams over!
You can use many online tools to help you build a planner, one of which can be found via The Student Room, but it is just as easy to create a hand-written diary if you prefer. If you opt for the paper version, you’ll need to go out and buy yourself a diary or planner, but bear in mind that this should ideally be an academic one which runs from September to September.
In this planner, be sure to write down all of your key dates, like the dates of the exams if you know them already. This will give you a goal to work towards. Don’t forget to keep the journal up to date by putting in homework deadlines, listing revision sessions, and adding reminders (like a prompt regarding an event related to one of your topics or a suggestion to complete a past paper).
Use a diary or planner to prepare for key dates like exams, revision sessions and excursions. Photo via VisualHunt.com
If you find it easier to create your study planner digitally, you can benefit from linking it to your mobile phone calendar and then receive alerts without having to remember to carry around or consult your diary.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t leave it until it is too late! Your teacher will be more than happy to help you when you have questions about the course or the exam, by either offering you advice or by pointing you in the direction of resources to look at.
However, don’t forget that there are many others ways to get answers nowadays. For instance, the Internet is a huge network that connects us with resources but also with people who have similar interests and who can offer helpful discussions.
Forums like the one found on The Student Room are specifically designed for students to interact with eachother, share their concerns, offer advice or simply to vent frustration about their education.
You may find that pupils one year ahead of you can offer you some friendly suggestions regarding the course (but do remember that your exam could be quite different to theirs due to the recent changes).
As your teacher will no doubt have told you, past papers are one of the best forms of revision that you can do. But what about when your particular exam has never been set before?
Regardless of the changes to curriculums, the content of Biology remains the same. It’s not like the answers to scientific questions change from one year to the next!
While some of the structure will have changed, you can bet that many of the questions will share strong similarities with the questions you will be faced with come next year or the following year.
As such, don’t be put off using past papers to work on your exam technique, but just bear in mind that the exam you take won’t follow the exact same flow.
Finally, although it requires a little more financial dedication, you might find it useful to hire a tutor to help you to improve your level of understanding of the topics in Biology, rather than getting close to the exam and realising that there are large gaps in your learning.
Help from biology home tutors is particularly useful if you are falling behind for any reason, if you want to ensure a better grade or if you have specific requirements to meet in order to study Biology at the next level. Visit Superprof for more information.