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 makes it easier to get a good grade in your preferred scientific subject.
You can find out all you need to know about Biology revision by clicking here.
In addition to this change, Biology (as well as the other Sciences) have undergone some changes as a result of the qualifications reform led by the U.K. government. The main amendment is the marking scheme, which now offers pupils grades from 9-1 instead of A*-G.
To find out more about the content you will cover on the newly-reformed GCSE Biology course, including a list of the topics that make up the syllabus and how the exams are structured, take a look at the other posts in our GCSE Biology series.
However, if you wish to find out more specifics about the different Biology specifications on offer at this level, then keep reading to discover which exam boards offer Biology at GCSE level and how their past papers can help to put you in a great position ahead of the exams.
The reformed Biology GCSE (which is now graded 9-1 as opposed to A*-E) started being taught from September 2016.
Find out more about the GCSE Biology grading system here.
Below are three of the most popular exam boards for Biology GCSE.
AQA officials have worked alongside teachers to create a specification that will stimulate and motivate students. As such, they’ve introduced the new 8461 specification, which has been designed in line with new government changes to GCSE exams and is set to replace 4401, whose last exams were taken this summer.
This updated course incorporates a range of practical as well as evaluative topics, designed to answer that big question: How does Science work?
The specification is based on a series of topics related to the living world and relevant to students. It is designed to help them understand how Science can be used to explain the world in which they live and the impact humans have on it.
The topics covered are: Cell Biology, Organisation, Infection and response, Bioenergetics, Homeostasis and response, Inheritance, variation and evolution and Ecology.
The assessment offered by AQA is split into two exams, covering roughly equal proportions of the topics covered. Each exam is worth 50% of the final grade so performance is purely based upon the exam.
Your AQA Biology GCSE will be split into two exams worth 50% each of your final grade. Photo credit: quapan via Visual hunt / CC BY
OCR’s GCSE, Biology A, makes up part of the Gateway Science Suite. This amended specification, which has been taught in schools since September 2016, is a replacement for the previous J243 course, which first made an appearance in 2012.
The course is intended to help students develop their biological knowledge and scientific thinking. On the course, they will discover how key concepts in Biology make sense of the observed diversity of natural phenomena across the planet. Relevant practical skills are integrated with the theoretical topics to give pupils an all-round learning experience.
The main topics covered at foundation level are: Cell level systems, Scaling up, Organism level systems, Community level systems, Genes, inheritance and selection and Global challenges.
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 GCSE syllabi embrace the latest trends in biological research.
Your teacher will no doubt have already told you, but 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!
The concepts of Science will stay the same, despite the course changes. Photo credit: Enzymlogic via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA
While some of the structure may have changed, you can bet that many of the questions in the previous exams 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; just bear in mind that the exam you take won’t follow the exact same flow.
Doing past papers is especially useful if you are new to formulating exam-style responses. 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. If you are not sure what to expect from an examination centre, ask your teacher to provide you with some details. Below are more tips on how to benefit from past papers in your subject.
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. Since you may not have sat in an exam hall before, you should know that there are many rules in place to ensure that every student has a fair assessment.
Pupils must arrive on time, and can only take a small number of items (including refreshments, stationery and, at times, books) into the hall with them. But, most importantly, there is strictly no talking, passing notes or any other form of communication allowed. This can be quite hard to get used to but it really is very important to respect the conditions set out by assessor.
So, 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.
Don’t let yourself get tempted into checking your mobile phone during a practice test. Photo credit: perzonseo via Visualhunt / CC BY
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.
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 the mark scheme and examiners’ notes, two very important documents that should not be ignored if you are serious about doing well in Biology.