Looking Ahead To The A Level Biology Course

Now that you have finished or are soon to complete your two-year GCSE Biology course, you will already have grasped some of the fundamental details and knowledge required by the subject.

During your 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.

Evolution is one of the topics on the Biology curriculum.
At A Level, you will get a chance to look at evolution again. Photo on VisualHunt.com

The A Level course that you are about to embark on is no different to the GCSE one in that it 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.

As a result, by opting to study Biology at A Level (even if you only complete your AS Level and then have to drop the subject for one reason or another), 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.

More Reasons To Stick With Biology A Level

Because it is known as the Science of Life, Biology is relevant to all students and is a key transferrable subject. Unlike studying English or History, for example, which are taught in the context of the country in which they are being taught, a biology tutor teaches about all human beings and explores the basics of our environment.

So, no matter which country you end up living in or in which climate, you will still have a reasonable understanding of how the nature around you works with a qualification in Biology, and how you as a human being interact with it and can nurture it.

Biology is like a universal scientific language as it is the same for everybody.
No matter where you are in the world, Biology is still the same study of life. Photo by astro_matt on Visual hunt

With many fascinating experiments waiting for them, Biology students can benefit from acquiring a wide range of practical skills through hands on work, with tests being more sophisticated than in previous years of schooling. They will be encouraged to not only study how Biology works, but how elements of the Science can be used to solve problems. As such, a number of other skills play a big part in the process of studying Biology, like Mathematics, Physics and Technology.

Biology is a great subject to have under your belt if you dream of a career in Medicine, but is not limited to this field of expertise. Many Biology students go on to professions in areas like Marine Biology, Zoology, Teaching, and much, much more.

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Biology A Level Curriculum And Tips

If you have chosen for the second time to study Biology as one of your main subjects, then the chances are that you don’t need much persuading on the brilliance of the subject. Plus, if you are a passionate Biologist, then this course may simply be another stepping stone to your bigger goal.

That said, there are always students who pick subjects on a whim, because they are good at them or since they just like the subject. Even if this does happen to be your last formal study of Biology, you are still opening up many opportunities by completing the specification, not to mention educating yourself on matters of life.

Thanks to changes to the Biology curriculum in recent years, GCSE students will have had the opportunity to study one or two scientific subjects in far more detail than in previous years. This welcome change has allowed many enthusiasts to get a taste of what it is like to carry out thorough studies, tests and research in their preferred science, meaning that they are better equipped to enter the singular Biology, Physics or Chemistry courses when they reach A Level.

First year 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.

A Level Biology Past Papers & Exam Boards

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.

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.

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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.

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

Using The Exam Boards' Biology Past Papers

Doing past papers is probably the best form of revision you can do in the run up to your Biology A Level exam, as it gets you used to formulating exam-style responses that meet the required level of sophistication for this advanced course.

By using past papers properly, you can work on improving your technique, thus growing in confidence. However, it is no good simply reading past paper questions or just jotting down answers haphazardly. Here are some tips on how best to use these resources.

How To Use Past Papers For Successful Revision

In the run up to your end of year exam, your teacher may organise a mock exam for you, or set a classroom task which simulates an exam. This will help you familiarise yourself with the exam setting once again.

Note: You may find that your A Level exams are even more strict when it comes to taking materials in with you.

You may not be allowed to take any resources into the exam so be sure to revise everything prior to the exams.
It is even more important to revise thoroughly for A Level exams as you will be expected to offer more knowledge than ever before. Photo on VisualHunt.com

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 how effectively you communicate your responses. Consulting past papers can enhance your ability to respond well and can guide you to gaining extra marks by teaching you what it is the examiner is looking for.

So, 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.

Approaching the exam with some level of confidence is encouraged but pupils need to be realistic and educate themselves on the mark scheme. Not enough emphasis is placed on this document, but the fact that it essentially tells you in so many words how to pass your exam speaks for itself!

Guides And Resources For A Level Biology Revision

The Boards

Helpful Biology revision resources can be found on each of the exam boards’ websites. For example, AQA’s website has a page linking to teaching resources (equally useful as documents aimed at students if used correctly) as well as documents for students to download.

OCR, meanwhile, proposes high-quality resources which can be searched by qualification type and resource type, to help you find the right documents for you. You can also download a skills guide from their site to match your personal skills to particular qualifications. This could be a worthwhile activity for those unsure where they are heading after the A Level course.

Reminder: Do not miss the past papers, which as you now know can be a great help when it comes to preparing for exams.

Revision Websites

If you have not yet come across it, be sure to visit BBC Bitesize for your learning needs throughout the course.

This website, dedicated to UK students of all ages and taking a variety of exams, will help to break down the topics in an easy way and will additionally make learning that little bit more fun.

As well as BBC Bitesize, Revision World is a fantastic place for students to go during times of need. This easy to use website offers students study help, coursework assistance, essay writing tips, past papers and many more valuable resources to make revising easy and enjoyable.

Getting hold of revision materials online is brilliant as most resources are easily accessible at the click of a button, plus they are usually straightforward and free (except from having to occasionally sign up), which is an added bonus.

Exam Timetables And Grading

Timetables for compulsory exams like A Levels are released up to two years in advance but are subject to amendments until the final timetables are confirmed, usually in the 12 months prior to the assessment period.

Why not use this to your advantage by planning revision sessions to fit around your exam schedule, so that you can visualise how the weeks leading to the exam period will pan out? Be sure to plan and do everything you want to do before reaching the date of the exam.

For instance, if you want to visit a particular Science museum, then make sure you do not waste any time and get this booked into your diary now. And, speaking of diaries, it is a good idea to highlight key dates in your diary, planner or on a calendar in your room to maintain your focus during those last weeks gearing up to exams. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!

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