TSR Wiki > Study Help > Subjects and Revision > A Levels > A-Level Subject Guides II > A-Level Biology
Background information about studying Biology
This course builds on knowledge, understanding and practice skills that you have developed during your GCSE science course. You should have gained at least a GCSE grade B in biology or BB in science (double award), both of which provide suitable preparation for the a-level.
Biology, with its mixture of scientific method, problem solving, practical skills and socially relevant content, provides a useful complement to arts humanities among mixed A levels. It also enables students to develop the essential skills of synoptic essay writing, an aspect of modern education highlighted as missing by the major universities. This makes the qualification highly sought after.
How will it differ from GCSE?
Comment: Very difficult, one of the hardest A Levels. Really consider that this is what you want to do.
Another opinion: The subject is a big step up from GCSE but if you are good at remembering lots of facts you could find it relatively straightforward as all you need to do is memorize the textbook to get high grades. I would not consider biology to be anywhere near as difficult as A level maths and it seems to be the easier of the three sciences.
Another opinion: It's not that hard. A fair bit of memorisation required, but nothing too bad. I don't really think you need to "really consider" as the person above says. (And anyway, A Level maths isn't that hard.)
Another opinion: I agree; it's easy than chemistry or maths (and much more interesting!)
Another opinion: It is definitely easier than chemistry and more enjoyable, if you like learning facts. If you enjoy reading biology topics especially human biology, it becomes easier to learn. There are no 'hard' concepts -not in AS anyway just a lot of content to know, which needs to be broken down and learned effectively and applied to questions. Best thing about biology is, if you miss a class, you can read it over a few times and teach yourself just as well, whereas in chemistry for example, sometimes you'll need the teacher to explain hard topics well and then do a couple of questions to fully understand.
My opinion: Biology isn't massively hard to understand, it's just that there is a lot of information that you need to know for the exams. It is quite interesting, but I might find it easier because I have a really good teacher, other classes at my school find it harder as they don't have great teachers. GCSE biology was the easiest thing ever so it's certainly a step up from that
Another opinion: Having completed Units 1 - 6 at AS and sitting the exam soon. I can honestly say out of my 4 AS subjects , Biology is the hardest. In comparison to GCSE , it requires a lot more understanding and in depth knowledge of the subject matter. Biology is my only science but from what I can gather from friends , everyone is finding it the most difficult. The exam style itself is quite hard in practice papers , as opposed to the "spraying" out of knowledge as GCSE you need to focus on the question and be very specific in your answers.
Another opinion: I find its easier and more interesting than chemistry. Biology has quite a few odd application questions but its mainly memorising. Its not very hard to understand and personally I don't think there was much of a step up from GCSE. From AS to A2 though its more noticable. The important thing is to remember the keywords needed to get marks when answering questions.
Another opinion: Difficult? A level biology difficult? Its comparable to a stroll along the beach
Another opinion: In summary: workload. There is alot of information to learn and cover and believe me it is not something you can simply cram before the exam. It's very time-consuming and will take up a decent amount of your time. I suggest you read into what topics you will cover and ask yourself if you really really like biology that much to put in time every week.
Another opinion: In comparison to Chemistry, the content is not too difficult at all, the concepts and knowledge is pretty straightforward so long as you have a keen interest in the subject and revise over the topics thoroughly, however I find that exams are much simpler for Chemistry in comparison to Biology and then there's ISAs which, if you have a "good" teacher (if you know what I mean), are simple and if not then you're screwed and tsr is probably your only hope in doing well. Regardless, if you enjoy Biology at GCSE then it's worth studying at A-Level as the 'Human' aspect of the course is very enjoyable and fascinating, in my opinion. As with any subject at A-Level, take it up according to three things; Do you believe you have the ability to do well? Are you passionate about it? Do you plan on studying a course that requires this subject?
Quite a lot, but mostly near the end of the year with revision.
Comment: Basically making sure you know all the stuff in the textbook.
Required Individual Study
Comment: Really very little outside the textbooks, honestly. Obviously it would be good if you are considering Biology/Biological Science related subjects to show outside interest in personal statement and potential interviews.
Comment: That is flat wrong im afraid! You need to learn mark schemes and be naturally good at How Science Works.
Comment: You don't NEED to learn mark schemes. I certainly didn't, and it didn't do me any harm. Really, as long as you learn the textbook stuff, you should be fine. No "extra" effort required.
Comment: Learning mark schemes is definitely essential! Biology is marked very specifically so you need the correct phrases and exact key words.
Comment: From my experience, make sure you brief yourself on the whole of your A-Level course before your exams because you can be tested on things from your AS too on your second year. Some of the questions you have to use some general knowledge for too.
How is it assessed?
Awarding Body : AQA
Unit 1 - biology and disease
- Examination paper ( ums)
- One paper, 1 hour 15 long
- % of total As marks
- (60 Raw Marks)
Unit 2 - Variety of living organisms
- Examination paper ( ums)
- One paper, 1 hour 45 long
- % of total As marks
- (85 Raw Marks)
Unit 3 - Investigate and practical
- AS Centre assessed unit (ISA) or externally assessed EMPA (60 UMS)
- 20% of total As marks
- (50 raw marks)
Unit 4 - Population and environment
- Examination paper ( ums)
- One paper, 1 hour 30 long
- % of total A2 marks
- (75 raw marks)
Unit 5 - Control in cells
- Examination paper ( ums)
- One paper, two sections - short answer questions and long answer questions. 2 hours 15 long.
- % of total A2 marks
- ( raw marks)
Unit 6 - Investigate and practice
- Examination paper (60 ums)
- 10% of total A2 marks
- (50 raw marks)
Awarding Body: OCR
Unit F Cells, Exchange and Transport (15% of total A2 Level marks)
30% of the total AS GCE marks 1 hour Written paper 60 marks
Unit F Molecules, Biodiversity, Food and Health (25% of total A2 Level marks)
50% of the total AS GCE marks 1 hour 45 minutes Written paper marks
Unit F Practical Skills In Biology 1 (10% of total A2 Level marks) Practical tasks
20% of the total AS GCE marks 40 marks Candidates complete three tasks set by OCR and are marked by the centre.
Unit F Communication, Homeostasis and Energy
15% of the total A2 marks 1 hour Written paper 60 marks
Unit F Control, Genomes and Environment
25% of the total A2 Level marks 1 hour 45 minutes Written paper marks
Unit F Practical Skills in Biology 2 Practical tasks
10% of the total A2 Level marks 40 marks Candidates complete three tasks set by OCR and are marked by the centre.
In EDEXCEL there is CW in As and A2 worth 20%. As is a report into a topical issue and for A2 you carry out a research project.
In AQA there isn't coursework as such but you have an ISA similar to the one at GCSE but is more heavily assessed. (ISA - Investigative Skills Assessment)
About 20% of the exam is practical. This includes a main one e.g. Measuring Enzyme activity and microscope work. If you're worried about dissections, don't be! They have been removed from the syllabus as a result of complaints.
If you're doing Edexcel there will be no practicals. There used to be an alternate to practical paper but they have changed the syllabus this year so dont know what they're doing now. Rest reassured practicals are not part of an assessment in Edexcel biology.
Field trips and excursions
There are lots of opportunities for field trips. At my college we went to the south of france for a week to carry out our A2 research projects. Obviously this will depend on the college.
Where can I go with a Biology A-Level
Students who take A Level Biology can go on to study veterinary science, medicine, optometry psychology, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, physiotherapy, sports science, microbiology, forensic science, biophysics, genetics, neuroscience, botany, zoology, ecology and environmental science and of course, biology.
Username: Agent Smirnoff
What I like about studying this subject: I enjoy Biology as it helps me understand new and previously learnt concepts in a more in depth nature. AS Biology has so far helped me to understand a lot more about the processes and functions of our body and its components. Biology is a nice challenge and quite an easy subject for me. It is not just memorising facts and information. It is much more than GCSE Biology.
What I dislike about studying this subject: You do have to memorise a lot of stuff and you have to answer some questions in a certain way.
What I like about studying this subject: Studying biology in so much depth was actually very interesting
What I dislike about studying this subject: Had to memorize so much stuff its not even funny. In the end I actually started forgetting stuff
What I like about studying this subject: In contrast to just memorising things and not understanding them in GCSE, you get to explore why things happen in biology i.e. why oxygen is a product of photosynthesis
What I dislike about studying this subject: Nothing :D Best decision I took was to take biology - i almost didnt
What I like about studying this subject: It is the most interesting subject of the (6) A Levels I'm taking, you cover a wide range of topics in moderate depth at AS (or extreme depth at A2 - extreme to the max), you can pass with flying colours if you stick to the "learn the book by heart according to the specification", and it includes essays and long-paragraph style questions which is nice every once in a while
What I dislike about studying this subject: hmm A2 is a bit tedious what with learning so many things (it is very in depth), but I really can't fault the AS apart from OCR having stupid coursework where you're assessed on crap like drawing borders around tables rather than your knowledge
What I like about studying this subject: Very interesting(it broadens your thinking).
What I dislike about studying this subject: The pastpapers and mark schemes. The answer to some of the questions are really dimwitted,many marking scheme points are irrelevant and many important ones are ommited.. If you study hard and get a B i really don't blame you. The solution to this problem(a problem that should never have exsisted) is doing loads of past papers and killing your own analysis and judgement(becoming a robot really and a pretty stupid one of that).
What I like about studying this subject: It is very interesting. Apart from some of the dry ecology parts it never fails to get me interested and I'm proud to say when choosing what to keep and drop at A2, even though I want to do psychology at uni I never for a moment considered dropping biology. :) There is just something about it which makes it stand out from the other sciences. And after knwoing for 6 years that CO2+H2O+light energy > O2+Glucose I *finally* at A2 learned as to why that is the case!
What I dislike about studying this subject: The mark schemes can be a bit dodgy. The sometimes don't include perfectly logical, correct answers which should be awarded marks and they are very very specific. You could argue that its just being concise but sometimes its just annoying.
What I like about studying this subject: It is very interesting the practicals are quite fun if your that way inclined. Finally it didn't require too much outside reading.
What I dislike about studying this subject: Revision at the end. Revision is long and tedious and there is a high emphasis on exam technique and perfectly specific answers so text book definitions are vital. There is so much content to know too so its stressful fitting it all in before your exams. You cant miss anything otherwise you get confused as it builds off previous knowledge a lot.
What I like about studying this subject: Its definatly a good science subject, with some interesting and relevant topics. Goes nicely with essay type subjects. Pretty simple method of work just memorize everything.
What I dislike about studying this subject: Like others have said there is a hell of a lot to remember. I mean you really do have to memorize every page to get good grades in the exam. Theres no real quick or efficient way to do it, and theres not much logic to it, so that even if you forget you would be able to work it out. Its also one of the fustrations of revision with the subject when it comes to revising, once you forget somnething you can get questions right and it really knocks you. Of course though if you do it with courses like english, phycology, business, etc then it will work well as the skill is common across all the subjects, REMEMBER!
What I like about studying this subject: Awesome and amazing, Its beautiful how all of biology comes together to really animate the human body after doing biology I see myself in a whole new light a great science.
What I dislike about studying this subject: I hate the fact the exams are based on exam technique more than biological knowledge you can 'think' in the exam its a mere application of the mark scheme nothing more its the sad truth about AQA Biology the Exams are very dodgy and rarely express true Biological understanding especially the ISA. Its more about using the right words than understanding Biology. For this Reason I prefer chemistry since you cant rely on memorizing mark schemes in the exam.
What I like about studying this subject: Nothing
What I dislike about studying this subject: The mark scheme is too random.
Categories: Biology | A-Level Subject Guides
This qualification is designed to harness students' interest in the world of living things.
The four units each take an overarching topic such as diversity or disease. These topics allow students to see links between concepts to bring the subject to life.
Students must carry out 10 required practical activities in the course. The practicals are not constrained, allowing each school to choose resources and equipment that best suit their circumstances.
Practicals in this specification include investigations into enzymes and photosynthesis as well as using equipment such as microscopes and potometers. Exam questions will be asked on the practicals, but there is no coursework or practical exam.
A range of question styles are used, such as short answer questions, calculations and longer extended writing questions, allowing students to demonstrate the skills required for university study for subjects such as biology, medicine or dentistry.
This qualification is available for teaching now in Bahrain, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
Unit 1: The diversity of living organisms (AS)
Unit 2: Biological systems and disease (AS)
Unit 3: Populations and genes (A2)
Unit 4: Control (A2)
Unit 5: Synoptic paper (A2)
- Candidates may re-sit a unit any number of times.
- The best result for each unit will count towards the final qualification.
- Candidates who wish to repeat a qualification may do so by re-sitting one or more units.
The diversity of living organisms
- Biological molecules
- Cells and cell structure
- Biochemical reactions in cells are controlled by enzymes
- Transport into and out of cells
- Gas exchange and the transport of oxygen in living organisms
- DNA, genes and chromosomes
- Protein synthesis
- Genetic diversity may arise by meiosis
- Species and taxonomy
- Biodiversity within a community
Biological systems and disease
- The causes of disease: pathogens, lifestyle and genes
- Digestion and absorption
- HIV as an example of a human disease caused by a virus
- The defensive functions of mammalian blood
- The circulation of blood and the structure of the mammalian heart
- Heart disease may be associated with specific risk factors
- Mass transport systems in plants
- The role of aphids in spreading plant viruses
- Cell division by binary fission and mitosis
- Mutation and cancer
Populations and genes (A-level only)
- The effect of biotic and abiotic factors on populations
- Energy transfer through ecosystems
- Nutrient cycles
- Allele frequencies in populations
- Evolution may lead to speciation
Control (A-level only)
- Control systems involve stimulus and response
- Nerve impulses and synaptic transmission
- Skeletal muscles as effectors
- Control systems in plants
- Homeostasis and negative feedback
- Hormones and the control of blood glucose concentration
- Control of heart rate
- Regulation of transcription and translation
- Recombinant DNA technology
Download the complete OxfordAQA International AS / A-level Biology specification (PDF, KB).
Resources available with this specification
OxfordAQA provides the resources and advice you need to teach the International AS / A-level Biology specification effectively.
Science taster webinar recordings
Watch a recording of our Science taster webinar from November to understand our approach to the specification and assessment approach.
Science recorded webinar
Get all the help you need to undertake practicals with your class. This guide harmonises the rules and guidance for A-level Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and includes a full glossary of terms.
Subject specific vocabulary
Ensure that everyone is using scientific language correctly with this list of word definitions used in our international A-level science specifications and exam papers (based on ‘The Language of Measurement’ produced by the Association of Science Education).
Specimen Papers and Mark Schemes
See how the International AS / A-level Biology specification will be assessed, so you can help your students prepare to sit their exams.
Exampro is an online database of AQA past questions mapped to the new international qualifications, enabling teachers to create their own resources and assessments.
Schools will be given an Exampro username and password when they are approved to teach our qualifications. If you have these you can log in now. If your school is approved to teach our qualifications and you do not know your username and password, contact us.
Enhanced Results Analysis™ tool
Our free Enhanced Results Analysis™ tool (ERA™) gives you instant analysis of your students' results. You’ll see how students performed in each unit and topic, and the marks they received for each question. This allows you to see which questions proved the most challenging, or how different classes performed, so you know what areas to focus on in following years. ERA™ is available after results are published.
Find out more about ERA™
Download this specificationDownload