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A-Level Biology

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Why study Biology?

Biology is the study of life and living organisms, and it has many branches, from genetics to physiology, from ecology to biotechnology. Students of Biology will learn about the structure and function of the human body, as well as studying a broad range of non-human organisms, from single-celled bacteria, protoctists, and fungi, to multi-cellular plants and animals. Biology can help us prevent, cure, and even eliminate disease. It can also teach us how to live healthier lives, keep fit, and maintain a balanced diet.

Biology is a core A-level subject for anyone wanting to read Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, or any of the numerous biomedical subjects offered at university. A level biology will fully prepare students for university life, giving them not only a thorough foundation in biological theory, but also a range of practical laboratory skills, and a good understanding of scientific method and the research process.

A level students at CIC are taught the new AQA specification. All exam boards have the same subject content, but we believe that the AQA specification is most accessible to the greatest possible proportion of students, and encourages students of all abilities to access and demonstrate their ability in biology. AQA questions are more accessible, clear and straightforward, minimising undue use of language, which might act as a barrier to students. AQA wants students to see the science, not just the words, and offers some realistic contexts within which students can demonstrate their understanding of biological science.

Duration of study

Normally, students are taught the A level or iGCSE specification over the course of two academic years (years 12 and 13, and years 10 and 11, respectively).
An accelerated programme is also offered, for students who wish to sit A level or iGCSE exams after one year (one year A level, one year iGCSE).

What is covered by the course?

A Level – Year 1, AQA

Topic 1: Biological molecules

  • Biological molecules
  • Nucleic acids

Topic 2: Cells

  • Cell structure
  • Transport across cell membranes
  • Cell recognition and the immune system

Topic 3: Organisms exchange substances with their environment

  • Exchange
  • Mass transport

Topic 4: Genetic information, variation and relationships between organisms

  • DNA, genes and protein synthesis
  • Genetic diversity
  • Biodiversity

A-Level Year 2, AQA

Topic 5: Energy transfers in and between organisms

  • Photosynthesis
  • Respiration
  • Energy and ecosystems

Topic 6: Organisms respond to changes in their internal and external environments

  • Response to stimuli
  • Nervous coordination and muscles
  • Homeostasis

Topic 7: Genetics, populations, evolution and ecosystems

  • Inherited change
  • Populations and evolution
  • Populations in ecosystems

Topic 8: The control of gene expression

  • Gene expression
  • Recombinant DNA technology

How is it examined?

Assessment overview

Paper 1 – Mixture of short answer, extended response, comprehension and experimental data analysis questions, based on Year 1 syllabus. (2 hours; 91 marks)

Paper 2 – Mixture of short answer, extended response, comprehension and experimental data analysis questions, based on Year 2 syllabus. (2 hours; 91 marks)

Paper 3 – Synoptic paper (covering both years of the course) focussing on experimental and practical techniques, and their evaluation and interpretation. Candidates choose one of two synoptic essay questions. (2 hours; 78 marks)

All exams are sat at the end of the second year.

Practical laboratory work

In order to be awarded a Pass, students must complete at least 12 core practical investigations, during which time they must develop a set of practical techniques, such as the ability to follow complex technical procedures, understanding how to select and use specialist apparatus, how to work safely, and how to gather, analyse and report experimental data.

iGCSE – Year 1, International (9-1) Edexcel

Topic 1: The nature and variety of living organisms

  • Characteristics of living organisms
  • Variety of living organisms

Topic 2: Structure and functions in living organisms

  • Level of organisation
  • Cell structure
  • Biological molecules
  • Movement of substances into and out of cells
  • Nutrition
  • Respiration
  • Gas exchange
  • Transport
  • Excretion
  • Co-ordination and response

iGCSE – Year 2, International (9-1) Edexcel

Topic 3: Reproduction and inheritance

Topic 4: Ecology and the environment

  • The organism in the environment
  • Feeding relationships
  • Cycles within ecosystems
  • Human influences on the environment

Topic 5: Use of biological resources

  • Food production
  • Selective breeding
  • Genetic modification and genetic engineering
  • Cloning

How is it examined?

The Edexcel iGCSE (9-1) in Biology comprises two externally assessed papers:

Paper 1 (61.1% of the total qualification marks) – 2 hours; 110 marks. Paper code 4BI1/1B. A mixture of different question styles, including multiple-choice questions, short-answer questions, calculations and extended open-response questions.

Paper 2 (39.9% of the total qualification marks) – 1 hr 15 min; 70 marks. Paper code 4BI1/2B. A mixture of different question styles, including multiple-choice questions, short-answer questions, calculations and extended open-response questions.
There is no coursework component for IGCSE Biology. All students will complete at least 8 core practical investigations over the course of two years, and the practical component of the course is assessed in the final exams (e.g. knowledge of how to set up an experiment and critically appraise results or conclusions).

Related university courses and careers?

Most universities require Biology A level for the study of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Biology, or Biomedical Sciences. It is also useful for anyone interested in studying Psychology, Social Sciences, and many other subjects.

Potential subsequent career choices include: medical doctor, nurse practitioner, dentist,
pharmacist, research scientist (e.g. biochemist, pharmacologist, microbiologist and forensic scientist). There are also many careers in agriculture, ecology, biotechnology, as well as in fitness, nutrition, and sports medicine, for which Biology GCSE or A level is highly desirable.

Suggested reading:

AQA Biology A Level Student Book, by Glenn Toole & Susan Toole (OUP).
Edexcel International GCSE Biology Student Book , by Phil Bradfield & Steve Potter (Pearson)