Biology A-level

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Do you want to make a difference in the world? The study of Biology will prepare you for a variety of careers, from conservation to medicine, where you can do just that! The course is delivered by a team of enthusiastic, knowledgeable and approachable lecturers who will introduce you to the wonderful diversity of the biological sciences. Have you ever wondered how your heart is able to beat on its own? How exactly does your immune system protect you from constant attack? Could GM crops reduce world hunger? These are just some of the areas we will explore. Throughout the course you will also carry out a range of investigations to improve your practical skills, problem solving ability and confidence, applying your knowledge to new and different contexts. We think Biology is an awe-inspiring subject and we hope you will too!

What will I study in Biology A-level?

Year 1

Module 1 – Development of practical skills in biology

The development of practical skills is a fundamental and integral aspect of the study of any scientific subject. These skills not only enhance learners’ understanding of the subject but also serve as a suitable preparation for the demands of studying biology at a higher level.

Module 2 – Foundations in biology

All living organisms have similarities in cellular structure, biochemistry and function. An understanding of these similarities is fundamental to the study of the subject. This module gives students the opportunity to use microscopy to study the cell structure of a variety of organisms.

Module 3 – Exchange and transport

In this module, students study the structure and function of gas exchange and transport systems in a range of animals and in terrestrial plants. The significance of surface area to volume ratio in determining the need for ventilation, gas exchange and transport systems in multicellular organisms is emphasised.

Module 4 – Biodiversity, evolution and disease

In this module the students study the biodiversity of organisms; how they are classified and the ways in which biodiversity can be measured. It serves as an introduction to ecology, emphasising practical techniques and an appreciation of the need to maintain biodiversity. The students also gain an understanding of the variety of organisms that are pathogenic and the way in which plants and animals have evolved defences to deal with disease. The relationships between organisms are studied, considering variation, evolution and phylogeny.

Year 2

Module 1 – Development of practical skills in biology

Students continue to develop their practical skills through the second year of the course.

Module 5 – Communication, homeostasis and energy

It is important that organisms, both plants and animals are able to respond to stimuli. This is achieved by communication within the body, which may be chemical and/or electrical. Both systems are covered in detail in this module. Communication is also fundamental to homeostasis with control of temperature, blood sugar and blood water potential being studied as examples. In this module, the biochemical pathways of photosynthesis and respiration are considered, with an emphasis on the formation and use of ATP.

Module 6 – Genetics, evolution and ecosystems

This module covers the role of genes in regulating and controlling cell function and development. Heredity and the mechanisms of evolution and speciation are also covered. Some of the practical techniques used to manipulate DNA such as sequencing and amplification are considered and their therapeutic medical use. The use of microorganisms in biotechnology is also covered. Students gain an appreciation of the role of microorganisms in recycling materials within the environment and maintaining balance within ecosystems. The need to conserve environmental resources in a sustainable fashion is considered, whilst appreciating the potential conflict arising from the needs of an increasing human population.

Entry Requirements

A minimum of 5 GCSE's at Grade 4 or above all from the Core Subjects including:

  • Grade 6 in Biology or 6 in both Core and Additional Science
  • 5 in Maths
  • 5 in English

How will I learn?

Biology students are expected to become confident independent learners as part of the course. There is a large emphasis on students completing work outside of lessons including pre-reading of relevant textbook pages before the lesson and making summary notes outside of the lesson. This then allows more time in sessions for developing understanding and applying knowledge to new contexts. Theory lessons in the classroom will also include a range of activities including group work, presentations, use of videos and teacher-led discussion. Practical lessons will be carried out in the lab with follow up work completed afterwards in the classroom. Students will be expected to complete a booklet of past paper questions per topic and will also sit an end of topic test (roughly every 3 weeks).

How will I be assessed?

3 exams at the end of the 2 year course:

1. Biological processes (37% of total A-level): assesses content from modules 1,2,3 and 5 (2hr15min)

2. Biological diversity (37% of total A-level): assesses content from modules 1,2,4 and 6 (2hr15min)

3. Unified biology (26% of total A-level): assesses content from all modules (1 to 6) (1hr30min)

Practical Endorsement (Pass/Fail): assessed via practical activities completed throughout the course

Any trips?

Available trips in Biology vary from year to year but recent optional trips have included:

"Biology in Action" (approx. £26)

A day trip to Warwick University to listen to lectures from leading scientists from across the country. Examples of previous talks include; DNA in forensic science, the science of high altitude survival, treating oesophageal cancer and the genetics of superheros.

Oxford Natural History Museum (approx. £14)

A day trip to the Oxford Natural Hisotry Museum involving a talk on classification and biodiversity and an opportunity to explore the museum and the botanical gardens.

Cotswold Wildlife Park (approx. £16)

A day trip to the Cotswold Wildlife Park near Burford to coincide with the topics on classification, evolution, biodiversity and conservation. The trip includes a talk on animal health and welfare.

Monkey World (approx. £30)

A day trip to Monkey World in Dorset to observe primate behaviour and listen to a talk on global primate conservation.

"Life of a Surgeon" (approx. £10)

A day trip to the Royal College of Surgeons in London for students particularly interested in studing medicine. An opportunity to speak to current medical students, find out more about the application process and practice suturing a wound on a pretend arm!

"Science in Health" (approx. £10)

A day trip to Cardiff Medical School to find out more about potential careers in the field of health science. The event includes lectures, hands on activities and a tour of the university.

Biology Field Trip (approx. £199)

A 3-day residential field trip to develop practical skills including different sampling techniques and statistical tests. Previous years have gone to Snowdonia and South Wales.

 

There are also opportunities to take part in the following enrichment activities:

The Biology Olympiad (approx. £5)

This is a national competition run by the Royal Society of Biology and is open to all 1st and 2nd year Biology students.

STEM ambassador

Opportunity for students to help out with events including Open Day, Open Evening and The Big Bang event

Are there any costs involved?

During the course students will complete a booklet of past paper questions per topic. Students will be expected to pay for these at the start of each topic.

Year 1 mandatory cost for booklets: £12.50 (approx.)

Year 2 mandatory cost for booklets: £12.50 (approx.)

There will also be costs for optional trips (see Trips section)

Students who receive a bursary will receive a subsidy towards these costs.

You may also be required to buy appropriate PPE such as lab coats and goggles, these will be available from the College

FAQs

How much of the course is Human Biology?

The course covers many aspects of human biology including the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, nervous system, renal system, immune system and communicable diseases. The course is very broad though and also covers many aspects of plant biology, microbiology, genetics and ecology


Will I have to cut things up?

Dissections include a heart, fish and locust. The Practical Endorsement does require students to demonstrate dissection skills but this can involve dissecting the stem of a plant if neccessary.


Is there much practical work?

Most topics involve some laboratory practical work. We make full use of our laboratory facilities with a variety of practical activities to put theory into practice. Although there is no coursework students will be expected to demonstrate a range of practical skills in order to complete the Practical Endorsement element of the course.


What is the practical endorsement?

The Practical Endorsement is a series of experiments conducted across the 2 years allowing you to develop and demonstrate your practical skills. It does not contribute to your overall A level Biology grade but is assessed as a Pass or Fail. Students will be expected to complete a practical booklet through the course as evidence towards the Practical Endorsement.


What can A -level Biology lead on to?

A-level Biology is required or recommended for those wishing to study:

  • Biological sciences
  • Medicine
  • Veterinary medicine
  • Dentistry
  • Zoology
  • Agriculture
  • Physiotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Nursing

There is a very wide range of university courses in biological sciences, from genetics to ecology. Biology can help gain entry to careers in agriculture, forensic science, pharmaceuticals, and conservation.


Would studying Core Maths alongside A-Level Biology be helpful?

If you are not also studying A -Level Maths, taking L3 Mathematical Studies (Core Maths) could be a useful option to help support the work done in A-Level Biology. This is a one-year course that you would take alongside your other 3 subjects, with exams at the end of your first year. Taking this would help to reinforce the data analysis work done in Biology, giving you further practice of sampling, visually displaying and interpreting data in graphs such as histograms and scatter graphs, and calculating and comparing averages and measures of spread including standard deviation. Core Maths also looks at probability modelling, critical analysis and personal finance.


Available As

A Level
[56 UCAS pts. available]

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What can I do after I have taken this course?

Available As

A Level
[56 UCAS pts. available]

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Hear from some of our First year A-level Biology students!

What the students say

I enjoy learning about the cells in our body and how they work together like the immune system and circulatory system.

Emily Rutt