Overview

What is this subject about?

The course is designed to engage and inspire students by showing how an understanding of many contemporary issues requires a grasp of fundamental biological ideas. It will help you appreciate how society makes decisions about biology-related issues and how biology contributes to the success of the economy and society.

What will I study in the first year?

In the first year, the topics are ‘Lifestyle, health and risk’, ‘Genes and health’, ‘The voice of the genome’ and ‘Biodiversity and natural resources’. Through these topics you will learn about biological molecules, cell structure, DNA, genetics, the circulatory system, heart disease, diet, the use of plants, and biodiversity. There is an emphasis on practical work in the laboratory. You will also spend half your lessons in an IT room as interactive computer-based learning plays an important role in the delivery of the course.

What will I study in the second year?

In the second year, the topics are ‘On the wild side’, ‘Immunity, infection and forensics’, ‘Run for your life’ and ‘Grey matter’. Through these topics you will learn about ecology, evolution, diseases such as HIV and TB, muscles, control in plants and mammals, and brain disorders and their treatment. As in the first year, there are many opportunities for discussing ethical issues such as the implications of the Human Genome Project, GM organisms and the use of drugs in sport.

How is the course assessed?

All assessments for A Level will take place at the end of the course. There will be three 2 hour papers. For the third paper students will be required to read a scientific article in advance of the exam and answer questions on this. Questions in this exam will be synoptic, with answers drawing on two or more topics. In all three exam papers, questions involving the use of mathematical skills within Biology will contribute to 10% of the assessment. There will also be questions assessing the knowledge and understanding of the 18 core practicals carried out throughout the course.

What skills will I need and develop on this course?

You will use your knowledge and understanding to present scientific ideas and arguments, both in writing and orally. You will develop a wide range of laboratory experimental skills including microscope use, microbiology techniques, DNA manipulation, analysis and interpretation of data, and evaluation of methodology and data. You will discuss ethical issues relating to applications of biology in society.

Careers

What can the course lead to in terms of higher education and future careers?

Biological Science, Sports Science, Sports Rehabilitation, Pharmacy, Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science, Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Nursing, Agriculture.

Are there alternative routes forward in Science?

To succeed with A Level Biology you need to be good at learning and remembering a large body of scientific theory and knowledge, and at applying it under exam conditions to solve problems you will not have seen before. This is why a minimum of grade 6’s in the relevant GCSEs and a similar track record of exam success in GCSEs overall are needed.

If your GCSE track record is not in line with this but you wish to take your involvement in science to a higher level with us, our BTEC National Extended Certificate and Diploma courses in Applied Science are the courses you should look at. These are assessed predominantly by coursework and you can check your thinking with your teachers as you go along.

The Extended Certificate is equivalent to one A Level and would give a sufficient base to enable progression to degrees in fields where science has a supporting role – fields such as Sports Science, Sports Therapy, Paramedics, Nursing, Radiography, and Equine Science – as well as to a range of scientifically orientated Foundation degrees. It is also an interesting course in its own right!

If you want to be able to go on to a wider range of more intensely scientific careers and degrees, you would need to take the Diploma course. This is equivalent to two A Levels and enables you to have a programme that is more devoted to science.

There is more detailed information about BTEC Applied Science on its own subject information sheet.

Entry Requirements

What are the formal entry requirements for this course?

A Level Biology is a strongly theory based course that is assessed by exams and builds directly on GCSE work in Biology, Chemistry and Maths. You are most likely to succeed if you have an appropriate base of knowledge and a good track-record of success in exam based courses at GCSE overall.

In addition to the College’s general entry criteria, you will need to achieve a minimum of grade 6’s in GCSE Biology and GCSE Chemistry (or in GCSE Combined Science), together with a minimum of ideally grade 6 in GCSE Maths (Higher Level), and a minimum of grade 4 in GCSE English. We would also expect you to have ideally averaged around at least grade 6 in your GCSEs overall. If you have not achieved at this level overall you will be much more likely to succeed (and indeed do well) on BTEC Extended Certificate or Diploma in Applied Science, rather than A Levels in the sciences. Merit on BTEC carries the same UCAS points as a C at A Level. Distinction carries the same UCAS points as an A.

Applied Science or Additional Applied Science or non-GCSE Science qualifications are not suitable as preparation for A Level study.

Extra Support

What extra support/enrichment activities are on offer?

Although the emphasis is very much on students taking responsibility for their own learning, the Biology department supports students by holding a ‘clinic’ each lunchtime, and running regular revision sessions before the exams. In addition to a visit to London Zoo, we offer a number of optional external talks and visits, for example to Surrey University and to the Royal Society.

Subject combination advice

Subject combination advice:

To progress to many degree courses related to Biology it is essential to study Chemistry at A Level. Maths and Physics go well with Biology, as do Psychology and Geography.

Do I need to take Chemistry alongside Biology?

You don’t have to, but you should be aware that there is a lot of Chemistry in the Biology course, so it does really help. You also need to be aware that few universities take students on to a Biology degree without Chemistry. (Yes, I know a Biology degree might be the last thing on your mind at this stage, but you wouldn’t be the first student to have changed their mind!).