Studying A Level Biology – Is It Hard?

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A fascination with animals, plants and humans, the environment, conservation, biotechnology and complex living systems are just some of the reasons why A-Level Biology should be your subject pick.

A-Level biology is one of those subjects that blends theoretical and practical understanding with analytical skills. Through this, you develop a deep understanding of the intricacies of the living world and its interaction with other systems – including its impact on us and us on it.

Biology is a dynamic field of study with some seriously cool, cutting-edge science that is changing our understanding of the way living things work as well as how we can harness them to our societal and economic advantage.

Whether you love understanding the mechanics of the natural world; you see yourself at the forefront of the exciting field of biotechnology and genetic engineering; or you’re consistently blown away by the fact that something as complex as a human functions on glucose and nine amino acids (molecular biology), then A-Level biology is your foot in the door to doing great things.

Now that you’re excited about your future career in biology, let’s get down to some common questions:

How many years does it take to complete the A-level biology?

You have two years to complete A-level biology. It is typically split into two stages – AS level and A2 level and each is assessed through an exam at the end of each academic year. If you’re really keen and have the focus and discipline, it’s possible to complete AS and A2 in one year.

What kind of background is necessary to study A-level biology?

You will need a C grade or higher in GCSE biology or double science, mathematics and English. It’s helpful to understand some chemistry principles too, as chemistry can feature in some experiments. Because biology is a science, you should be able to present and interpret data in the form of graphs, tables, calculations and statistics. For this reason, subjects like biology, mathematics and science all support each other. Couple these with a language subject and your career options in the scientific field expand significantly.

What is the scope of A-level biology?

Like your GCSEs, A-Level biology covers a wide range of topics, from biological molecules and cell structures and functions, to tissues, organs, biological systems, organisms, even ecosystems. This broad scope can appear like a lot, but there is a degree of overlap. Its range also means you’re very likely to find a niche you’ll love and want to delve into in your tertiary education.

Speaking of tertiary education, A-level biology gives you access to a wide range of university courses such as those in the fields of medicine, biomedical sciences, dentistry, orthotics, and veterinary medicine, for example. A-level biology is also highly recommended for courses in environmental science, occupational therapy, pharmacy, sports science, speech therapy, and nursing, to name just some.

Is A Level Biology Hard?

You needn’t be intimidated by A-level biology, nor any of your other A-level subjects. Yes, there is a large amount of content to get through, but the concepts are easy to understand and there’s a world of resources available at your fingertips. Through platforms like A-level Biology, video tutorials and online journals, once you understand a concept it’s actually pretty easy to commit it to memory and to apply your knowledge to different scenarios.

Is A Level Biology A Good A-Level?

We’ve all heard older people say “I’ve never used calculus since leaving school!” While that may be true, what they probably don’t realise is that the process of learning calculus helped them develop some important thinking and problem-solving skills. The same goes for A-level biology. Here are some unexpected ways you can benefit:

  • Time management: You’ll have a lot of syllabi to cover over the course of the year, which you’ll need to plan for. You’ll also need to practice time management when preparing for your exams. This is an important life skill.
  • Enhancing your analytical skills: Throughout your A-levels, you’ll be required to analyse data and experiment outcomes. Improved analytical skills make you a strong problem-solver, more detail-oriented, and more meticulous, logical and structured in the way you work and present information.
  • Improved theoretical and practical application: It’s one thing to have just theoretical or practical understanding but it’s a powerful advantage to have both. Problem-solving is as much about identifying an issue as coming up with sound ways to break it down, analyse it and come up with solutions. This is a skill that is needed in many careers and life scenarios.
  • Improved interpersonal skills: This may come as a surprise, but it’s true! By studying A-level biology, you’ll sometimes be required to work in teams, which requires good communication and social skills. You’ll also learn how to balance your academic responsibilities by having a healthy social life. Studying A-levels is a great time to form study groups. Here, you’ll practice presentation skills, speaking to groups of people, and learning how to communicate ideas and concepts in a way that other people find engaging and informative. You’ll also learn to become comfortable with the important skill of asking for help. Learn to use the wealth of knowledge from your classmates and teachers by asking for assistance!

What exactly will I learn in A-level biology?

This will vary from one exam board to the next, but in general, you’ll cover the below topics. You’ll notice as you go through it that you’ve covered much of this at GCSE level. What happens at A-level is adding more detail to foundations already laid in your GCSE years. More advanced material is also introduced to prepare students wanting to pursue tertiary courses after A-levels.

Core Topics Sub-topics
  1. Biological molecules
  • Monomers and Polymers
  • Carbohydrates
  • Lipids
  • Proteins
  • Nucleic acids and important information carrying molecules
  • DNA replication
  • ATP
  • Water inorganic ions
2. Cells
  • Cell Structure
  • Transport across all cell membranes
  • Cell recognition and the immune system
3. How organisms exchange substances with their environment
  • Surface area to volume ratio
  • Gas exchange
  • Digestion and absorption
  • Mass transport
4. Genetic information, variation, and the relationship between organisms
  • DNA, genes, and chromosomes
  • DNA and protein synthesis
  • Genetic diversity and mutation
  • Genetic diversity and adaptation
  • Species and taxonomy
  • Biodiversity within the community
  • Investigating diversity
5. Energy transfers in and between organisms
  • Photosynthesis
  • Respiration
  • Energy and Ecosystem
  • Nutrient Cycles
6. Organism response to changes in the internal and external environment
  • Stimuli
  • Nervous coordination
  • Skeletal muscles and nerves
  • Homeostasis
7. Genetic population, evolution, and ecosystem
  • Inheritance
  • Populations
  • Evolution and speciation
  • Populations in ecosystems
8. The control of gene expression
  • Alteration of the sequence of bases in DNA
  • Gene expression
  • Using genome projects
  • Gene technologies

Do my GCSE marks decide my A-level marks?

That’s not a straightforward answer. While good marks for GCSE can suggest good marks for A-levels, it’s also about the amount of effort you apply to your studies. You can achieve good results in your A-levels even if your GCSE results weren’t the best by working hard, studying consistently and asking your peers and teachers for help where needed.

Having said that, because GCSE lays the foundation for much of your A-level syllabus, poor GCSE marks can be an indication that you’ll have a hard time at A-level. A pass for A-level is anything higher than an E, while in GCSE, a pass is 4 or a C and above.

What are the keys to A-level biology success?

  1. Consistency – Because of the volume of work, it’s important to apply yourself daily to your studies. Don’t wait until the last minute to complete your assignments or study for your assessments. Letting things build up can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated.
  2. Revision notes – Make notes in class and while studying. Ensure they work with your style of learning and including bullet points and diagrams.
  3. Revise with previous exam papers – This will help familiarise you with the styles of question, content typically covered and volume of questions to get through. You’ll also be able to identify areas of strength and weakness so you feel confident at exam time. A-level Biology has loads of resources like past papers, mock exams and quizzes to help you consistently prepare for your exams.
  4. Have fun –  It’s really hard to concentrate and stay motivated when you’re disinterested in something, it’s human nature. If you find your concentration wavering, take a break and do something else. If you’re struggling to find interest in a topic, use various techniques to make it more exciting, such as pictures, presenting to peers, or finding fun and informative video explainers online to add some fun to the topic.