A Level Biology


What is it about at sixth form level?

A cell is a miniature marvel of organisation that has been many millions of years in the evolutionary making. What is more impressive still is that cells can coalesce into even more complex structures: tissues, organs and ultimately organisms. The average human body contains 37 trillion cells, enough if laid out end to end to reach to the moon and back. Yet the whole operation is controlled by a genetic code of four simple letters and it can be quickly brought to a standstill by a rogue fragment of DNA in the form of a virus. The scope of biology is enormous and it is an exciting time to be studying it. Advances in technology mean that we can sequence and manipulate genomes, and use computer modelling to help us understand complex systems. At the same time, there is still so much to discover.

Building on the material you have learned at GCSE, an A level in Biology will explore the living world from its micro- to its macro-levels and explore it across a wide range of organisms, from fungi and plants to invertebrates and mammals. You will look at the relationship between the structure and function of cells and organisms and how order is maintained. You will develop your understanding of the processes of development by being introduced to evolution at the molecular level. You will also examine cutting-edge biotechnologies and the issues surrounding genetic modification and cloning.

Lower sixth

In the first year, you will cover four modules. In Module 1 (Development of Practical Skills in Biology), you will learn how to plan and implement experiments and how to analyse and evaluate the results. Module 2 (Foundations in Biology) will cover biological molecules, nucleotides and nucleic acids, enzymes, biological membranes and the cell. In Module 3 (Exchange and
Transport) you will look at exchange surfaces, and transport in animals and plants. Finally, in Module 5 (Communication, Homeostasis and Energy) you will look at neural and hormonal communication, plant and animal responses, photosynthesis and respiration and communication and homeostasis, with excretion as an example of homeostatic control.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will continue to study Module 1 along with two new modules. In Module 4 (Biodiversity, Evolution and Disease), you will cover communicable diseases and their prevention, the immune system, biodiversity, and classification and evolution. Module 6 (Genetics, Evolution and Ecosystems) will look at cellular control, patterns of inheritance, the manipulation of genomes, ecosystems, cloning and biotechnology, and populations and sustainability.

If you are transferring to the upper sixth having completed Modules 1 to 4 elsewhere, you will join an upper-sixth class covering Modules 5 and 6, as well as consolidating your practical skills and knowledge.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

Biology is needed to study the subject at university along with Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science and other related degrees such as Physiotherapy and Ophthalmology. It also prepares you for broader natural sciences courses. By studying Biology, you will develop your understanding of science and the scientific method.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

You will need a GCSE in Biology at grade B or above. You will also need to be numerate and have good writing skills as, out of the three A level sciences, Biology requires you to write the most.

How is the course assessed?

AS level

Students studying for the AS will sit two papers on Modules 1-4 at the end of the first year. Paper 1 (Breadth in Biology) covers Modules 1-4 and has a multiple choice section, followed by structured questions, covering theory and practical skills. Paper 2 (Depth in Biology) covers Modules 1-4 too and has structured questions and extended response questions covering theory and practical skills. Both papers are worth 50% of the AS and last 1 hour 30 minutes each.

A level

Students studying for the A level will sit three papers on Modules 1-6 at the end of the second year. Paper 1 (Biological Processes) covers Modules 1, 2, 3 and 5. Paper 2 (Biological Diversity) covers Modules 1, 2, 4 and 6. In both papers, at least 15% of the question paper assessment covers knowledge and understanding of practical skills. 10% of the question paper assessment covers mathematical skills. Paper 3 (Unified Biology) covers Modules 1-6 and contains short answer questions and extended response questions. Papers 1 and 2 are worth 37% of the A level and last 2 hours 15 minutes each. Paper 3 is worth 26% and lasts 1 hour 30 minutes.

Practical assessments no longer contribute to the final grade at A Level. However, students must complete a minimum of 12 practical activities to demonstrate practical competence. Performance is reported separately to the A Level grade and will be marked as either pass or fail.


AS Biology A for OCR
By A. Fullick et al
Published by OUP, ISBN 9780198351917

A Level Biology A for OCR
By A. Fullick et al
Published by OUP, ISBN 9780198351924

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: OCR-A H020, A level: OCR-A H420

Wendy Carson
Head of Department