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 4 (Biodiversity, Evolution and Disease), you will cover communicable diseases and their prevention, the immune system, biodiversity, and classification and evolution.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will continue to study Module 1 along with two new modules. 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. 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?

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 a combination of multiple-choice questions and structured questions, 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

A Level Biology A for OCR
By Sue Hocking
Published by Pearson, ISBN 9781447990802

Exam Board and Specification Codes

A level: OCR-A H420

Andrew Stockley
Head of Department


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
Royal Veterinary College (Veterinary Medicine)

"I have loved MPW. The class sizes are very small and it is easy to ask questions. The teaching is really interactive and they all care so much about the students. My Director of Studies helped a lot with my UCAS statement, suggesting what to include and perfecting it with me. I honestly don’t think I would have go any university offers without her help."


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
University of Bristol (Law)

"I’ve had three fantastic years at MPW: I’ve had a happy time; I’ve met some amazing people; and, most importantly, I’ve left school knowing that I have fulfilled my potential, leaving with GCSE and A Level grades that I can be proud of. I feel that the teachers and Directors of Studies all care deeply about their students' futures and performance."


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
University of Edinburgh (History and Politics)

"All of my teachers have been great; they are experienced, friendly and treat us all like adults rather than teenagers. I’ve also enjoyed being in a city. There is so much to do and we’ve been on a lot of theatre trips after school which is something I hadn’t been able to do before. My favourite thing about MPW has been the people I have met."


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
King's College London (Biology)

"I would like to say a big thank you to my teachers. Everyone at MPW has been so warm towards me and my teachers are so friendly and willing. They also adapt to learning styles and have been sensitive about responding to my needs; they provide extra help when I need it but also give me space to absorb new topics or information when I need that."


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
University of Bath (Mechanical Engineering)

"One of my favourite things about MPW is the people I have met, who are all really nice and really fun to be with. My Director of Studies was really enthusiastic which rubbed off on me. She also helped enormously with UCAS, taking the time to clearly explain what I needed to do and supporting me."