From September 2015 onwards, new A Levels have been introduced in all subjects. In these restructured courses, the entire content is tested in a single set of exams right at the end of the two-year course.
AS levels have been retained as separate qualifications, with an examination sat after one year of study.
The content of the first year of the A Level course is identical to the content of the AS course. Students intending to study the full A Level can, if they so wish, sit the AS examination after their first year of study, but this is not compulsory. Sitting the AS exam like this is a good idea if:
you would like some exam practice, marked by the exam board, to help you see how you are getting on
you would like a qualification and grade, beyond (I)GCSE, to put on your application forms when applying for further education courses.
However, bear two things in mind if you are intending to carry on to the full A Level:
sitting the AS exam gives you no dispensation. You still have to sit both years of the full A Level right at the end of the course, and none of your AS marks will be carried forward
you will have to pay an additional set of exam fees
You are advised to discuss whether or not to sit the AS exam with your Tutor and Student Adviser.
This file covers both the AS course and the first year of the two-year A Level course, which are identical. It is called AS Biology for convenience.
Arrangement of Lessons
All of the material required for the AS examination papers, and the first year of the A Level course, is contained in the following two course modules:
Module 1: Molecules, Cells and Reproduction
Module 2: Exchange, Transport and Diversity
There are two AS examination papers. Module 1 covers the material required for Paper 1, while Module 2 covers the material required for
The course, textbook and specification assume that you have obtained at least a grade C in (I)GCSE Biology or Double Award Science, although all of the facts to be examined are covered during the course. Each chapter of the textbook starts with a blue “Prior knowledge” box, followed by “Test yourself on prior knowledge” questions, so that you can revise this knowledge and assess whether you understand it.
If you have not studied Biology (or Double Award Science) at (I)GCSE, or wish to firm up on this background, the following textbook is recommended. It is the book used in the Oxford Open Learning IGCSE Biology course:
Phil Bradfield and Steve Potter, Edexcel IGCSE Biology: Student Book (2009, Pearson Education, ISBN: 9 780435 966881)
AS Biology also requires some of the Chemistry studied at (I)GCSE. This is introduced at appropriate points in the course.
Finally, at least 10% of the examination marks are awarded for use of Mathematics in a biological context. The level required corresponds to the higher tier of GCSE Mathematics, and the skills tested are listed on pages 40 – 44 of the AS specification. Note that the skills printed in bold on these pages are only needed for the full A Level, not for the AS alone. This Mathematics will also be introduced at appropriate points of the course, and the whole of Chapter 13 of the textbook is devoted to it. Consult your Tutor if you feel that you need further help with mathematical aspects of the course.
The textbook referred to throughout the course is:
Ed Lees, Martin Rowland and C J Clegg, Edexcel A Level Biology 1 (2015, Hodder Education, ISBN: 9781471807343). It is sometimes listed instead as Edexcel A Level Biology Student Book 1.
You will need a copy of this textbook for every lesson, and you can buy one through the Oxford Open Learning website or direct from Amazon.
A second, companion, volume will cover the second year of the A Level course.
The textbook is accompanied by a website which contains:
answers to the Test Yourself questions and the Activity questions
glossaries of the meanings of new words, arranged chapter by chapter.
You can access this website at www.ool.co.uk/0112ba, or by using QR codes: see pages 288 – 289 of the textbook.
By using the textbook, the website and the course you will have excellent coverage of all the material in the specification.
Please note that you will not be able to access the Dynamic Learning website advertised in the textbook. This is a website, available only to institutions, which enables teachers to set students selected questions online. The material available in the Oxford Open Learning course more than makes up for this.
Other books are not essential, but you may like to look at other Biology textbooks from time to time. Several revision guides for A Level are also published in book form. If you feel that you would like to use a revision guide before the examination, ask your Tutor which one they recommend.
The textbook recommends a magazine called Biological Sciences Review: see page 282 and www.ool.co.uk/0003ba. This is written specifically for A-level students and contains extension material at the right level. It is very good, but not at all cheap as an individual subscriber – consider it if you are looking for extension material and are prepared to pay.
The AS specification includes 8 Core Practicals. These develop a set of investigative skills which are tested in the main examination papers (there is no separate practical examination). A further 8 Core Practicals are specified for the second year of the full A Level course.
AS level Biology Introduction6
The examination papers will assume that you have done these practicals in a school laboratory. For most Oxford Open Learning students this will not be possible. However, the course covers this material by a combination of:
home practicals, suitable for carrying out in the kitchen with normal household materials, and
videos and photographs to view online.
The textbook also contains detailed descriptions of these practicals, with comments and questions to help you understand their significance.
Three of these AS Core Practicals (found in lessons 6, 12 and 13 of the course) make use of a microscope. It will not be possible to do any version of these yourself unless you have a microscope, although you will be able to watch videos of them. If you can borrow or buy a microscope to use, it will give you greater hands-on experience. If you are willing to buy a microscope, we recommend The New Apex Learner
Microscope. At the time of writing (July 2015) this was on sale through Amazon for £57. This microscope is excellent value, providing optics as good as those found in many school microscopes.
The A Level (although not the AS) specification also lists a number of practical skills - such as the ability to use apparatus and to make and record observations - to be internally assessed by teachers. The skills are listed on pages 37 – 38 of the specification. This assessment leads to a statement of “practical competency” - simply either “pass” or “fail” - which is reported alongside the grade on the final A Level certificate. It will not be possible for you to be tested in this way. However, it is not necessary to obtain a statement of practical competency to obtain an A
Level grade and certificate, and a pass or fail in them has no effect on that grade. If you are concerned about this issue, you should discuss it further with your Student Adviser.
As mentioned above, the textbook has an associated website on the Hodder Education site.
The course also uses several online videos including those found on YouTube at www.youtube.com.
A variety of other activities, some of which are designated as “Extension” activities, also make use of internet resources.
If you do not have an internet connection at home, consider building in regular trips to a library or internet café as part of your study schedule.
The Structure within each Lesson: How to Study
The front page of each lesson shows:
Aims for the lesson, closely related to statements in the specification. These set out the position that you should reach after working through the lesson. Keep these aims in mind while reading the lesson material, and review them at the end to make sure that they have been met.
Context, giving section references to the specification.
Reading, specifying pages to read from the textbook to reinforce and expand your learning.
Use of textbook
When the lesson has been completed, tackle the reading references. The textbook will deal with some subjects in greater detail, and, as with the notes, you will probably need to read the passages several times.
The textbook contains Test Yourself questions with answers on the accompanying website. Make sure that you answer all of these questions, check the answers, and follow up any mistakes or misunderstandings. At revision time you may want to return to these questions to test your knowledge.
Preparing for the exams
Do not leave reading this section until later!
Textbook Chapter 14, “Preparing for the exams”, contains invaluable advice on your approach to study. You are strongly encouraged to read it now, before starting Lesson 1, and then to refer back to it throughout the course.
Note especially the following three points:
1. Knowledge and skills
Only 35 – 37 % of the marks available are awarded for showing knowledge of “the facts”, the items listed in “What you need to know” at the end of each lesson. The rest are awarded for a variety of skills, listed in “What you might be asked to do”, which make use of these facts. Two things follow:
Simply relying on the learning of facts will not be successful: even if perfect, on its own it can only gain you a grade U (that is, a fail).
As skills must be developed over time, leaving all of the work until the last minute is a recipe for disaster.
A successful approach is to work at the skills diligently throughout the course, paying as much attention to them as to the biological information in the lessons.
2. Command words
Examination questions usually begin with “command words”, like “describe”, “explain” and “calculate”. These tell you what to do, and the sorts of things that marks will be (and will not be) awarded for.
These command words are crucial. Examination candidates often score no marks at all for lengthy paragraphs of correct Biology because they have ignored them and are not answering the question set.
A full list of the command words is given on pages 278 and 279 of the textbook, and on pages 45 – 46 of the AS specification. Refer back to these lists often, and use them every time you submit a TMA for marking. In this way, they will have become second nature by the time you sit the examination.
3. Memory and forgetting
Look at Figure 14.3 on page 277 of the textbook. This shows the results of an experiment into how much learned material we forget over time.
The moral is this. If you have a certain number of hours available for learning, you will enter the exam room remembering more if you go over the material several times briefly, with gaps in between, rather than learning it all once intensively at the end.
So: do not leave all of your revision until the end of the course! You will certainly need to revise thoroughly for the examination then, but frequent revision throughout the course is also essential.
Note: this is not advising you to work more hours in total, but to work “smart”.
The Mock Examinations
The last TMAs in the course are mock exams, consisting of two papers, which follow closely the format of the AS exam itself. You are recommended to study the online practice exams and mark schemes (see the section on Past Papers below) before attempting these TMAs and sending them to your tutor. It is also a good idea to restrict yourself to the time specified for each paper; this will give you valuable practice in writing under time pressure.
Chapter 14 of the textbook has helpful advice on doing examinations on pages 280 – 281. Read this before attempting the mock exam.
Checking the Specification
This course has been written to cover the contents of Edexcel’s AS Biology B (full name Advanced Subsidiary GCE in Biology B: course code 8BIO) and the first half of A Level Biology B (full name Advanced GCE in Biology: course code 9BIO). These specifications are available to download from the Edexcel website. The easiest way to access them is to enter “edexcel” into a Google search box, and follow the links via “A levels”, “B” for Biology, “Biology B (2015)”, “Specification”, “AS” and “Download”. Or you may reach it via www.ool.co.uk/0011ba.
You should look particularly at:
knowledge, skills and understanding on pages 3 -15
the assessment objectives and weightings on page 18
the list of required mathematical skills on pages 40 - 44
the list of command words used in examinations on pages 45 - 46.
The examination for the AS course consists of two papers. The testing of investigative and mathematical skills is built into both of the papers.
Paper 1: Core Cellular Biology and Microbiology (Paper code: 8BIO/01)
This is a 90 minute examination paper, which tests the content of Module 1: Molecules, Cells and Reproduction. The total number of marks is 80, 50% of the overall total. All of the questions are compulsory.
Paper 2: Core Physiology and Ecology (Paper code: 8BIO/02)
This is a 90 minute examination paper, which tests the content of Module 2: Exchange, Transport and Diversity. The total number of marks is again 80, 50% of the overall total. Again, all of the questions are compulsory.
In both papers there will be a range of multiple-choice, short answer, open-response, calculation and extended writing questions.
You should read the specification throughout the course, and more especially when you are revising, to check that you have covered everything. Keep a copy on your computer or print it out.
At the time of writing (July 2015), one sample set of exam papers and mark schemes is available for download from the Edexcel website at
The sample exam papers are called SAMs (Sample Assessment Materials). A second set of sample papers is promised for later.
With examinations on this new specification being set for the first time in 2016, there are currently no past papers. However, a collection of past papers from the old (pre-2015) specification, with mark schemes, is available online. Enter “Edexcel past papers” into a Google search box and follow the links. Please note: “Pearson” is the publishing house for Edexcel materials.
Please liaise with your tutor concerning news of the availability and use of past papers.
AS level Biology Introduction
You have a lot of resources to help you in your studies: your course blue file, your textbook, internet resources and your tutor. You should make good use of your tutor to help you with any difficulties that you may have during the course, especially at the start.