Biology AS/A-Level

Course Outline:

AS – The AS Biology course is split into three modules, which explore further many of the basic concepts studied at GCSE and also open up whole new areas of study:

- Foundation: This module investigates the structure of cells, biological molecules and DNA. Enzyme activity and nuclear division also factor in as chapters in this module.

When we were studying this section of the course we split into groups and made posters of the fluid mosaic model (the structure of a cell membrane) using polystyrene balls, egg boxes and wire! The best bit of this unit was DNA replication.

- Transport: This module looks more at animals and plants on a larger scale. It involves looking at how the mammalian heart functions, the cardiovascular system and the transport systems in place in plants.

This module included the opportunity for the dissection of a heart to allow us to see the structure for ourselves and find what we had only previously seen in diagrams.

- Human Health and Disease: This topic delves into a wide range of areas. It looks at the work and significance of the Human Genome Project, some specific infectious diseases, including what they do to the body and how they can be cured and what happens when the proper dietary requirements go unmet.

I enjoyed this topic the most out of the AS level course. We learnt that there is so much more to the immune system than ever could be imagined from GCSE and it was fascinating to learn. There was also the opportunity for a debate on the ethical issues surrounding the Human Genome Project. Finding out about the problems of cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and one most relevant to today, AIDS, was very informative.

A2 – The A2 Biology course is also split into three modules:

- Central Concepts: This comprises chapters studying the processes of respiration and photosynthesis in great detail, kidneys and homeostasis and the nervous system, as well as some environmental biology.

- Mammalian Physiology and Behaviour: The option is chosen by the school as the one to be studied. Covers, nutrition, the skeleton and muscles (take a look at “Skeley” in the image) and the sense organs.

- Unifying Concepts: A synoptic paper covering many sections of the course previous and bringing together all of the skills learnt.


Forms part of the marks for the Transport module at AS and for Unifying Concepts at A2.

Facilities Available:

- Dissection Sessions: It is very useful for those studying A-level Biology to be able to see first hand the structures of the organs they are learning about. In my time in Theale Sixth Form there has been the opportunity to carry out dissections on the heart, kidneys, lungs and eyes. Although, the teachers are perfectly content to allow you just to watch if you have ethical issues or other with dissections.

- Microscopes: The biology department at Theale has microscopes, along with pre-prepared slides and the equipment available to make your own if that is what the practical requires.

For example, when we were studying leaf structure and function we were able to prepare slides from imprints of the undersides of the leaves. We also looked at pre-prepared samples of sickle cell blood cells and those infected by malaria, as well as sections from all parts of the bodies of animals and plants.

- Practical Sessions: Equipment is available to carry out the experiments that are mentioned as part of the syllabus for the course.

For example, we did various food tests as an investigation to find out what different foods contained, such as starch, sugars, lipids etc. We were also able to see working potometers, respirometers (using maggots!) and photosynthometers.

Post Sixth Form: Where can an A-level in Biology take you?

Lots of university courses, particularly science courses, may include at least a bit of Biology in them, and this course will provide a broad grounding for this.

By Emma Anderson

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