What is A-Level Biology?
Biologists study the life that exists on Earth from minute viruses to gigantic Blue Whales. Biology A level at d’Overbroeck’s is ideal if you are inquisitive about the world.
This course will provide you with an understanding of the principles of Biology. Students will appreciate not only how our bodies work and how diseases stop them working, but also the fragility of life on Earth, and the potential benefits and dangers of Genetic Engineering.
Once you grasp the full significance of Biology, be prepared to look at the world in a new light because someday a Biologist may change it beyond recognition. Even the world of business is turning to Biology. Biology-related activities represent the largest concentration of wealth in the world. The whole drug industry is dependent on Biology. Biologists can tell you whether or not biofuels reduce CO2 emissions.
What you'll do
We will start with looking at the detailed structure of our component chemicals so you will not only understand how amino acids make up a fantastic array of different proteins but will also study how these proteins are digested in your intestines back into amino acids which are absorbed into and transported by your blood to tissues where they are recombined into your own unique proteins. You will really get to understand the basis of a ‘good diet’ and gain a deep insight into how DNA really works. This will allow you to study in detail both cell structure and cell specialisation.
Many students find the work on disease and how we fight disease (immunology) particularly fascinating. We will get to study a range of different organisms from humans to bacteria via fish and insects and with the help of actual organs, you will get to understand how they exchange substances with their environment and transport those substances around the body. We will teach you the fascinating process of evolution and the modern methods of determining the evolutionary relationships between different organisms. We even get to study biodiversity in the environment and its importance to Humans.
In the second year, you will learn how organisms make high energy molecules in photosynthesis and how that energy is released to perform vital functions in respiration. This will lead you into how that energy is transferred between organisms in ecosystems which will help to explain why large carnivorous organisms are comparatively rare.
You will learn a lot about the environment; our effect upon it, its effect on us and the conflicts between sustainability and productivity. In the Upper Sixth you will study, in detail, the complex control systems that allow us to maintain our bodies in a state of dynamic equilibrium and how we respond to the environment using receptors, nerves, hormones and intricate organs such as the kidney. Once you understand how neurones control muscles and how muscles work you will look at exercise in a new light.
You will learn about the ‘control of gene expression’ and how Humans are learning how to manipulate the expression of genes by altering the genomes (their DNA) and this has many medical and technological implications, some of which are controversial but you can’t object to it, or discuss it intelligently, unless you understand the process. In addition to classical genetics you will understand the ‘Genome Projects’ and their role in vaccine development. Much of this work is cutting edge biology and increasingly fascinating, explaining as it does, the techniques of genetic engineering, cancer and gene therapy.
Whom does this subject suit?
It is assumed that most students will have done GCSE before attempting A level. A minimum B grade in Biology is required. Good knowledge of Maths and Chemistry and some Physics are actively useful in Biology. Equally, Geography is useful in ecology and Economics allows for a mutual exchange of ideas on productivity. You will have to write succinct clear answers and understand complex questions so strong English skills are an advantage..
The linear specification has a greater emphasis on mathematical skills. You really need at least a B grade at GCSE maths and you will need to continually practice it (we have incorporated appropriate practice questions into worksheets).
Biology is the ultimate critical thinking subject. You will need to both think about and learn a large body of knowledge. Just making neat notes, although they are always useful, is not enough. Right from the start, you have to learn to think and work things out and in the Upper Sixth, you may have to derive concepts from first principles. Many of the students say that curiosity is one of the most useful attributes in biology and most of them like the way you get to acquire understanding from proper evidence. The ability to interpret graphs and use experimental evidence is essential. Good literary skills are a bonus in the longer questions.
What might the subject lead to?
A considerable number of our ex-students are now practising doctors, vets or dentists; others have gone on to study Marine Biology, Biotechnology, Pathology, Toxicology, Pharmacology and Forensics. The top universities and employers are looking for science at A level as an indication of analytical skills, so other Biology students choose degree subjects such as Economics and Business Studies. As everyone becomes aware of climate change, there is also a growing interest in degree courses on Environmental Sciences. Biology A level is an essential entry requirement for all these courses. Biology is a facilitator subject at Russell Group universities.
Biology is one of the top ‘facilitator subjects’ required to enter good courses at outstanding universities. It is also in the top three subjects on the ALIS scale and as universities are becoming increasingly aware of this they are looking for biology as an indicator of analytical skill. Many students, after studying with us, want to continue with biology at university but their choice of courses may then be limited by lack of Chemistry in their A level portfolio. Biology is a prerequisite for Medicine and Veterinary Science and the growing world of biotechnology and pharmacology. Biology is a wide-ranging subject, requiring many different skills including the ability to design and run experiments. Some dexterity and moderate drawing skills. It is also very interesting and we like to discuss its application to all aspects of life.