Education: A to Z of A-Levels - Biology ; OUR WEEKLY SERIES DESIGNED TO HELP YOU PICK THE RIGHT COURSE
Hodges, Lucy, The Independent (London, England)
What is it? Supposedly the easiest of the three sciences. At AS- level you start with cells and molecules, how a cell is built and what's in it - carbohydrate, protein, fats. You follow on into animals and plants, looking at reproduction (yes, the birds and the bees) and ecology, or at least you do if you're studying with the Edexcel exam board. At A-level, you take a few of the topics in greater depth, eg respiration and photosynthesis. You also study more sophisticated genetics as well as evolutionary biodiversity.
Why do it? Because you have always loved collecting insects, like the great American entomologist E O Wilson, and/or because you think it will be useful careerwise. You may fancy a job as a research worker in the new industries associated with the genome and gene therapy, or working for an environmental agency. Or you could teach.
What skills do you need? The ability to soak up facts like a sponge, and sort and synthesise a lot of information as well as explain things fully and accurately.
How much practical work is there? A fair amount. A requirement for AS- and A-level is that you are assessed on a practical project, eg an experiment looking at enzymes in washing powder. That carries 15 per cent of the marks. Plus you undertake a series of named experiments linking with the subject material.
Ratio of coursework to exams: 15:85 (see above)
Is it hard? Thought to be easier than chemistry or physics, partly because it's less mathematical. But, according to Ed Lees, an examiner with Edexcel, that's not the case because you have to describe complicated things pretty technically. …