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All your questions about A-level biology at Heckmondwike Grammar School will be answered on this page.
- Which exam specification do you use?
We are using the AQA Biology specifications, which we know well and believe it gives a good grounding in modern biology. You may do a 1-year AS qualification or a 2-year A-level.
- What does the course consist of?
There are six units in the full A-level: three for AS in year 12 and three for A2 in year 13. The units are:
Unit 1. Biology and Disease
Unit 2. The variety of Living Organisms
Unit 3. AS Investigative and Practical Skills
Unit 4. Populations and Environment
Unit 5. Control in Cells and in Organisms
Unit 6. A2 Investigative and Practical Skills
For more details of the units click here.
- Can I do Human Biology?
No. We don't offer Human Biology at Heckmondwike Grammar School. Most of the full biology course is human biology anyway, and we consider it important to have a broad understanding of all living things.
- How many exams are there?
In each year there are 3 exams (1 for each unit).
Unit 1 1h 15min exam sat in January of Y12
Unit 2 1h 45min exam sat in June of Y12
Unit 3 AS EMPA sat in class time in March Y12
Unit 4 1h 30min exam sat in January of Y13
Unit 5 2h 15min exam sat in June of Y13
Unit 6 A2 EMPA sat in class time in March Y13
The exams mostly consist of short answer questions, but there are longer essay and data interpretation questions in year 13. Your AS grade is based on the average mark for the three exams in year 12, and your A-level grade is based on the average mark for all six exams. You may re-sit any module exam in January or June, though a re-sit doesn't necessarily mean an improvement!
- How many students take biology?
In 2010/2011 there are 154 students studying biology at AS level, split into eight sets; and 94 students studying biology at A2 level, split into six sets.
- How big are the teaching groups?
This year the biggest set in year 12 has 24 students, and the biggest set in year 13 has 17 students.
- How much teaching time is there?
Like all A-level subjects, there are 4.5 hours of lessons per week in Y12 and 5 hours in Y13.
- Is there much practical work?
Yes, we try to fit in as much practical work as possible. Most weeks you will have at least one practical session.
- Will I need to dissect animals?
No. There will be opportunities to dissect organs, where we believe this helps in the understanding of anatomy and physiology. Student who do not wish to take part need not do so, and it is possible to complete the A-level course without doing dissections.
- What about coursework?
In each year there is an Investigative and Practical Skills test (called the EMPA). This involves carrying out some practical work, analysing the results and taking a 1-hour exam on the work. In A2 it also includes a statistical test.
- Will I have to do much homework?
Oh yes. You are expected to spend at least as much time studying on your own as you spend in class. If you don't you will quickly fall behind.
Will I need to takes lots of notes?
No. At Heckmondwike Grammar School we provide you with a complete set of printed notes for each module, written by Dr. Millar. This saves a lot of times in lessons so we can do more interesting things, like practicals, discussions, and finishing the syllabus in time for the exams. You can then annotate and highlight your notes, and your teachers may give you some extra notes, to add detail or give further explanation. Anyone can download the notes for themselves, click here
Will I get a text book?
Not permanently, but there is a sixth-form biology library where you can borrow a text book for an extended period. Remember, everything you need to get through the exams is in the notes. Some of the text books we have are:
What Are The Entry Requirements?
At least 5 B-grades at GCSE
A Grade B or above in GCSE Double Award Science or in all three Separate Sciences. There is a lot of chemistry and even physics in A-level biology.
A Grade B or above in GCSE Maths. There is a great deal of maths in the specification, including formulae and statistics, so you need to be confident with maths.
Self-discipline and motivation to succeed.
A-level Biology is not an "easy option": it is extremely demanding and is often considered by students to be the most difficult of the sciences at A-level, since it covers such a wide range of skills.
Do I need to be good at Maths /Chemistry / IT?
Yes! Biology is a quantitative science, and you will need to do statistics and other calculations during the course. There is also a lot of biochemistry in modern biology, so you should be comfortable with chemistry. We are well equipped with computers at Heckmondwike, and you will be expected to use these for calculations, analysis, simulations, reports and research.
What Grade will I get?
We can't tell you, but we can show you here
what previous students achieved.
I've heard there's a field trip.
There will be a 3-day residential field trip as part of the A-level course in year 13. This will cover much of the practical aspects of the environment unit. For more information on this, and pictures, click here
Are there other events laid on?
Each year is different, but in past years biology students have enjoyed lectures at the Universities of Leeds, Huddersfield and Newcastle; and visiting speakers in school.
Can I go on holiday after the AS exams in year 12?
No, after the exams lessons start again and we start the A2 course. We cover parts of A2 unit 4 at the end of year 12, so if you want to carry on with A2 biology in year 13, you must attend these lessons.
What have previous students said about the course?
" Biology is an interesting subject, and is not spoiled by there being too much work to do!"
" Non stop fun - brightens up any boring day!"
" Cranedale was brilliant."
" Teachers are friendly and there's a relaxed atmosphere. You certainly get treated like adults."
" The field course at Cranedale really sticks in your mind, especially because it was a time to enjoy yourself in the beautiful Yorkshire Wolds."
" Biology is a subject that requires hard work and dedication."
Where Do AS and A-Level Biology Lead?
A good grade in Biology A level is a requirement for university courses in medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and other medically-related degrees. But A-level Biology also provides a useful background to a wide variety of higher education courses. In recent years previous students have gone on to study: medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, radiography, nursing, physiotherapy, pharmacology, pharmacy, chiropody, psychology, forensic science, archaeology, marine biology, biological science, ecology, sports studies, biochemistry, accountancy and even teacher training.