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Guide to A Level Biology

Biology is the third most popular A Level in the UK (after Maths and Psychology), with around 75,000 students sitting it in 2023. At Simply Learning Tuition, we have been helping students secure top grades at A Level since 2009. Our in-depth guide walks you through A Level Biology, with expert advice on how to revise, learning resources for key topics, and past papers for exam practice.

How hard is A Level Biology?

Biology is one of the most challenging A Levels. Compared to Maths, Physics, and Chemistry, it has the lowest percentage of students receiving A or A* grades (in Biology, the figure was 26% in 2023, compared to 31% in Chemistry and Physics, and 41% in Maths).

Biology has a reputation for being a wide-ranging A Level with a lot of content to cover and remember. By contrast with Maths and Physics, where more complex ideas can be derived from a solid understanding of first principles, each topic in Biology tends to be tackled from scratch. This means there is a lot of material to memorise, which some students find difficult. On the other hand, some students find subjects like Chemistry more conceptually challenging than Biology – so how hard you find A Level Biology will depend in large part on your personal strengths as a student.

Biology textbook study revision

How to get the best grade in A Level Biology

Given the amount of material there is to cover in the Biology syllabus, it is highly advisable to keep on top of the curriculum from the start of your sixth-form studies. Take clear and detailed notes in lessons and give your prep or homework the attention it deserves. If there are any topics which you do not fully understand in lessons, ask your teacher or tutor to go over them with you.

Past exam papers are available online and are a highly valuable resource. When you first start practising with past papers, you can take them ‘open book’ and without time limits. This will familiarise you with the type and difficulty of questions which are asked at A Level. It will also enable you to identify any areas of weakness or knowledge gaps early on in your revision. As the exams approach, sit past papers under test conditions – improving your time management and ability to deal with exam pressure could make all the difference.

Do not forget to consult the examiners’ reports for the exam board you are taking. These are an indispensable guide to the answers that get rewarded – and those that lose marks. On the day of the exam itself, exam technique can be the difference between grade boundaries. Make sure you read each question carefully, answer clearly and legibly, and go back and check your answers at the end of the exam.

Finally, if you are aiming for top grades, it is well worth working with an experienced private Biology tutor. At Simply Learning Tuition, all of our tuition is delivered 1-1 by subject and exam board experts. A good tutor will tailor their approach precisely to your personal requirements – revisiting challenging content and making sure you have mastered the syllabus. Nearer the exams, they can advise on revision, mark your work and provide feedback, and provide vital exam technique tips honed by years of experience. This can frequently be the difference between a disappointing result and the grade you deserve.

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How to revise for Biology

Before starting revision, time spent planning and structuring your approach is always well invested. Review the syllabus for your particular exam board, making a note of any topics you think will require extra revision. Then, create a revision timetable, allocating slots according to the amount of work you think each topic will need – not forgetting to include plenty of short breaks to keep you fresh and engaged.

For each topic, review your notes and compare them to the syllabus – are there any gaps in your understanding? If so, make use of the learning resources we link to below to address these. Depending on how best you learn, there are various tried and tested revision techniques:

  • Condensing your notes into flashcards
  • Self-testing
  • Teaching someone else

Before long, it will be time to get practical – sit past papers and mark your results, referring to the mark scheme and examiners’ report for the relevant year. Make a note of any topics you struggled with and assign further revision slots in your timetable to revisit these.

In the final weeks before your A Levels, test yourself under exam conditions to make sure you are exam-ready.

A Level Biology microscope practical

Grade boundaries for A Level Biology

Grade boundaries vary from year to year and from one exam board to another. However, in 2023, the average score needed across the OCR, Edexcel and AQA exam boards to secure the following grades was as follows:

  • A*: 68.9%
  • A: 58.8%
  • B: 49.3%

Exam boards and specifications

All the major exam boards offer A Level Biology. These include:

Past papers

You can download A Level Biology past papers here.

Learning resources

Please see below for learning resources for the A Level Biology topics students most commonly find challenging:

Frequently Asked Questions

Is A Level Biology difficult?

Biology is a challenging A Level and comparatively few students achieve a grade A or A* in it. Biology has a reputation for being an A Level which contains a lot of content to cover and memorise, which many students find difficult. However, it is considered by some students to be less conceptually challenging than comparable subjects like Chemistry.

Is it hard to get an A* in A Level Biology?

A lower proportion of A Level Biology students receive A*s than for other major STEM subjects like Chemistry, Physics and Maths. It is therefore one of the hardest subjects to get an A* in. However, with the support of a good Biology teacher or tutor, well structured revision, and plenty of hard work, securing an A* is achievable.

Is there a lot of Maths in Biology A Level?

Around 10% of the marks in Biology A Level require mathematical skills. However, the Maths required is not too advanced, so any student who achieved a grade 6 or above in Maths GCSE should be comfortable with A Level Biology.

What subjects go well with A Level Biology?

Other science subjects are a natural pairing with A Level Biology – particularly Chemistry, as there is some degree of overlap between the two subjects. Students who are planning to study Medicine or a related subject at university commonly take Biology with two or three of Chemistry, Physics and Maths. Psychology, the second most popular A Level in the UK, also complements Biology, particularly for those who are intending to study Psychology at university.