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A-level Biology – Everything You Need to Know

Tornike Asatiani - Co-founder & COO of Edumentors

Every journey begins with a single step. For many young minds aspiring to make their mark in the world of science, that step starts with A-level Biology. Unravelling the complex mysteries of life, from the tiniest cell to the vast ecological systems, A-level Biology provides a solid foundation for future biologists, doctors, environmentalists, and many more.

But navigating through the maze of cellular functions, genetic codes, and intricate ecological relationships can be a formidable task. That’s where understanding the lay of the land can make all the difference. This blog post is your roadmap to the A-level Biology landscape, designed to help anyone supporting a student’s journey, or simply interested in the field, better understand the terrain. We’ll delve into the syllabus structure, grading scheme, common challenges, and the secret to acing the A-level Biology exam. Let’s embark on this fascinating journey together.

A-levels – Brief Overview

The A-level, short for Advanced Level, is a subject-based qualification that students in the UK typically pursue post-GCSEs. It offers an in-depth exploration of selected subjects, and is generally a two-year commitment, although some might opt for an accelerated one-year programme.

A-levels are highly regarded, forming the gateway to university and shaping the trajectory of a student’s academic and professional journey. In the case of A-level Biology, students get a chance to delve deeper into the realm of life sciences, nurturing their curiosity, honing their analytical skills, and preparing them for higher studies in biological or life sciences.

To make the most of this opportunity, it is essential to understand the various aspects of the A-level system, especially the grading scheme, syllabus, and exam patterns, which we’ll discuss in the following sections.

A-Level Grading Scheme

A-levels are graded from A* to E, with A* being the highest grade. The A* grade was introduced to reward exceptional academic performance and differentiate the very best students.

The grading is based on the total points scored across all units of the A-level course. Here’s a quick overview:

  • A*: 90% and above in all units
  • A: 80-89%
  • B: 70-79%
  • C: 60-69%
  • D: 50-59%
  • E: 40-49%

The final grade not only reflects a student’s understanding and mastery of the subject but also plays a crucial role in university admissions, as universities often have grade requirements for their courses. Achieving a high grade in A-level Biology can open doors to competitive university programmes in the biological and health sciences.

Key Topics in A-level Biology

A-level Biology is a broad subject that provides a comprehensive understanding of life and its processes. The course is broken down into key areas, each covering a fundamental aspect of biology. Here’s an overview:

Cellular Structure and Function

The foundation of life starts at the microscopic level. This topic explores the intricate world of cells, looking at their structure, different types, and the role of various cellular organelles. Key processes such as mitosis and meiosis, cellular respiration, and the cellular basis of immunity are also covered.

Organismal Biology

Moving beyond the cellular level, this section delves into the study of whole organisms. It explores the anatomy and physiology of plants and animals, focusing on systems such as the circulatory, respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems, among others.

Genetics and Evolution

This is where students unravel the ‘code of life’ – DNA. The principles of genetics, genetic engineering, and the role of inheritance are studied, along with the ever-evolving theory of evolution.

Ecological Systems and Human Impact

The final piece of the puzzle looks at the bigger picture – ecosystems. This section explores interactions between organisms and their environment, ecosystem dynamics, biomes, and the impact of human activity on biodiversity and climate.

While each area offers its unique challenges, they collectively provide a fascinating exploration of life’s mechanics. Mastery of these topics is crucial for acing A-level Biology and lays a solid foundation for future studies in life sciences.

Common Difficulties in A-level Biology

A-level Biology Students in a Lab
A-level Biology Students in a Lab

While A-level Biology is a fascinating subject, it is not without its challenges. Students often grapple with certain key areas, and being aware of these can help in effectively tackling them. Here are some common difficulties:

Complexity of Concepts

Biological processes can be complex and intricate. Understanding these in detail, such as genetic mechanisms, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, or the human immune response, can be challenging.

Extensive Terminology

Biology comes with its own language. The extensive use of technical jargon, from names of biological processes to parts of cells and organisms, can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Application of Knowledge

Unlike some other subjects, biology requires not just the memorisation of facts, but also the application of knowledge to unfamiliar contexts. This could be in the form of data analysis, problem-solving, or predicting outcomes based on given scenarios.

Linking Topics

Biology is an interconnected subject. Being able to link different topics together to understand a complex biological system or process often poses a challenge.

While these challenges may seem daunting, remember that they are surmountable with the right strategies and resources, some of which we will explore in the following sections.

Sample A-level Biology Exam Questions

To help better understand the kind of questions that often come up in A-level Biology exams, here are five sample questions. We’ve included the correct answer, an explanation of how to approach each question, and some common mistakes to avoid.

  1. Question: What is the role of ribosomes in a cell? Answer: Ribosomes are involved in protein synthesis. Explanation: Ribosomes are cellular organelles that carry out the process of protein synthesis, where they translate messenger RNA (mRNA) into proteins by assembling amino acids in the correct order. Common Mistake: Students often mistake ribosomes for being involved in DNA replication, which is not correct.
  2. Question: What is the process by which water moves across a semi-permeable membrane? Answer: Osmosis Explanation: Osmosis is the process where water molecules move from an area of lower solute concentration to an area of higher solute concentration, across a semi-permeable membrane. It is a vital mechanism for maintaining water balance in cells. Common Mistake: Students often confuse osmosis with diffusion, which involves the movement of particles from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration, not necessarily water or across a semi-permeable membrane.
  3. Question: What is the purpose of the light-dependent reaction in photosynthesis? Answer: To produce ATP and NADPH, and split water molecules to release oxygen. Explanation: The light-dependent reaction of photosynthesis occurs in the thylakoids of chloroplasts. It uses light energy to generate ATP and NADPH (energy-rich molecules), and splits water molecules to release oxygen. Common Mistake: Students often mix up the outputs of the light-dependent and light-independent reactions of photosynthesis.
  4. Question: In terms of genetics, what does the term “homozygous” mean? Answer: Having two identical alleles for a particular gene. Explanation: An individual is said to be homozygous for a gene when they possess two identical alleles (gene versions) for that gene, either homozygous dominant (two dominant alleles) or homozygous recessive (two recessive alleles). Common Mistake: Students often confuse homozygous with heterozygous, which refers to having two different alleles for a particular gene.
  5. Question: What impact does deforestation have on the carbon cycle? Answer: It increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Explanation: Deforestation results in fewer trees being available to absorb CO2 through photosynthesis. Moreover, when these trees are burnt or decompose, they release the carbon they had previously stored back into the atmosphere as CO2, contributing to an increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. Common Mistake: Students often forget about the role of trees in carbon storage and only consider their role in photosynthesis.

Advanced Sample A-level Biology Exam Questions

For those ready to take on a bigger challenge, here are five more difficult A-level Biology questions. Each question includes the correct answer, an explanation, and common mistakes students often make.

  1. Question: Explain the process and significance of the Krebs cycle in cellular respiration. Answer: The Krebs cycle is a series of chemical reactions that generate energy through the oxidisation of acetyl-CoA derived from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into ATP and carbon dioxide. Explanation: The Krebs cycle, also known as the citric acid cycle, occurs in the matrix of the mitochondria. Acetyl-CoA, formed from the breakdown of glucose, fats, and proteins, enters the cycle. Through a series of reactions, it is oxidised, producing NADH and FADH2 (which provide electrons for the electron transport chain to produce ATP), and releasing CO2 as a waste product. Common Mistake: Students often confuse the Krebs cycle with glycolysis or the electron transport chain, which are separate stages of cellular respiration.
  2. Question: What is the role of helper T cells in the immune response? Answer: Helper T cells stimulate B cells to produce antibodies and cytotoxic T cells to kill infected target cells. Explanation: Helper T cells, also known as CD4+ cells, play a crucial role in the adaptive immune response. When a helper T cell encounters an antigen-presenting cell, it becomes activated and releases cytokines. These cytokines stimulate B cells to produce antibodies that can neutralise pathogens, and cytotoxic T cells to kill infected cells. Common Mistake: Students often confuse the role of helper T cells with cytotoxic T cells, which are the cells that actually destroy the infected cells.
  3. Question: How does the structure of a motor neuron adapt to its function? Answer: A motor neuron has a long axon, myelination, and multiple dendrites to efficiently transmit nerve impulses from the central nervous system to muscles or glands. Explanation: The long axon allows signals to be sent over long distances. Myelination (the presence of a myelin sheath) around the axon speeds up the transmission of the nerve impulse through saltatory conduction. Multiple dendrites allow the neuron to receive signals from various sources. Common Mistake: Students often overlook the significance of the myelin sheath in increasing the speed of signal transmission.
  4. Question: Explain the principle of independent assortment and its role in genetic variation. Answer: Independent assortment is the process where the chromosomes from each parent separate independently of each other during meiosis, leading to a mix of maternal and paternal characteristics in offspring. Explanation: During meiosis I, homologous chromosomes line up at the equator of the cell in a random orientation. This means that when the chromosomes separate, each gamete can end up with a different combination of maternal and paternal chromosomes. This independent assortment of chromosomes leads to genetic variation in offspring. Common Mistake: Students often confuse independent assortment with crossing over or segregation, which are different mechanisms that contribute to genetic variation.
  5. Question: How does eutrophication impact freshwater ecosystems? Answer: Eutrophication leads to excessive growth of algae (algal bloom) which reduces light levels and oxygen concentration in the water, adversely affecting other aquatic life. Explanation: When excessive nutrients (often from fertilisers) enter a water body, they stimulate the overgrowth of algae. As the algae die and decompose, decomposers use up the dissolved oxygen in the water for this process, creating hypoxic conditions. This lack of oxygen, coupled with reduced light penetration due to the algal bloom, can lead to the death of other aquatic organisms, disrupting the ecosystem balance. Common Mistake: Students often neglect the indirect impact of eutrophication on oxygen levels and the consequences for other aquatic organisms.

A-level Biology Marking Scheme

Understanding the marking scheme for A-level Biology can help students maximise their scores. The marking scheme provides a detailed guideline on how examiners allot marks for various questions, helping you understand what they are looking for in responses. Here’s a basic overview:

Knowledge and Understanding

This assesses your grasp of biological concepts and principles, the accuracy of your facts, and your ability to define key terms.


This evaluates your ability to apply your knowledge in different contexts, solve problems, interpret data, and analyse experimental methods.

Analysis and Evaluation

This measures your skill in assessing the validity and reliability of data, drawing conclusions, and making judgements based on evidence.


This assesses your ability to link different areas of knowledge, develop arguments, and think critically.

Each of these areas carries specific weightage in the total marks. The exact distribution can vary depending on the exam board (AQA, OCR, Edexcel, etc.), so it is important to refer to the specific marking scheme for your exam.

Remember, the aim is not just to recall information, but to demonstrate a deep understanding of the subject and the ability to apply this knowledge in a variety of ways.

Revision Resources for A-level Biology

Effective revision is a key aspect of success in A-level Biology. There are numerous resources available that can support your studies and help reinforce your understanding of key concepts. Here are some recommendations:


Textbooks that follow your specific exam board’s curriculum can provide a comprehensive and detailed understanding of the subject matter. They often include practice questions and detailed explanations to help solidify your knowledge.

Past Papers

Practising past papers can be incredibly valuable. They allow you to become familiar with the format of the exam, the types of questions asked, and the time constraints you will be under. Here you can find A-level biology past papers.

Online Platforms

There are numerous online resources available, such as Khan Academy and Seneca Learning, which offer video tutorials, quizzes, and interactive lessons on a range of topics.


Flashcards can be a very effective tool for memorising facts and concepts, especially for biological terminology. They are easily available online or can be made at home.

Study Groups

Working in a study group can be beneficial. Explaining concepts to others helps to reinforce your own understanding, and discussing difficult topics can lead to a deeper comprehension.


A good tutor can provide personalised guidance based on your specific needs, help you with difficult concepts, and provide additional practice material.

Remember, everyone has their own unique learning style. What works best for you might be different from what works for others. The most important thing is to understand the material deeply and thoroughly, and to regularly assess your understanding through practice questions and exams.

The Benefits of A-level Biology Tuition

When tackling a complex subject like A-level Biology, personalised tuition can offer many advantages over self-study or larger classroom learning environments. Here’s how biology-specific tuition can support your learning journey:

Tailored Learning

Every student has unique strengths, weaknesses, and ways of understanding concepts. A personal tutor can tailor their teaching methods to align with your learning style, helping to enhance your grasp of biological concepts and principles more effectively.

In-depth Understanding

Biology tuition can provide you with a deeper comprehension of the subject. Tutors, having an extensive knowledge of biology, can illuminate the subject matter from different angles, providing real-world examples and making complex concepts easier to understand.

Focus on Difficult Topics

Tuition allows for targeted focus on areas you find challenging. A tutor can break down complex biological processes, such as photosynthesis, cellular respiration, or DNA replication, into simpler, manageable parts, helping you understand them better.

Exam Technique

A good tutor can help fine-tune your exam technique. They can provide tips on how to interpret and answer different types of questions, manage your time effectively during the exam, and avoid common mistakes.

Regular Feedback and Assessment

With a tutor, you’ll receive regular, personalised feedback on your progress. They can identify gaps in your understanding and offer constructive suggestions for improvement. Regular assessments will also help you keep track of your progress.

Switching gears to the specific benefits of online tutoring, it brings all the benefits of face-to-face tuition, plus some unique advantages of its own:


Online tuition allows you to learn from the comfort of your own home at a time that suits you, offering great flexibility.

Access to Resources

Online learning can give you instant access to a wide range of digital resources. This could include interactive quizzes, videos, and animations that can enrich your understanding of biology.

Recorded Lessons

One significant advantage of online tuition is that lessons can often be recorded. This means you can go back and review any part of the lesson at your own pace, which can be extremely beneficial for revision.

Through online A-level Biology tuition, students can avail personalised, flexible learning experiences that enhance their understanding, boost their confidence, and ultimately, improve their performance.

The Benefits of A-level Biology Tuition

Embarking on A-level Biology can be a challenging endeavour, but with personalised tuition, many of these challenges can be overcome. Here’s how A-level Biology tuition can make a significant difference to your learning experience:

Mastery of Complex Concepts

A-level Biology covers numerous intricate topics, such as cellular respiration, DNA replication, the immune response, and more. A dedicated Biology tutor can help simplify these complex topics, making them more approachable and understandable.

Practical Understanding

A significant portion of A-level Biology involves practical work. A tutor with expertise in this area can provide invaluable guidance on practical techniques, lab report writing, and the analysis and interpretation of experimental results.

Familiarity with Exam Format and Expectations

Biology exams often include data analysis, essay writing, and extended response questions. A tutor can equip you with strategies to tackle these specific question types effectively, helping to maximise your marks.

Application of Knowledge

Biology is not just about memorising facts. It’s about applying knowledge to novel scenarios, analysing data, and making judgements. A tutor can develop these skills by providing exercises that stretch beyond simple recall, helping you excel in exams.

As for online tuition, it has several unique benefits:

Flexibility and Comfort

Learn from the comfort of your own home at a time that suits you, reducing travel time and providing a safe, familiar learning environment.

Access to a Wider Range of Resources

With the power of the internet, you have access to a vast range of multimedia resources such as interactive diagrams, animations, and virtual labs, enhancing the learning experience.

Personalised Feedback in Real-time

The digital tools available today allow for immediate, trackable feedback on digital worksheets and tests. This can help identify areas of weakness more rapidly and allow for targeted learning.

Recorded Lessons

Online lessons can be recorded and replayed, a significant advantage when revising difficult topics or preparing for exams.

Personalised A-level Biology tuition, particularly online, can transform your learning experience, making complex concepts accessible, improving practical skills, and boosting exam performance.

Conclusion: Leveraging A-level Biology Tuition to Forge Success

In the pursuit of A-level success, the road ahead may seem steep and arduous. Biology, with its intricate theories and complex applications, can be especially challenging. However, remember that this academic journey is not one that needs to be taken alone.

While independent work is a key component of A-level study, this shouldn’t preclude the use of additional resources. There is a common misconception that tuition is only for those who struggle. This cannot be further from the truth. High achievers can also significantly benefit from personalised tuition, leveraging it as a tool to further sharpen their skills and push their boundaries.

At Edumentors, the tutors – all students from top UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge – stand ready to guide you through the challenging terrains of A-level Biology. They’re more than just tutors; they’re mentors, offering invaluable insights into exam techniques, university application tips, and even advice for interviews. They’ve been through the same process, tackled the same challenges, and they’ve emerged victorious. Now, they are here to share their ‘hacks’ to success with you.

Tuition, then, is not an admission of struggle, but a strategic move to amplify success. It’s about gaining the inside track from those who’ve been there and done it successfully. It’s about arming yourself with the tools, techniques, and confidence to not just navigate the A-level journey, but to truly excel in it.


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