biology learning resources

Read this if you have just finished year 12 and are worried about your grade

So, you’ve just about done a year of A level Biology.  The end of term is approaching fast or maybe you’re already on holiday.  But – maybe you’ve had an end of term exam, and maybe you didn’t get the grade you wanted.  You’re looking at university options and thinking “I need an A or a B in Biology and not sure if I’m going to get one”.  What can you do next?

First of all – don’t panic.  There’s still nearly a year to go until your exams.  There’s time to improve your exam technique.  Also – you need to have a break over the summer.  However if you wanted to spend a bit of time consolidating this year’s knowledge, here’s a few suggestions.

If you are an AQA student – download the “year 12 checklist” from the bottom of this page:  Sorry I have not made one for OCR / Edexcel but it would not be too hard for you to copy the format and use the topics from your own specification.

It’s a list of the topics that you will have studied, with some tickboxes.  First task is to make sure that you have notes or access to information for each topic.  You can reference to the checklists for each topic, they are at the top of the A level worksheets page.  If you have a file, it’s worth sorting it out now.  Get some dividers, put all your worksheets and notes in the relevant section and use the checklist as an introduction.

If you have missing notes there is probably no need to write some out, unless you really want to, as long as you have access to the information in a textbook or revision guide.

The next columns in the checklist ask you to read textbook chapter and complete summary and end of chapter questions.  This will depend on your access to a textbook – some schools give online access which is fine.  If you have nothing, it would really be worth buying at least a revision guide.

The next column asks you to “complete exam questions”.  This is very important – as you will no doubt have realised by now, the learning of knowledge for Biology A level is only half the picture – application of knowledge is very important.  The more past paper questions you attempt, the better you will get at it.

Unfortunately with a new course there are a limited number of specific past papers available.  For AQA – on their website you will find a set of specimen papers for A level, it’s also worth looking at the AS ones as the material is the same.  There are also the 2016 AS papers available.  You can also find relevant questions in the old specification material.

The final column for each section is for a “comment”.  I’m thinking you could put things in here like “I am happy with this section now”, or “I understand this but need to revise it again” or “I am very confused by this topic and will ask my teacher about it in September”.

As always – there are lots of links on here to relevant sites for each topic, sometimes watching a video or completing a quick quiz can be helpful.

If you have any other suggestions or questions please do leave a comment below.

Festive crisp packet decorations

I’ve been trying something new with the crisp packets after suggestions to make decorations, combining them with some of the many shiny things I seem to have in the house.  The small ones were a bit fiddly, but they fit together well.  Must eat more gold crisps in future!

I think they look quite festive.  Will be taking them to a craft fair tomorrow.

I got the idea for the shapes from a Youtube video by Kirsten Thomsen see here:

She shows how to make things very clearly, even though my Danish is non-existent!

p1090777 p1090776

Some ideas on data handling questions

So, the new AQA Biology A level paper 3 has a 15 mark question on “critical analysis of given experimental data”.

Sounds scary.

This post will give you some ideas on how to help prepare for this.

The mathematical requirement has been increased for the new specification.

Check out what you are expected to know.

Have a look here for AQA, other exam boards will have similar.

There is nothing too tricky here for anyone who achieved higher tier GCSE maths.

If you are not so confident and would benefit from some extra help, there are books available to buy.  I have found Maths Skills by James Penny a useful reference.  CGP also do a guide with questions to work through.  If you have an A level textbook for the new specification it will also be likely to have relevant material.

As usual, I’ve been collecting websites, you’ll find Maths for Biologists links here.

If you’re struggling with stats, there is a really good resource booklet from TES resources written by cterry1.  This has loads of guidance and worked examples.  You will need an account although it’s free to sign up, or ask your teacher.

However, critical analysis of data isn’t just about the number crunching.

First you need to know what the question is asking.  Check that you are familiar with command words, so that you know when to describe and when to explain and when to evaluate!

For more detail on words to do with experiments, have a go at this glossary exercise from my worksheets page.

If the question requires you to evaluate an experiment or a conclusion based on data, some ideas for you to think about can be found here.

Once you have done the preparation, you need to have a go at analysis of data.  The best way to improve is just to try lots and lots of examples.  If you have access to a textbook there may well be lots in there you can have a go at.  The OUP Biology Toole and Toole book has application sections throughout each chapter.

If you subscribe to Biological Sciences Review or can borrow a copy from your teacher or school library, there are often data handling exercises in there.  The extra online resources are freely available online.

The free and always useful Big Picture magazine have an online issue on Number Crunching.  This has lots of guidance on stats and how to interpret them.

Your final task is to get stuck into some past paper questions.  Although the new specification at the time of writing this only has Specimen papers available, the most recent AQA legacy specification had a 15 mark data question on both Unit 4 and Unit 5.  Download past papers and mark schemes here.

Resist the temptation to look at the mark scheme until you have had a really good go at the question, then use them to check your answer and see how to improve next time.  Don’t worry if you score low marks at first, this takes a bit of training as you are trying to apply your knowledge to unfamiliar situations.

This resource from scitweetcher (TES again) provides a useful template and guidance on how to approach these questions, although written for unit 1 it’s relevant for all questions of this type.

If you would like even more past paper questions, it’s worth knowing that the really old specification (up to 2010) had a separate section on data handling.  You’re looking for Unit 6/7/8B.  AQA have removed these from their website but you might find them elsewhere – if you do, let me know.

If your school has access to Exampro it is also possible to search for relevant questions on there.  If you do not have access ask your teacher.

I hope this has given you some ideas to help with these questions.  If you have any more suggestions please do add a comment (these are pre-moderated).

Reading around the subject at A level

Why it's worth doing and some suggestions on where to start.

I thought I’d do a post on “reading around the subject” at A level.  Your teachers have probably told you that you need to do this.  Here are some reasons why I think it is worth doing, and some suggestions on what to read and where to start.

Why reading around the subject is important:-

  1. Biology is the best subject.  You chose it at A level, so you probably agree.  So why would you not want to find out more?
  2. Extra reading helps to put the new ideas that you are learning about in your lessons in context.
  3. It helps you to broaden your knowledge.  There is so much to learn about biology, your A level specification can’t possibly cover everything.
  4. You can spend more time looking at topics that particularly interest you.
  5. Biology is a fast-moving subject, there are always new discoveries and techniques to find out about.
  6. If you are applying for Vet Science, Medicine, Biomedicine, Oxbridge etc. you may need to discuss your wider reading at interview.
  7. Top marks in the essay!

Suggestions of where to start:-

  1. Books.  You will find suggested reading lists online, such as this one from Highdown School so I won’t do another here.  However, what I would say is don’t read a book just because you think you should.  Pick one that really interests you, and you are more likely to finish it, understand it, and remember it.  I would particularly recommend Bad Science, Extremes and What If as being entertaining as well as informative.  I found The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks particularly interesting too.
  2. Publications.  Start by asking at school – your science department or library may have access to publications such as New Scientist or Biological Sciences Review.  Biological Sciences Review is particularly useful as the articles have been written specifically for A level Biologists.  These are subscription publications – however the excellent Big Picture is free, and you can download and read all the past issues as pdf files.
  3. Websites.  Get stuck in to the links on here.  Many of the subject links in the A level Biology and A level Genetics section go beyond the specification.  Maybe have a look once you have completed a topic and see if you can find out more.  If you are particularly interested in human biology or medical topics, have a look at the links in So you want to be a doctor.
  4. News.  Read the papers, watch the news, follow up on stories.  BBC News has lots of articles which link to further research, such as this one on analysing ancient dog DNA which I found interesting this week.
  5. Youtube.  Start watching videos.  I know it’s not exactly reading, but it’s another way to access information, and you may well be inspired to do some further research.  Crash Course is a popular channel with A level students.
  6. Watch TV.  Again, not exactly reading!  There are lots of relevant programmes about.  Currently, Planet Earth 2 is on.
  7. Social media.  See above!  There will be relevant Biology related things to follow.  IFL Science, for example (beware sweary title in school).
  8. Free online courses.  There are lots of these, some require a high level of time commitment or are pitched at more of a university level.  However there are shorter, less in depth courses out there such as these from the University of Leeds which are 2 hours a week for 2 weeks.  The Open University also has short, free courses and activities at introductory level, some of which can be completed in less than 10 minutes.

These are just a few suggestions, I am sure you will have more.  Add your ideas below in the comments.

New crisp packet thing – umbrella cover.

I make things out of crisp packets.  Yes, crisp packets.  It started as a project for my Eco Club, as crisp packets are very difficult to recycle, so I looked online and learnt a technique to make them into bags, bracelets, bookmarks etc.  Since then I have taken part in the Choose to Reuse fashion events, run workshops, gone to craft fairs and even taught what seemed like most of Yorkshire the technique at the Great Yorkshire Show.

At the last craft fair I went to, someone suggested a new idea to me, making covers for umbrellas.  So I did this one today.


If you would like to have a go, first read my instruction file on the Home Page

You need to make 11 loops each with 18 pieces, before sewing them together as for the bags.

Festive Biology Baubles

These are for a Christmas tree display organised by One Stop Tutors – the tree is going to represent the different subjects that tutors teach – so I came up with some Biology baubles.

These are for a Christmas tree display organised by One Stop Tutors – the tree is going to represent the different subjects that tutors teach – so I came up with some Biology baubles.







I am pleased with how these turned out – and have five more blank baubles so may do some more!