biology learning resources

Reading around the subject at A level

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.