Biology is one of the most challenging A-level subjects. It is critical to achieve a good grade in A-level Biology to pursue a career in Medicine, or a related field, at university. 

This article is by Ramsay, an online Biology tutor with a bachelor’s degree from Queen Margaret University in pharmacology, an MSc in Cancer Therapeutics from Barts and the London School of Medicine, and a PhD from Barts Cancer Institute. He has vast experience with biology tutoring – GCSE and A level, Lecturing both Undergrads and Postgrads at university, and as an Examiner for the AQA and OCR exam boards. As well to tutoring for the online tutoring companies, he is a Lecturer for a higher education institution and consults for edtech companies as an academic advisor. 

Ramsay writes today to help you understand the difficulty of A-level Biology and provide answers to any questions you may have.

How hard, really, is A-level Biology?

Because of the extensive syllabus, complicated concepts, challenging lab exam, step up from GCSE level, and difficult theory/MCQ papers, A-level Biology is one of the hardest A-level subjects. It is, however, more accessible than A-level Further Maths and Chemistry.

Biology is one of the top five most difficult A-level subjects, in my opinion.

To remember everything in the Biology syllabus, you’ll need an eidetic memory. To pass the exam, you must memorise all of the nitty-gritty details.

In A-level Biology, the majority of students have significant difficulties. The concepts are challenging to grasp the first time around, and you’ll need to review them several times to comprehend them fully.

Another major obstacle you must overcome is the As-level Biology lab exam. In a timed exam, you must set up the experiment, conduct it, collect the data, and then answer critical thinking questions related to the experiment.

The Biology lab exam in Year 13 requires you to design an unfamiliar experiment, list the apparatus, speculate on possible errors, and explain how you would improve it. Because you don’t have access to the lab, you’ll have to do everything in your head.

In A-level Biology, the theory paper is the most difficult. Examiners will ask you to make connections between various topics in an unfamiliar context. The questions are lengthy, complicated, and repetitive.

What’s it like to study biology at A-level?

A-level Biology, like GCSE Biology, is the study of living organisms’ structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, and distribution. Biology classes are fascinating, and lab sessions are even more so.

Most teachers expect you to study the material ahead of time to have a general understanding of the subject. The teacher then goes over the material in detail to have a better account of it.

The lab classes are fascinating, but they can also be stressful. You will have the opportunity to learn more about Biology and apply what you have learned by conducting practical experiments.

Getting completely different results from the class during lab sessions can be highly frustrating.

It happens to everyone, all of the time. Don’t be concerned. You likely made a blunder. Try to be cautious and attentive, and I guarantee you will make far fewer mistakes.

Many in-class discussions and interactive sessions happen. Your peers and teachers can answer all of your questions about the subject.

You need to study past papers to prepare for the exams properly.

Overall, you will enjoy the subject, mainly if you are passionate about it. If you are willing to put in the effort, you will be able to overcome the subject’s difficulty easily.

How difficult is A-level Biology content?

Most students have difficulties with the in-depth concepts and large A-level biology syllabus, which is significantly more complex than GCSE Biology. There are more topics to cover, and the content is more challenging to comprehend.

The A-level Biology syllabus covers the following topics:

Molecules found in nature

Cells

Organisms interact with their surroundings by exchanging substances.

Genetic information, variation, and inter-organism relationships

Energy is transferred between and within organisms (A-level only)

Changes in their internal and external environments cause organisms to react. (Only for A-level students)

Genetics, populations, evolution, and ecosystems are all topics covered in this course (A-level only)

Gene expression regulation (A-level only)

The first four topics are all As-level topics, as you can see. The subject material is the same in GCSE Biology, but it is more in-depth, has more challenging concepts, more details, and stricter marking.

You’re probably not familiar with the topics covered in A-level Biology or Year 13. These subjects are only touched on at the GCSE level. They will be challenging to comprehend at first, and you will have to exert considerable effort to absorb all of the information.

The topics are all further divided into sub-topics to give you a sense of the scope of the A-level Biology syllabus.

What Makes A-Level Biology So Difficult?

Because Biology is one of the most critical subjects for Medicine and related fields, examiners make the exam difficult and competitive, resulting in a small number of people receiving an A or A*.

Examiners desire fierce competition in competitive fields such as Medicine and biology to attract the best students to study those subjects.

Questions on the exams demand a high application of the core concepts. Examiners create questions to assess students’ critical thinking abilities. These types of questions are difficult for most students to answer.

Every point must be thoroughly explained, clearly and concisely.

A-level Biology has a pass rate of over 95%, whereas GCSE Biology has a pass rate of 90%.

Since students take GCSE Biology to try out the subject, there are no prerequisites for taking GCSE Biology, and most students do not take their GCSE exams seriously.

The high pass rate for A-level Biology is down to universities and colleges requiring high GCSE Biology grades (usually a 6), students taking A-level Biology more seriously, especially those pursuing Medicine and related fields, and a higher number of students dropping out.

What are the Prerequisites for Studying A-Level Biology?

The entry requirements for A-level Biology are pretty high; colleges typically require a 6 in GCSE Biology and another 6 in another GCSE Science. A 5 in GCSE Maths, and also in GCSE English, is also expected.

Some colleges may accept you with less-than-stellar grades. These are just guidelines established by colleges in light of the relative difficulty of A-level Biology, as they want all students to pass the subject.

You can explain any extenuating circumstances or other factors that prevented you from receiving your desired grades in applying to the colleges you’ve applied to.

Colleges recognise the difficulties that teenagers face and are willing to make accommodations. They may, however, require you to attend additional classes or complete additional work to pass A-level Biology.

I usually advise students to go the private tutor route for subjects where colleges will not accept students with lower grades. I also recommend this for A-level Biology because the exam includes a lab component. Therefore teaching yourself everything on the syllabus will be difficult to manage along with coursework. A tutor can help you balance your time and establish good working routines.

You should take it if you are interested in the subject or need it for your university applications. It’s a subject that you can easily practise and improve at.

What can you do with an A-level in Biology?

Biology A-level can lead to a bachelor’s degree in biology, Medicine, or a related field. It can lead to jobs as a biochemist, doctor, biology teacher, microbiologist, academic researcher, and various other professions.

A degree in biology or a related field can provide you with many opportunities. It will also guarantee a job that pays between a medium and a high wage in your future career.

Medicine students have one of the highest paying jobs in the country.

Biology is a constantly changing field, with many discoveries made every year. As a result, there is always the opportunity to research and investigate.

You can also teach students as a school teacher, professor, or tutor.

Alternatively, you could create a Youtube channel and use it to explain biology topics clearly and concisely. 

Other resources for Biology students could include books, websites with notes and explanations, and a revision guide. The best part is that once you’ve created the resource, you’ll be able to profit from it indefinitely.

A Biology tutor’s final thoughts

Biology is a tremendous, albeit challenging, subject for A-level students. It will provide you with a thorough understanding of living organisms and everything associated with them.

A-level Biology will teach you various transferable skills that you can use in other situations.

You’ll learn how to collect and analyse data, improve your critical thinking skills, improve your ability to apply your knowledge in new situations, improve your communication and interpersonal skills, become more creative, and better manage your time.