Why choose Biology?
Apart from its value as a way of gaining entry to certain careers and courses, we believe that biology is a fascinating subject in its own right and one that we hope students enjoy studying. Biology has a higher profile today than perhaps at any other time and this is reflected in the number of people studying a biology-based course at college and university. Many of the important and often contentious issues which society must address as it moves into the new millennium relate to the biological sciences, particularly the role that humankind plays with respect (or lack of it!) to the rest of life. Ethical debates centre around animal experimentation, cloning, genetically modified crops, embryo and fertility research, and the human genome project and the use of its findings. High on the political agenda are health, pollution, environmental protection and food safety. AIDS, heart disease, cancer, drug use and misuse and malnutrition all continue to present us with challenges.
Please note that confidence and ability in chemistry is essential as biology has a considerable biochemical content. If a student does not like chemistry, A level biology is not a wise choice. To pursue biology beyond A level a student really has to be studying A level chemistry alongside biology as most university biological, medical, veterinary and similar courses require biology and chemistry. A willingness to use numerical techniques is also important so a competence in maths is essential and a student wanting to progress to higher education in biology is recommended to consider studying maths at AS or A level.
New biology specifications are being developed for September 2015 by all exam boards. Once all specifications have been accredited, the biology department will choose which specification to adopt but there are features common to all specifications.
The topics covered at AS also form the first year of the A level course, enabling students to gain an AS
qualification at the end of their first year and then decide whether to progress to A level in their second year.
Assessment for AS level will consist of 2 written exam papers with no assessment of practical work although practical work will continue to be an essential component to the AS level teaching.
Assessment for A level will consist of 3 written papers which will include questions based on experience of practical work so practical work will continue to be an essential component in the teaching of A level biology. The amount of practical work carried out by students will therefore not diminish in the new specifications.
A feature of the new specifications is the practical endorsement, common to all specifications. Students will carry out a minimum of 12 practical activities to develop their practical skills. Successful completion of these activities will be recorded on the certificate alongside the A level grade. The practical endorsement will not contribute to the A level grade but will ensure that practical work and the skills acquired will remain a vital component of A level to equip students for higher education and biological careers.
Outside the Classroom
- All A level biology students have the opportunity to participate in local, one-day field courses.
- We have extensive links with local industry, research institutes, universities other educational institutions. We provide visits to places of biological interest and have a programme of speakers for enrichment and extension.
- The department has strong links with the Society of Biology and other learned societies and many of their activities and events are attended by students. The department has its own Biology, Medical and Veterinary Medicine Societies.
- We offer our students the opportunity to participate in the Nuffield Award scheme and the Biology Olympiad. Our students help at the Cambridge Science Festival, Festival of Plants Day, Cambridge and Stamford Big Biology Days, the Inter-school Biology Quiz and environmental monitoring and conservation at local reserves.
- Regular surgeries and support groups are available to help any student encountering problems with particular topics or skills. There are also extended after college surgeries prior to major exams. Teacher and student mentor schemes enable students having difficulties to get extra support.
- Members of the department are able to offer advice and guidance to students considering biology-based university courses including medicine, biomedical science, veterinary medicine, pharmacology, pharmacy, biological sciences, physiotherapy, physiology, environmental science, animal and plant sciences and lots more.