A Level Biology

Head of Department: Ms M Towns BSc (UWE)
Email: mtowns@stedmundscollege.org
Dr J Eves  BSc (UWE Bristol) MSc PhD (Dublin) -Director of Key Stage 5, Gifted & Talented Co-ordinator
Email: jeves@stedmundscollege.org

This information may also be found in the printable course information sheet to the right of this page.


Over the course of Year 1 the following content will be covered:

Topic 1 (Lifestyle, Health and Risk) , Topic 2 (Genes and Health), Topic 3 (Voice of the Genome) and Topic 4 (Biodiversity and Natural Resources)

There will be two assessment points in the year—November and June. Assessments will be 1 hour 30 minutes and consists of 70 marks. The papers may include multiple choice, short responses, calculations and extended writing questions.

The papers will also include questions that target the conceptual and theoretical understanding of experimental work.

Following the internal assessment in June, students will begin work on Year 2 material, as well as completing Fieldwork in an off-site residential trip.



Year 2 BIOLOGY A Salters-Nuffield (9BNO)
Paper 1 9BNO/01 (33.33% of the total qualification)
This paper will examine the following topics:

Topic 1, Topic 2, Topic 3, Topic 4, Topic 5 (On the Wild Side) and Topic 6 (Infection, Immunity and Forensics).

Assessment is 2 hours and the paper consists of 100 marks

The paper may include multiple choice, short responses, calculations and extended writing questions.  The paper will include questions that target the conceptual and theoretical understanding of experimental work


Paper 2 9BNO/02 (33.33% of the total qualification)
This paper will examine the following topics:

Topic 1, Topic 2, Topic 3, Topic 4, Topic 7 (Run for Your Life) and Topic 8 (Grey Matter)

Assessment is 2 hours and the paper consists of 100 marks

The paper may include multiple choice, short responses, calculations and extended writing questions

The paper will include questions that target the conceptual and theoretical understanding of experimental work



Paper 3 9BNO/03 (33.33% of the total qualification)
This paper will examine the following topics:

Topic 1, Topic 2, Topic 3, Topic 4, Topic 5, Topic 6, Topic 7 and Topic 8

Assessment is 2 hours and the paper consists of 100 marks

The pre-released scientific article will underpin one section of the paper.

The paper will include synoptic questions that may draw on two or more different topics

The paper will include questions that target the conceptual and theoretical understanding of experimental work




This topic looks at how lifestyle may affect health, starting with the cardiovascular disease (CVD) stories of two real individuals, Mark (stroke at 15) and Peter (quadruple bypass at 64). The biological ideas required to understand their story are studied. Structure and function of the cardiovascular system, atherosclerosis and blood clotting role in CVD correlation, causation and the concept of risks to health including determining health risk and perceptions of risk Factors that increase risk of CVD, structure and function of carbohydrates, lipids (triglycerides) and water.
Topic 2 Genes and Health Content summary
The context for this topic is a couple trying to decide whether to have a child when there is a chance that it could inherit cystic fibrosis (CF). The topic looks at the questions they may need answered. It examines the symptoms and causes of CF. It includes details of what is happening at a molecular level with protein structure and synthesis. The screening for and treatment of the disease introduces some ethical issues surrounding new techniques. How CF impairs the functioning of the gas exchange, digestive and reproductive systems?

Structure and properties of the cell membrane and gas exchange surfaces.

Passive and active transport.

Structure and function of phospholipids and proteins Enzyme action.

Structure and role of DNA and RNA The nature of the genetic code Replication.

Protein synthesis Gene mutations.

Monohybrid inheritance.

Social and ethical issues related to genetic screening.

Topic 3 The Voice of the Genome Content Summary
This topic considers the most fundamental biological story there is – development from a single egg into a complex multicellular organism. The role of the genome in the control of development is considered. The biological ideas required to understand this story are studied. Cell structure and ultrastructure of eukaryote and prokaryote cells.

Mitosis and the cell cycle.

The role of meiosis and fertilisation, stem cells, research and implications.

Cell specialisation through differential gene expression.

Loci, linkage of genes on a chromosome and sex linkage.

How epigenetic changes can modify the activation of certain genes.

Genotype and environmental influence on phenotype.

Topic 4 Biodiversity and Natural Resources Content Summary
The topic focuses on biodiversity and the wealth of natural resources used by humans. The meaning of biodiversity and how it can be measured is considered first and how all this diversity has come about through adaptation and natural selection. It has sections on both traditional and novel uses of plants and plant fibres and the use of chemical extracts from animals and plants. The concern for disappearing biodiversity and loss of potential natural resources is used to highlight the need for biologists to identify, name and classify species. The topic finishes by looking at the role of zoos and seedbanks in conservation of endangered species.


Biodiversity, adaptations and natural selection.

Ultrastructure of plant cells

Structure and function of polysaccharides (starch and cellulose).

Structure and function of vascular bundles in plants.

Plant nutrition.

Uses of plant-based products and sustainability.

Conditions required for bacterial growth.

Drug trials.

How natural selection can lead to adaptation and evolution.

How the Hardy-Weinberg equation can be used to see whether a change in allele frequency is occurring in a population over time.

Principles of taxonomy.

The role of zoos and seedbanks.



Topic 5 On the Wild Side Content summary
The context for this topic is climate change. A series of questions are posed: What evidence do we have that climate and ecosystems are changing? What might be causing these changes, and are we partly responsible? The topic addresses these questions by looking at how ecosystems work and the ways in which humans affect them. The topic continues by looking at whether climate change will lead to extinction of species or evolution by natural selection. It considers how knowledge of the carbon cycle can help in maintaining the carbon dioxide balance. The use of sustainable resources and reforestation can manage the conflict between human needs and conservation. Ecosystems, habitats, communities, and the factors that affect them.

Succession Photosynthesis.

Energy transfer within ecosystems.

Evidence for global warming and the greenhouse effect.

Using models to predict future changes.

The effect of climate change on organisms.

Evolution through natural selection and speciation.

The carbon cycle and methods of maintaining the carbon dioxide balance.

Reforestation and the use of sustainable resources.

Topic 6 Infection, Immunity and Forensics Content summary
The context for this topic is the discovery of two bodies. The topic explores how they are identified, and their time of death determined using forensic pathology techniques. It considers what caused the deaths; in one case death was due to CVD and in the other infection by pathogens (AIDS and TB). It goes on to determine whether they could have been avoided, studying immunology and treatments including antibiotics. Forensic techniques for determining time of death.

The role of microorganisms in nutrient recycling.

DNA profiling, gel electrophoresis and PCR.

Structure of bacteria and viruses.

Infectious diseases (e.g. AIDS and TB) and immunology.

Protein synthesis including mechanism on ribosomes and post-transcriptional changes to RNA.

Barriers to infection Immunity.

Evolutionary changes to pathogens.

Antibiotics and hospital acquired infections.

Topic 7 Run for Your Life Content Summary
This topic compares how the cheetah manages to run at over 100km/h for a few hundred metres whereas wildebeest and marathon runners can travel many kilometres, though not as quickly. It explores the links between an animal’s physiology and its performance. The topic summarises the biochemical requirements for respiration and looks at the links between homeostasis, muscle physiology and performance. It ends by looking at how medical technology is enabling more people to participate in sport, and raises the issue of whether the use of performance-enhancing substances by athletes can be justified. Action of the skeletal and muscle system to enable movement.

ATP, glycolysis, anaerobic/aerobic respiration.

The control of heart rate, ventilation rate and cardiac output.

The use of ECG in diagnosis of CVD and other heart conditions.

Homeostasis, negative and positive feedback.

Disadvantages of exercising too much or too little.

The use of medical technology in sport.

Performance enhancing including ethical issues.

How genes can be switched on and off by DNA transcription factors including hormones.

Topic 8 Grey Matter Content Summary
The scene is set with a story about Bambuti people who mistook buffalo seen across the plain as insects. It starts by considering how the working of the nervous system enables us to see. Brain imaging and the structure and function of regions of the brain are considered, particularly related to the development of vision and learning. It considers the role of animal models in the study of brain structure and function, and related ethical issues. It investigates how imbalances in brain chemicals may result in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and its treatment with drugs are investigated. Students discuss the ethical issues raised by the Human Genome Project and the risks and benefits of using genetically modified organisms in the development and production of new drugs. Throughout, comparisons are made with plants and also the contribution of nature and nurture to development. Coordination in plants and animals.

The structure and function of the nervous system Hormonal coordination.

How plants detect light using photoreceptors, and the role of IAA in phototropism.

Brain structure and development including imaging.

Nature and nurture role in brain development.

Habituation in animals.

The role of animal models in investigating brain development and function.

Imbalances in brain chemicals and ill health.

HGP: use of outcomes, and ethical issues this raises.

Use of genetically modified organisms for drug production and ethical issues this raises.




Practical work is central to any study of biology. For this reason, the specification includes 18 core practical activities which form a thread linking theoretical knowledge and understanding to practical scenarios. Students build on practical skills learnt at GCSE, becoming a confident practical biologist, handling apparatus and techniques.

1: i) Investigate the effect of caffeine on heart rate in daphnia.

  1. ii) Discuss the potential ethical issues regarding the use of invertebrates in research.

2: Investigate the vitamin C content of food and drink.

3: Investigate membrane structure, including the effect of alcohol concentration or temperature on membrane permeability.

4: Investigate the effect of enzyme and substrate concentrations on the initial rates of reactions.

5: Prepare and stain a root tip squash to observe the stages of mitosis.

6: Identify sclerenchyma fibres, phloem sieve tubes and xylem vessels and their location within stems through a light microscope.

7: Investigate plant mineral deficiencies.

8: Determine the tensile strength of plant fibres.

9: Investigate the antimicrobial properties of plants, including aseptic techniques for the safe handling of bacteria.

10: Carry out a study on the ecology of a habitat, such as using quadrats and transects to determine distribution and abundance of organisms, and measuring abiotic factors appropriate to the habitat.

11: Investigate photosynthesis using isolated chloroplasts (the Hill reaction).

12: Investigate the effect of temperature on the rate of an enzyme-catalysed reaction, to include Q10.

13: Investigate the effects of temperature on the development of organisms (such as seedling growth rate, brine shrimp hatch rates).

14: Use gel electrophoresis to separate DNA fragments of different length.

15: Investigate the effect of different antibiotics on bacteria.

16: Investigate rate of respiration practically.

17: Investigate the effects of exercise on tidal volume, breathing rate, respiratory minute ventilation and oxygen consumption using data from spirometer traces.

18: Investigate habituation to a stimulus.


In the summer term of the first year. Biology and Geography students travel to the Isle of Arran to carry out field work.

Whilst in Arran we focus on both Freshwater and Marine Ecology.

The key theme is zonation and the investigation of both environments will feature data collection exercises along stretches of the island’s impressive coastline, with follow up presentations and analysis of the factors affecting the structure of both ecosystems.


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The Reith lectures on the BBC website

The Reith lectures were started in 1948 by Sir John (later Lord Reith), the first director general of the BBC. They were part of the Corporation’s mission to educate as well as entertain, and every year notable individuals from different fields give a series of lectures on topical and relevant themes, which are broadcast once a week for about five weeks in the Spring. The archive section goes back to 1997 and these lectures can be downloaded and listened to if you have a programme like RealPlayer®. Several of the lecture themes are relevant to SNAB topics.