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New A-Level biology courses

Discussion in 'Science' started by xxx22xxx, Aug 25, 2015.

  1. xxx22xxx

    xxx22xxx New commenter


    I've landed at the deep end with taking over a-level biology. What exam board have you chosen and why?

    I have taught OCR previously but current school completing Edexcel. Anyone made the switch?

    Any thoughts welcome. Currently comparing SAMs
  2. Skeoch

    Skeoch Star commenter

    May I suggest you join Biotutor - it's a discussion forum for biology teachers and has some very well informed people on there. www.biology4all.com/biotutor.asp
  3. sep2

    sep2 New commenter

    We have chosen Edexcel because they have already implemented core practicals which we are familiar with. We also preferred their longer style questions to some of the essay choices other exam boards are offering.
  4. BelleDuJour

    BelleDuJour Star commenter

    AQA. Simply because I like it and I am an A level examiner for AQA.

    TBH little to choose between AQA and OCR.

    Edexcel is quite different and same can be said for WJEC but more so.

    As regards essays......I mark the synoptic essays and there is a knack in writing an essay which most students are not taught. Get the knack and the marks roll in. This year I was able to award 15 out of 25 for one candidate who simply submitted a plan! Not the best technique but many long essays got way fewer marks. Plan, plan, PLAN then the rest should follow and a whole load of marks.
  5. teo


    AQA. It's straightforward and their admin is much better than OCR. Plus we teach AQA GCSE so there's some continuity of question styles etc.

    I agree with Belle regarding the essay - there's a knack to it. I seem to spend ages teaching essay skills (i.e. planning skills), but none of mine have written a duff one in the BIOL5 exam yet.
  6. Hi,

    Ive been teaching the AQA syllabus for about 8 years and most recently have responsibility for Biol 5. While I have made an improvement on their essay marks [from 4/5's to 12/15's] no pupil ever gets more than 16 marks.

    I also mark for AQA but at GCSE so appreciate that insight! Am I allowed to ask what the 'knack' is to writing these essays or ask for any tips, as I'm still not sure myself what the exact knack to it is - and this is after paying £750 for an AQA chief examiner to come to our school!

  7. dogcat

    dogcat New commenter

    As a HOD desperate to improve our Biology grades, but not a Biology teacher any info on the knack to writing the essays would also be appreciated!
  8. naggin the nag

    naggin the nag New commenter

    I start by putting up a straightforward essay title and get the students to use their Specs and think of every topic that might be relevant, giving coverage of all modules - whenever possible. I then give them a list of essay titles and get them to do the same and plan the essay. The good thing is that they will get content credit for everything in the plan that is correct, without being penalised for wrong things - unlike the essay itself. So they should spend a lot of time on the plan.

    I try to give titles where there are mark-schemes for my ease!

    It's also important that the students know the essays are not fancy - no introduction or summing up needed - just 5 or 6 paragraphs.

    Students often revert to GCSE language under pressure, so they have to use the scientific vocabulary expected in an A-Level answer.

    It's really important that they don't get carried away - eg The importance of Shape in Biology - many students could write a whole essay about enzymes but wouldn't score well, no matter how amazing their essay!

    Usually - don't forget the plant. Unless the question is specifically about animals!

    It';s important that the students know what the marks are for. - They can get high marks for skills, without scoring highly on content.

    There is a lot of anxiety about the essay - my HOD made a graph of essay mark v module mark v overall grade - we set it as a data interpretation question actually!! just to show that they could still do well without a high essay mark - and vice versa!

    Lots of practice - don't leave it too late. Once respiration and Photosynthesis are covered you can find suitable essay titles to get them started.

    Hope some of this helps.

    There is some AQA training on this that is useful, it shows how they have to be very clear what the essay is actually about, e.g. intercellular and intracellular - stuff like that.
  9. BelleDuJour

    BelleDuJour Star commenter

    If anyone wants help on this PM me. I am a Bio5 examiner. There's quite a lot to tell and I don't really want to broadcast on here but am happy to email you. Am currently working on a short INSET on the synoptic essay.
    almostafish likes this.
  10. teo


    I don't examine at A Level so I know Belle has much more in depth insight and advice to offer, but in my experience the following has worked for my students:

    - Choose a title and brainstorm all the possible specification areas to gain the breadth of knowledge marks (in the beginning we do this together as a group, using textbooks, specs, notes etc.)

    - Expand the plan to include depth for each of the topics chosen

    - Consider which 3 - 4 of these areas offer the best opportunities for depth of knowledge and are from different units or spec areas (for the breadth marks). Prioritise 3 areas with room for a 4th, time-permitting in the exam.

    - Write the briefest of introductions and then go for depth of knowledge all the way. We write the first couple in lessons with lots of planning help and finish for homework if necessary, then they are marked, photocopied and we critique them together.

    - Next comes the 'Essay Jar', which is full of cards with the titles of every past paper essay and quite a few made up ones. We draw one out, the title goes on the board and they practice planning and writing under time pressure. We sometimes discuss the plans before the writing part.

    - Mark them - usually I do the marking and give individual feedback. I don't use a mark scheme other than the marking guidelines for SBRQ.

    - Repeat until sick of essays, they have the timing right, and they can't wait for the exam to be over.

    - When they do the BIOL5 exam, they check the essay questions first so they have more thinking time. Sometimes they start with the essay if they like the look of one.

    Although we do extended writing throughout the course, I don't teach essay skills until near the end of teaching the content. This is partly because some students write essays for other subjects, e.g. sociology, English Lit, where the requirements are quite different. It can take a while to break the habits learnt in other subjects. Partly it's because essays are really good synoptic revision.
  11. BelleDuJour

    BelleDuJour Star commenter

    No introduction teo. Never!

    You need 4 topic areas. 3 and you lose a breadth mark.

    PM me your email addy and I'll send you a crib sheet on how to write an essay..
  12. Wow Teo how do you have the time for all that?! I'm only allocated 3 hours a week to teach my yr13 and I have to teach them all of Biol 5 and half of Biol 4 in that time and I find its a struggle just to get through and make sure they have learnt the content.

    Out of interest how many hours teaching per week are you allocated?

    Thanks for taking the time to write these replies!
  13. AQAScienceMatthew

    AQAScienceMatthew New commenter

    Hi all,

    We've put together a resource that will help teachers to prepare for the BIOL5 essay. It was developed as an INSET training course for teachers, but could easily be tweaked for your students.

    It can be found here: www.aqa.org.uk/.../paper-3-essay-guidance

    I hope you find it helpful. Although it uses the new specification mark scheme, it's equally helpful for the current specification.
  14. teo


    Good to know, Belle! I will PM you later :)

    By introduction, I mean one sentence to state which essay they've chosen. Quite a few of my students are EAL so they find the time pressure quite difficult to get through 4 topic areas. Over the years we've learnt it's better to sacrifice one breadth mark in favour of higher S marks.
  15. teo


    pinkprincess - Last year I had five hours per week with Year 13. We finished the content by March, then focused on ISAs, revision and essays after that. Our ISAs are still rubbish though. I have slightly less time this year but I don't know how you are managing with only 3 hours per week!
  16. Ssn77

    Ssn77 New commenter

    Do the EMPA not the ISA. The questions are more straightforward, and grade boundaries are at least 10% lower. The difference is particularly noticeable at the lower end. And of course, you do not have all the marking.

    Our unit 3 and 6 grades have gone up considerably in both Biology and Chemistry since swapping.
  17. naggin the nag

    naggin the nag New commenter


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