12 08

How do you write a biology essay

how do you write a biology essay

The essay can be a bit frightening

Welcome to part 1 of How to tackle the BIOL5 essaywhere I will describe what the BIOL5 essay is all about and what it expects.

The AQA BIOL5 essay is worth 25 marks – that’s worth 25% of the marks in the whole paper, so it’s definitely something to focus on. The essay is designed to test your synoptic skills i.e. your ability to put everything that you have learnt over the A level Biology course together by making connections between the principles, concepts, themes and ideas in the AS and A2 units.

This is your opportunity to show off your scientific knowledge and understanding. Of course essay writing isn’t easy and at first glance this essay can be frightening but with early preparation and lots of practice, you will be able to tackle this essay well when it comes to the time.

But firstly, it is important to know the format of the BIOL5 exam. Afterwards we will focus on what the essay expects of us. So let’s turn to the AQA specification. If you don’t already have a copy, you can download the latest version from the AQA website.

Unit 5 – BIOL5

  • Control in cells and in organisms
  • 100 raw marks = 140 UMS marks
  • 8 – 10 short answer questions
  • plus 2 longer questions (data-handling question and the synoptic essay)
  • The synoptic essay is a choice of 1 out of 2
  • The exam is 2 hours 15 minutes long
  • Available only in June
  • The exam is worth: 23.3% of the total A level marks
  • The essay is therefore worth just under 6 % of the total A level marks

Alright, now that we know the format of the Unit 5 exam, let’s turn our attention to the essay. Here is a breakdown of the marks available:

  • Scientific content: 16 marks
  • Breadth: 3 marks
  • Relevance: 3 marks
  • Quality of written communication: 3 marks

Clearly, scientific knowledge is the place where you can gain most marks, often this is where people fall down. It is difficult to gain the maximum 16 marks, but it isn’t impossible to gain a good 12 marks for scientific content. The reason being is due to the Stretch and Challenge element in A2 which is designed to be a real challenge for the most able candidates. Therefore in the Unit 5 essay, some marks will be gained only by those who include material above and beyond that of the A level course – and so if you really want to go for 16/16 marks, it’s recommended that you do further reading outside of the A level biology syllabus. Of course, that isn’t necessary in order to do well in this essay.

I shall now refer you to a document taken from studentcreche, which is an essay information pack. In it, how the marks are allocated are explained, along with essays, spider diagrams and a list of past titles from old AQA past papers. Click on the link below to download the document:

Breadth refers to the wide range of content in your essay. It is not necessary to refer to something from every single unit in the A level course, that’s not the intention and sometimes a topic does not have links to a particular unit – so don’t worry if you cannot include a topic from each unit in your essay. What you want is to avoid focusing on just one topic, but at the end of the day breadth is worth only 3 marks – it’s still scientific content that will gain you the most marks.

Candidates may gain credit for any information providing that it is biologically accurate, relevant and of a depth in keeping with an A-level course of study. Even the topics suggested in the mark scheme do not have to be all included to gain credit; AQA say: “Material used in the essay does not have to be taken from the specification, although it is likely that it will be.” Also, extra credit if given for evidence of a greater breadth of study – again referring to the Stretch and Challenge element.

In determining the mark awarded for breadth, content should ideally come from each of the areas specified if maximum credit is to be awarded. Where the content is drawn from two areas, two marks should be awarded and where it is taken only from a single area, one mark should be awarded. However, this should only serve as a guide. This list is not exhaustive and examiners should be prepared to offer credit for the incorporation of relevant material from other areas of study. – AQA mark scheme

Relevance refers to including material that actually relates to the essay title. These marks should be easy to gain if the essay is properly planned beforehand. I shall discuss essay planning later on.

Quality of Written Communication requires you to remember that you are writing an essay. That means writing in full sentences and legible handwriting, not using bullet points or scribbling (a temptation given the time limit and pressure of an exam). It also means using key words and spelling scientific terms accurately. Your points should be clear, concise and the essay overall should be coherent. This does not mean that you use flowery language or write a 5000 word English Literature essay on the underlying meanings of the definition of osmosis, it just means display your scientific knowledge in sentences that we can understand.

So overall in this essay, you want to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your biological knowledge using proper English and scientific terms. Try to avoid repetition and make sure the points you raise are relevant to the essay title – so remember to keep referring back to the question and your essay plan.

Essay planning will be dealt with in the next post, so stay tuned!

Have a question about the essay?

Leave a comment below or send me a message.


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