How Hard Is A-Level Biology?

How Hard is A-Level Biology? (Compared to GCSE)

In A-Level by Think Student Editor3 Comments

Biology is definitely a tricky subject! GCSE and A-Level Biology students both see this subject as a challenge. However, this does depend on personal opinion and the teachers that you have! GCSE and A-Level Biology do have similar topics in the specification, however if you do A-Level Biology, you are likely to learn different things to GCSE. As a student who has done both, I can definitely sympathise with those that take these subjects.

A-Level Biology is without a doubt, a very difficult A-Level. It can be seen as harder than GCSE, due to more content being learned and there being more difficult processes to understand. However, GCSE Biology is also a difficult subject, due to students having to understand concepts at a much higher level than they would have done previously. However, due to the immense detail you need to learn and skills you need to have, A-Level Biology would be seen as harder.

Do you think that GCSE or A-Level Biology is harder? This question can definitely be controversial. Answer this poll to vote! We would love to hear your opinion!

A-Level Biology vs GCSE Biology: which is harder?

* This poll is anonymous. Only your vote and the time it was submitted will be sent to Think Student Ltd.

If you want to discover why A-Level Biology is seen as harder and find out more comparisons between the two different biology qualifications, check out this article!

Is A-Level Biology or GCSE Biology harder?

In my experience, A-Level Biology as a subject on its own is much harder than GCSE Biology. However, it must be noted that this opinion is all relative.

This is because, as a GCSE student, GCSE Biology will seem like a big step up compared to any biology you may have learnt before. Therefore, it will seem extremely difficult.

As an A-Level student looking back, GCSE Biology now seems easy. However, when first doing it, it would have been extremely difficult because you are younger when you do your GCSEs.

As you get older, your brain develops and matures. As a result, GCSE Biology will seem easier. However, how difficult an A-Level student finds biology would be how difficult a GCSE student finds biology. This is because how difficult something seems is all relative.

Therefore, A-Level Biology is harder due to being taught at a higher level. This is why it is taught at an older age, however a student working at a GCSE level would find GCSE Biology just as difficult as an A-Level student learning A-Level Biology.

At GCSE, students are also learning many other subjects. This can make biology even more difficult, as they will have to memorise the content of many other subjects which are all very different to each other.

How hard is the content in A-Level Biology compared to GCSE Biology?

A-Level Biology is one of the hardest A-Level subjects. Most students are able to grasp the different biological processes and understand the structures of different biological molecules.

However, what makes A-Level Biology so hard is the amount of content! For AQA Biology, there are eight different topics. Each topic is completely different to each other, so a lot of memorising is required.

The topics include:

  • Biological molecules– In this topic, you will learn about all of the different building blocks of life. This includes carbohydrates, protein, lipids and DNA.
  • Cells– You will learn about the structures of cells, including the cell membrane, immunity and pathogens, such as viruses.
  • Organisms exchange substances with their environment- In this topic you will learn about the lungs and the heart and even some processes in plants.
  • Genetic information, variation and relationships between organisms– You will learn about why organisms are different to each other and processes that cause this.
  • Energy transfers in and between organisms- You will learn about the processes of respiration, photosynthesis and biological cycles.
  • Organisms respond to changes in their internal and external environments- This is the homeostasis topic, where you will learn about diabetes, the kidneys, the heart, muscles and much more!
  • Genetics, populations, evolution and ecosystems– This is an ecology topic, where you learn about how species differ from each other and how inheritance works.
  • The control of gene expression– This involves learning about gene technology, how our genes function and cancer.

You can find out more if you read the specification from the AQA website. Other exam boards have similar specifications. For example, the OCR specification can be found on their website if you click here, where students have to learn five topics.

Alternatively, Edexcel’s can be found on their website here, where the six topics you are required to learn are explained in more detail.

As you can see, A-Level Biology has much more content than GCSE. The content you learn is also more advanced and complicated.

This can make it seem much harder. However, as long as you keep on top of your revision and keep reminding yourself of concepts, it might not seem much harder to you.

How hard are the skills in A-Level Biology compared to GCSE Biology?

All biology students will probably tell you that the most difficult thing in A-Level Biology is the mark scheme! The mark scheme is so specific.

If you don’t include an exact word in your answer that the mark scheme requires, you are not likely to get marks for you answer. At A-Level, the mark scheme gets even more specific!

A key skill in biology is maths. Both GCSE and A-Level Biology maths is difficult. This is because it can be seen as very random and sometimes it is difficult to understand what you have to do.

Of course, the maths questions in A-Level biology are more advanced. However, as already stated, this is all relative. You also need to have good practical skills in A-Level Biology. You will get examined on this and even have special lab books.

At GCSE, you also need to be good at practicals. However, the number and complication of practicals increases in A-Level Biology compared to GCSE. You will even get to dissect a heart!

If you want to discover the steps that will help you to get an A* in biology, check out this article from Think Student.

What is the pass rate of A-Level Biology compared to GCSE biology?

The difference in percentage of students who get high grades between GCSE and A-Level Biology is certainly large! Based on data from the 2022 exams from the Joint Council for Qualifications website, GCSE Biology seems to be easier.

You can view all of the statistics on the website if you click here. However, this article will give you a brief overview.

GCSE Biology A-Level Biology
Pass rate (2022) 92% 90%

It was found that the percentage of students to get an A* in A-Level Biology was 13.3% in 2022. This is the highest grade you could possibly get. This was followed by 34.9% of students getting an A or above.

However, the pass rate for A-Level is a D. It was found that 90% of students got this grade or above for A-Level Biology.

In comparison, 92% of students who did GCSE Biology got a pass grade or above. This is very similar to the percentage of students who passed for A-Level biology.

However, 50% of GCSE Biology students got a grade 7 or above. A grade 7 is roughly equivalent to an A. Therefore, far more students got the highest biology grades in GCSE compared to A-Level in 2022.

These trends are roughly the same all throughout the years, suggesting that A-Level Biology may not be harder to pass, however, it is much harder to get the highest grades.

Are the A-Level Biology or GCSE Biology exams harder?

For GCSE Biology, you are likely to sit two exams. This is true for the AQA exam board and can be found in more detail on their website, if you click here.

Other exam boards may be different however. If you do OCR GCSE Biology, you can check out what the exams look like on their website here. Alternatively, if you do Edexcel, check out their website here.

Students are able to do higher or foundation GCSE exams. Higher GCSE Biology exams are definitely harder than foundation.

GCSE Biology exams include multiple choice questions, short answer questions and even some longer questions worth four or five marks. A-Level Biology exams are similar.

However, you will have to sit three exams at A-Level. The first exam paper tests you on what you learnt in your first year and the second paper tests you on your second year knowledge. However, paper three is often seen as the most difficult.

For AQA, this is the practical paper. It tests you on your practical knowledge and also any content from the course. This paper is also harder than GCSE because it includes an essay!

However, different exam boards include different things. Not all A-Level Biology exam boards include the essay. Therefore, make sure that you check!

A-Level Biology exams may include harder and more advanced content. However, both GCSE and A-Level Biology exams are seen as difficult due to the time you are given!

Most students are rushing to finish their papers, due to the short amount of time you get. Therefore, if you do biology, definitely practise your time management.

Which exam board is the hardest for A-Level Biology compared to GCSE Biology?

The most widely used exam board for A-Level Biology is AQA. This exam board is also seen as the easiest because there are lots of different materials available for revision.

The exam questions are also seen as the most straight forward and the specification is seen as the easiest to follow. OCR is seen as the next easiest exam board for A-Level Biology.

The exam questions in OCR are more straightforward than AQA. However, the extra topics in the course can be seen as making the course more difficult.

The most difficult exam board for AQA biology is Edexcel. This is because the exam questions can be seen as trickier and more complicated. Also, the specification is not very easy to follow!

You can find out more information about these A-Level Biology exam boards in this article from A-Level Biology.

For GCSE, the difficulty of each exam board depends on each student’s strengths. For example, it has been found that students who are better at writing extended answers are more likely to find the AQA exam board easier.

In comparison, the Edexcel exam papers allow GCSE students to answer with bullet points! The exams from Edexcel therefore will be easier for those students who are not fans of writing long answers.

Finally, the OCR exam papers often test students more on their application of theories, rather than their memorising skills. Therefore, if you are quite good at applying knowledge, OCR may be the easiest exam board for you.

You can find out more about GCSE exam boards on this article from Piacademy. If you want to learn more about which GCSE exam boards are seen as the hardest, check out this article from Think Student.

Despite their differences, all exam boards are standardised. Therefore, it isn’t possible for one exam board to be extremely difficult compared to another.

Do you revise differently for A-Level Biology, compared to GCSE Biology?

The simple answer is no! Your revision methods may differ slightly if you decide to do A-Level Biology after GCSE. However, the main techniques are the same.

For example, a revision method which I can personally recommend is revision cards. This involves you writing a question on one side of the card and an answer on the other side.

This revision technique is very effective because it involves active recall. If you just read your text book or copy notes down, you won’t be revising effectively because your revision is then passive.

Another great technique is blurting. This is when you write down every single thing you can about a topic and then use your textbook to fill in the blanks. Again, this involves active recall.

However, the most effective method for GCSE and A-Level Biology is probably answering exam questions. This is because it offers you practise for the real exam and gets you used to how questions will be asked.

As the biology mark scheme is so specific, exam questions are a great way to revise! Check out this article from Exam Paper Plus for more tips on how to revise GCSE Biology.

In A-Level Biology, you will have to remember some quite difficult diagrams and processes. Therefore, to revise these, it can be useful to draw them out again and again. Even explain the processes to your family!

Check out this article from Uniadmissions to discover some more A-Level Biology revision tips. For even more revision techniques, check out this article from Think Student.

Should you do A-Level Biology if you found GCSE Biology hard?

This decision is completely up to you. Even if you found GCSE Biology hard, you could still succeed in A-Level Biology.

This is because you will have less subjects to worry about, so can spend more time working on your biology. However, it is recommended to have been awarded at least a 6 in GCSE Biology before considering taking A-Level Biology.

You need to remember that all A-Levels are hard. Therefore, if you enjoy biology but are scared it will be difficult at A-Level, just do it!

It’s better to do a difficult subject you love, rather than a difficult subject you hate. Biology is an extremely interesting subject and as long as you work hard, you are bound to succeed!

However, you don’t have to do A-Levels. There are many other paths you can take if you use your GCSEs. Check out this article from Think Student to discover if A-Levels really are more important than GCSEs.

Is biology the hardest science subject?

During A-Level, the science subjects always seem extremely different to GCSE and become much harder. Biology is no exception.

Biology is often seen as an easier science to chemistry and physics because it doesn’t include as much maths as the other two sciences. However, the truth is that biology probably requires more skills.

This is because, you need to be able to write well and use good English, whilst also having good maths and practical skills. Even though the maths may seem harder in chemistry and physics, you need to have a wider skill set to be successful in A-Level Biology.

However, whether the science is seen as harder or not depends on each individual. If you are better at maths than English, then biology may be harder for you than physics for example.

Check out this table from 2022 to see the general pass rates for the GCSE and A-Level sciences. This data comes from Ofqual and JCQ. Biology is actually shown to have the lowest pass rate for both GCSE and A-Level!

Therefore, don’t be surprised when you realise how tough biology really is. Certainly, don’t listen to those students who say that physics and chemistry are harder!

GCSE C/4 and above A-Level C and above
Biology 91.9% 75%
Physics 93.7% 77%
Chemistry 92.8% 75.4%

If you do choose to do A-Level biology, good luck! You will smash it!

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3 years ago

Great article, very helpful! 🙂

2 years ago

what if i want to take biology and psychology as a levels?
would that be too difficult?

Last edited 2 years ago by A M
7 months ago

This subject made me so miserable. Dropped it after a month. Absolute bs subject.