The essay

ADVICE

FOR A-LEVEL BIOLOGY

Look at the essay titles at the start of the examination; try to make a decision which one interests you. This means it is not a shock when you get there but, most importantly, you can begin to think about it as you move through the paper; since the essay is synoptic you may find ideas from aspects of the course being assessed that can be used in the essay, you may even find useful material in the questions.

Indicate which essay you are writing by writing the question number/letter at the start of the essay. Write (or produce a spider diagram of) a plan on the first half page under the essay titles; label it as a plan and then put a thin line through it.

Write about 4 sides of A4 (depending upon the size of your writing, of course).

Avoid writing outside the space provided. The papers appear on a computer screen and the examiner can only see a small bit of the margin and a small area below the bottom of the box, so arrows to guide them to the bottom of the page or writing below the box may not be seen and you could lose those marks. If you have to do it, then do an asterisk to indicate they need to look elsewhere.

  • Ensure you focus on the following criteria:
    Breadth of knowledge. Include five areas from across the entire specification. Not four. Not six. Five. At least one section should be from Year 1 and one from Year 2 (i.e. not all five from the same year). Try to include sections from at least three different topics (i.e. not all from Topic 1).
  • Relevance. Ensure that your five sections are directly related to the essay title. To do this, make sure you keep referring back to the title at least once per section.
  • Quality of written communication. Write in a logical manner, using good scientific language, spelling key terms correctly and do not use bullet points (although if time is running out then you can do this as a last resort). Examiners are on a very strict deadline, they will not spend time trying to decipher your writing so make it very clear.
  • Scientific content. You must write in detail in all five sections. Anything that shows a (relevant) A-level standard understanding of the topic will be credited. Ensure you don’t waffle, get to the point quickly but in detail. If you’re going for top marks you will also have to include information that shows you have gone beyond the specification. It doesn’t have to be a massive amount of detail but it should be evident.

An examiner will read your essay and then put you into a level. They use the following statements as a guide:

  • 21 - 25 marks. Response shows holistic approach to the question with a fully integrated answer which makes clear links between several different topics and the theme of the question. Biology is detailed and comprehensive A-level content, uses appropriate terminology, and is very well written and always clearly explained. No significant errors or irrelevant material. For top marks in the band, the answer shows evidence of reading beyond specification requirements.
  • 16 - 20 marks. Response links several topics to the main theme of the question, to form a series of interrelated points which are clearly explained. Biology is fundamentally correct A-level content and contains some points which are detailed, though there may be some which are less well developed, with appropriate use of terminology. Perhaps one significant error and, or, one irrelevant topic which detracts from the overall quality of the answer.
  • 11 - 15 marks. Response mostly deals with suitable topics but they are not interrelated and links are not made to the theme of the question. Biology is usually correct A-level content, though it lacks detail. It is usually clearly explained and generally uses appropriate terminology. Some significant errors and, or, more than one irrelevant topic.
  • 6 - 10 marks. Response predominantly deals with only one or two topics that relate to the question. Biology presented shows some superficial A-level content that may be poorly explained, lacking in detail, or show limited use of appropriate terminology. May contain a number of significant errors and, or, irrelevant topics.
  • 1 - 5 marks. Response only indirectly addresses the theme of the question and merely presents a series of biological facts which are usually descriptive in nature or poorly explained and at times may be factually incorrect. Content and terminology is generally below A-level. May contain a large number of errors and, or, irrelevant topics.
    0 marks. Nothing of relevance or no response.

EXAMPLE ESSAYS