Peter Symonds College

Study at PSC

Course Content

In addition to helping you understand many fascinating aspects of life processes and living things, this course places considerable emphasis on practical experimentation and the interpretation of data. It covers the main human body systems and compares them to a range of other organisms, frequently considering things from an evolutionary perspective. It also explores applied topics such as genetic engineering and the use of stem cells.

In the first term, we experiment with the action of enzymes and explore the structure of the other main biological molecules. We study cell structure, as revealed by the electron microscope, and the ways in which molecules interact with cell membranes.

After Christmas, we investigate a range of body systems including the heart and circulation, lungs and ventilation and the human digestive system. We also look at kidney functioning and nerves and, in June - July, you select between 3 different options: Neurobiology and Behaviour, Musculoskeletal System or Immunology.

The second year of the course starts with a study of global conservation issues and selected aspects of ecology; we carry out some practical fieldwork in September. We then look at microbiology and the metabolic pathways of respiration and photosynthesis. 

The final course component includes evolution,  genetics and a variety of applications of biotechnology, such as gene therapy and DNA fingerprinting.

Methods of Teaching

The course is delivered using a wide range of teaching styles. There is experimental work virtually every week and lessons also include group work, discussions, short talks and presentations by students. Key facts and concepts are delivered by written notes, interactive hand outs, videos, practical demonstrations and extensive use of ICT. 

In addition to timetabled lessons, workshops are provided every day, when teaching staff and student mentors are available to give one to one assistance. A biology research group and an extension group meet weekly for students who are interested in biology beyond the A level curriculum. We often invite experts to give lunchtime talks and seminars. Recent talks have included auditory physiology, bio-engineering and a debate on medical ethics. A highly active student led activity for ‘future medics’ runs weekly and also a somewhat smaller ‘future dentists’ group.

You may wish to take up optional extra courses which we run in Large Animal Handling and Human Anatomy and Physiology. The college also has a link to Southampton University, which would enable you to carry out laboratory work at a post-graduate level during your L6 year. This can feed into an Extended Project Qualification in the U6 year if you wish. The college is the hub for Cambridge University’s HE plus programme, for which we organise evening lectures and practical sessions, again in liaison with Southampton University.

Students are encouraged to enter for the Intermediate and National Biology Olympiad competitions. Students make it through to the national finals most years and three students have represented the UK internationally. The success of our students in gaining such an impressive number of A* grades and numerous places in medical school, Olympiad medals and more, is largely due to their enthusiastic uptake of these opportunities.

All of these opportunities are open to all Biology students. If you have met our entry requirements, you are ‘Gifted and Talented’.

Methods & Patterns of Assessment

The A level is assessed in June of the second year via three written two-hour exams. These are mainly short-answer papers with an essay comprising the last question. The papers contain questions which test students’ knowledge of experimental work and mathematical skills in Biology. Practical work is also monitored during the course and a student’s ability will receive endorsement, although this will not contribute towards the grade.

Where Could It Take Me?

This course can lead to careers in an enormous variety of areas, including medicine, dentistry, midwifery, nursing, radiography, physiotherapy, pharmacy and other biomedical and healthcare vocations. It can also provide the foundation for the many purely scientific branches of the biological sciences, such as physiology, biochemistry, and pharmacology or more applied fields such as environmental science, food technology, agriculture, ecology, horticulture or forensics. It provides an excellent basis for many sports related degrees and is an essential entry requirement for veterinary medicine or marine biology.

Financial Implications

We anticipate that you will need to buy a £20 textbook at the start of each year, and an additional photocopying charge will be made to cover the cost of providing booklets of support material (£20 for two years). The College has a Student Support Fund for those who have difficulty meeting course costs.

Entry Requirements

5 GCSEs at grade 4 or above, including English and one of the following combinations:

  • If you are studying separate sciences you are required to achieve GCSE grades 6, 6 and 5 (any order) in Biology, one other science and Mathematics
  • If you are studying Combined Science you are required to achieve GCSE grades 6, 6 and 5 (any order) in Combined Science and Mathematics

Most Recent Results

Below is a summary of the most recent set of results for this subject:

Grade: A* A B C D E U Total
Total: 62 91 126 75 34 21 3 412
Percentage 15.0 22.1 30.6 18.2 8.3 5.1 0.7