Essay writing in A-level Biology
Guidance on how to construct the A2 Biology essay.
Whenever they hear the word essay, most people panic about how to write one: they are not sure how much to write or how much scientific knowledge and information they need to include or recall. In many of the A-Level Biology courses it takes the form of the Synoptic essay. You will need to demonstrate your ability to bring together principles and concepts from different areas of Biology, and express these ideas in a clear and logical manner. You must also be able to construct a reasonable length of good quality written work for a given topic, usually between 1000- 2000 words (3-4 A4 length pages). So how do you start to construct one?
Here are a few tips I have written to guide you through the process.
When writing a Biology essay, marks are awarded for the scientific content, the coverage of the topic and for its coherence. A synoptic type essay is usually marked out of 25 marks and you have about 35-45 minutes to write one.
General principles for marking the Essay : Total marks 25 marks
The four SKILL AREAS which you will be marked for are: scientificcontent, breadth of knowledge, relevance and quality of language.
The break down of the marks for each of the skills are shown below with some guidance notes.
Scientific content(maximum 16 marks)
Excellent/Good (12-16 marks)
Average (6-10 marks)
Poor (0-4 marks)
For you to gain the high marks, the essay should cover all the main areas relevant to the topic and must include discussion of each area with suitable examples. All the material must be relevant to the topic and the essay should only contain very few factual errors.
Breath of knowledge(maximum 3 marks)
A well balanced account, making reference to most areas that might be realistically covered in an A-level course of study.
A number of aspects covered but a lack of balance or it is an unbalanced account. Some topics essential to an understanding at this level missed out and not covered. Material entirely irrelevant.
Relevance ( maximum 3 marks)
All material presented is clearly relevant to the title.
Material generally selected in support of title but some of the main content of the essay is only marginally important or largely irrelevant material.
Quality of Written Communication ( maximum 3 marks )
All material is logically presented in clear English. Good use of technical terminology used effectively and accurately .Essay is of good length 2-4 pages in length
Essay very short or under one page in length. Poorly constructed essay and which often fails to use an appropriate scientific style and terminology to express ideas.
It is essential that you must PLAN your essay carefully. This will take around 5 minutes. Bullet point or jot down key words, diagrams or a construct a mind map In your plan. Include a brief introduction and a conclusion to summarize the main points.
In the introduction, you should explain the meaning of any ‘key-terms’ mentioned in the title and the outline of the main points to be covered in the essay.
The essay MUST be written as a piece of continuous prose: Whilst writing the essay DO NOT use subheadings, bullet points, ie (1) (2) or (a),(b) etc.
Aim to spend 25-30 minutes writing the essay and 5 minutes at the end to read carefully through the essay to make any amendments.
Why not use the four keys skills shown above to construct and structure your essay and have a go at practising writing one of these essays?
Synoptic : Past essay questions
- The process of diffusion & its importance in living organisms.
- The biological importance of water
- ATP and its role in living organisms.
- Carbon dioxide in organisms and ecosystems.
- How bacteria affect human lives.
The process of diffusion and its importance inliving organisms.2.
The different ways in which organisms useATP (June 2002) OR ATP and its roles in livingorganisms.3.
The movement of substances within livingorganisms (Jan 2003) OR Transportmechanisms in living organisms.4.
Mutation and its consequences.5.
The properties of enzymes and theirimportance in living organisms OR The role of enzymes in living organisms.6.
The ways in which a mammal maintainsconstant conditions inside its body.7.
Negative feedback in living organisms (June2005)8.
Chemical coordination in organisms.9.
The production and elimination of metabolicwaste products in living organisms.10.
The biological importance of water (Jan 2003)OR The role of water in the lives of organisms.11.
The importance of proteins in livingorganisms.12.
How the structure of proteins is related totheir functions (Jan 2004).13.
The importance of lipids in living organisms.14.
The importance of carbohydrates in livingorganisms OR The structure and functions of carbohydrates (June 2003).15.
How the structure of cells is related to theirfunction (June 2002).16.
Natural selection and the effects of environmental change.17.
Gas exchange in animals and flowering plants.18.
The importance of molecular shape in livingorganisms.19.
The factors affecting the growth and size of populations.20.
Cycles in Biology (June 2003).21.
The causes of variation and its biologicalimportance (Jan 2004).22.
The process of osmosis and its importance toliving organisms (June 2004).23.
Energy transfers which take place inside livingorganisms (June 2004).24.
How microscopes have contributed to ourunderstanding of living organisms (Jan 2005).25.
Enzymes and their importance in plants andanimals (Jan 2005).26.
Mean temperatures are rising in many partsof the world. The rising temperatures mayresult in physiological and ecological effectson living organisms. Describe and explainthese effects. (June 2005)27.
The transfer of substances containing carbonbetween organisms and between organismsand the environment (June 2006).28.
Cells are easy to distinguish by their shape.How are the shapes of cells related to theirfunction? (June 2006)29.
Movements inside cells. (June 2007)30.
Transfers through ecosystems. (June 2007)31.
The part played by the movement of substances across cell membranes in thefunctioning of different organs and organssystems (June 2008).32.
The part played by enzymes in the functioningof different cells, tissues and organs (June2008)33.
Ions and Organisms (June 2009)34.
DNA and the transfer of information (June2009)35.
Carbon dioxide may affect organisms directlyor indirectly. Describe and explain theseeffects. (June 2010)36.
The causes of disease in humans (June 2010).37.
The role of carbon containing compounds inliving organisms.38.
The role of nitrogen containing compounds inliving organisms.39.
The roles of membranes in living organisms.40.
The role of DNA in living organisms.41.
Applications and implications of genetechnology.42.
Genetic variation and speciation.43.
Control of the internal environment in livingorganisms.44.
The movement of molecules and ions throughmembranes.45.
Roles of pigments in living organisms.46.
Light and life.47.
Support and movement in living organisms.48.
The chemical and biological control of insectpests.