How to tackle the Biol5 essay – part 3


Remember that you have a choice of two essays, make your choice carefully. Spend a short period of time jotting down what you know about a topic and choose the one that you can write the most about using sound biological knowledge. Be careful with spelling, especially for terms which look similar but mean different things e.g. glucagon, glycogen and glycerol. In this post I will advise upon:

How to write the essay.

After you have brainstormed and formed a spider diagram, organise your ideas into a logical sequence by numbering them in the order that you will tackle them in the essay. Cross out any ideas that you don’t think you can write a decent amount about using key words and scientific terms and then review your plan to make sure it includes a range of ideas and that they relate to the title of the essay.

Remember to refer back to the plan when you are writing the essay to make sure you are on track and it may help to tick off the points covered as you go along.

Typically the structure of an essay goes like this:

  • Introduction
  • Paragraph 1
  • Paragraph 2
  • Paragraph 3
  • Paragraph 4
  • Paragraph 5
  • Conclusion

However, in this essay, there isn’t really any time to write the introduction and the conclusion. Besides you won’t get marks for them. You’ll get marks for the actual content in your essay. However, you can make a quick one sentence introduction for example to define a key word in the title or explain the importance of a general principle.

For example, if the essay was about mutations and its effects on organisms, your first sentence could be a definition of a mutation: A mutation refers to a change in the base sequence of DNA.

If you cannot come up with an introductory sentence, do not bother with it. Go into the essay and write about the first topic that you have numbered in your plan.

Write everything you know about it – that’s the easiest way to get through the essay. Make sure you use scientific terms accurately.

How long should the essay be? 

I don’t have a definitive answer to that. How much can you write about the topics in your plan in the space of 45 minutes? As long as you have covered the points in your plan in great depth displaying your knowledge, that’s what matters. Generally, cover about 5 main points in your essay, so at an estimate write 150 words (a long paragraph) about each main point. If we stick with the 5 main points guide, then the essay would be 150 x 5 = 750 words in length- for me this is two and a half pages of A4, for other people that will be different. I think we need to be sensible in length, because aside from the essay we need to leave enough time for the other 75 marks available in the paper.


To help you make connections between the major themes and topics I have broken down Unit 1 BIOL1 into the main facts and principles.

Unit 1 BIOL1 Biology and Disease

The digestive and gas exchange systems are examples of systems in which humans and other mammals exchange substances with their environment.

Knowledge (facts)

  • Digestive system
  • Proteins
  • Enzyme action
  • Gas exchange system


  • exchange of substances with the environment – adaptations

Substances are transported from one part of the body to another by the blood system. An appreciation of the physiology of these systems requires candidates to understand basic principles including the role of enzymes as biological catalysts, and passive and active transport of substances across biological membranes.

Knowledge (facts)

  • Circulatory system
  • Role of enzymes of biological catalysts


  • Transport
  • Diffusion
  • Osmosis
  • Active Transport

The systems described in this unit, as well as others in the body, may be affected by disease. Some of these diseases, such as cholera and tuberculosis, may be caused by microorganisms. Other noncommunicable diseases such as many of those affecting heart and lung function also have a significant impact on human health. The blood has a number of defensive functions which, together with drugs such as antibiotics, help to limit the spread and effects of disease.

Knowledge (facts)

  • Cholera
  • Tuberculosis
  • Pathogens
  • Antibiotics
  • Heart function
  • Lung function

Principles or concepts

  • Defence mechanisms – Immunology
  • Causes of disease

Having read through these points, are you starting to see where links can be made with other topics in the A level course?


If we were to take the essay title of the causes of disease, the topics we would include are: “Disease may be caused by infectious pathogens or may reflect the effects of lifestyle.” Then to brainstorm further we would think about what types of organisms are pathogens, “pathogens include bacteria, viruses and fungi and also what lifestyle factors increase our risk of disease e.g. smoking and alcohol. 

Of course, then we want to bring in knowledge from elsewhere and we could include: mutations (unit 2 and 5) –> cancer (unit 2)/ (unit 5) tetanus – condition to do with the nervous system – there are different types of mutations, and each has a different consequence, in unit 5 we learnt about cystic fibrosis, a consequence of a deletion mutation; other causes of disease: malnutrition –> kwashiorkor (outside of course). This title is an example of when we do not need to include information from every single unit (i.e. unit 4), since unit 4 doesn’t contain relevant information about disease, although thinking about it now we could include information about mitochondrial diseases, if you knew enough about them.

By now, your plan will have many ideas, you only need to pick out a handful that you can talk about well e.g. a bacterial disease, a viral disease, a fungal disease, a lifestyle disease, a disease due to mutations.


Also I want to highlight the section at the end of Unit 1 in the specification where it says biological principles, and the sections at the end of all the other units too where it says biological principles. For unit 1, it states:

Candidates will be expected to have an understanding of the following principles.

  • Proteins and polysaccharides are made up of monomers that are linked by condensation.
  • Many of the functions of proteins may be explained in terms of molecular structure and shape.
  • Enzymes are proteins and their rates of reaction are influenced by a range of factors: temperature, the presence of inhibitors, pH and substrate concentration.
  • Substances are exchanged by passive or active transport across exchange surfaces. The structure of plasma membranes enables control of the passage of substances across exchange surfaces.

This understanding may…be required in the A2 Units where it may contribute to the assessment of synoptic skills.

As you can see from the principles, there is a lot of potential for examiners to draw titles for Biol5 essays from them. Therefore, make sure you know the principles, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to brainstorm the principles. Possible essay titles from those principles could be:

  1. Describe the importance of molecular structure and shape.
  2. Describe and explain the role of proteins and enzymes in organisms.
  3. Describe the importance of transport systems and explain the adaptations of transport structures.

And another tip: the AQA textbooks have blue link boxes relating topics to other topics elsewhere in the course, I would recommend that you go through these and organise these links into large topic headings.

Example on the page about gene therapy: cystic fibrosis, the blue box refers to AS topics about osmosis and carrier proteins.


We’ve finally reached the end of the how to tackle the BIOL5 essay series. I hope this has been hopeful to you. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message. Essay plans and title suggestions are welcome too. Good luck!


How to tackle the Biol5 essay – part 2

How to plan the Biol5 essay

If you want to do well in this essay, then you must make a plan before you begin. Spend about 10 minutes during the exam to brainstorm ideas for both of the essay titles (5 minutes for each) because you don’t really know what you can say about them until you try to think of the ideas that relate to the title.

Ideally, you should be brainstorming during your revision period prior to the exam by making spider diagrams for each key topic e.g. homeostasis and general principles and concepts e.g. transport. In this way, you can use the resources available to you to add to your plan and it will make things a lot easier when it comes to the exam because you will have already thought about some of the key ideas.

To brainstorm, make a spider diagram – which looks similar to the food webs in Biol4 which show the feeding inter-relationships between different species, likewise, we want to think about the inter-relationships between the main idea. So when you first receive the exam paper, open it up and go to the essay page. Write the central idea (from the title) in the centre of the page, then draw arrows coming from it to connect it with associated themes. Write down everything that you think relates to the topic. Then number the ideas to form a structure for your essay. Afterwards there are two recommended options:

1. Write the essay there and then and get it out of the way.

2. Make the plans, then go back and answer the rest of the questions, leaving the essay until the end.

There are advantages to both methods. The first one gets things over and done with whilst the knowledge is still fresh in your mind. Of course the duration of the exam is not long enough for you to forget everything by the end, but it might relieve the pressure from you after you have finished the essay leaving you time to go back and answer the rest of the questions.

The second method is also effective, because you may gather more ideas for your essay whilst doing the questions, and you’ll have some time to think about what to write in the essay. Just be aware that you leave enough time to write the essay by the end of it – I recommend 45 minutes.

During your revision period however, go through the topics in the specification and brainstorm them all. Next, brainstorm other topics connected to this central idea. Make short plans of themes and general principles e.g. how structure is related to function. Use the list of past paper titles in the synoptic essay pack (you can download that from part 1) to give you an idea of what to expect.

Below is an example of a spider diagram for an essay about cycles.

cycles brainstorm


Here is a big links mind map of most of the BIOL5 topics:

A2 BIOL5 links

The next post will be about how to write the BIOL5 essay, so look out for it!

If you would like to post some essay plans that you want help with or to help others or you want to suggest essay titles, feel free to do so in the comments section below or send me a message.

How to tackle the Biol5 essay – part 1

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:

Synoptic Essay Pack.pdf

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.

How to write a story

Everyone has a story to tell. It may be their life story or a story that appeared in a dream or a story of things they’ve observed in every day life. A story can be non-fiction or fiction, they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. But not everyone tells that story. Maybe it’s because…

They don’t want to or they don’t have the time to or they don’t know how to begin or they don’t think it’s worth it or they don’t think they have anything to say.

If you don’t want to, fair enough. If you don’t have the time to write, maybe try to make time – if writing has been something that you’ve always wanted to do, wake up that hour earlier and use that time to write. If you don’t know how to begin, don’t worry, we’ll go over that in just a second. If you don’t think it’s worth it, well, you won’t know until you’ve tried. Everyone deserves to have a voice and to have their stories heard if they want it to be. If you don’t think you have anything to say, just look around you — life offers so many ideas for stories. Don’t let excuses stop you from writing that story. So, let me ask you.

Are you ready to start writing that story? Let’s begin!


Get your tools ready so that you have everything you need to write the story. Have you got a pen? or a pencil? Do you have some paper? or a laptop that’s charged up? Microsoft Word with a new document? or Notepad? If you want to write a book, then maybe using a writing software will help you, especially to organize your story and keep track of where you’re up to; I would recommend yWriter5 – a free downloadable software that I use myself.

The Concept – the story idea

Next, think about what you want to write about. I find that there are three approaches to this:

  1. Just write and see where it takes you — go with the flow — free writing.
  2. Plot, organise, plan — outlining.
  3. A little bit of both: outline the basics, then just write.

If you have ever participated in NaNoWriMo, or if you want to, a good way to meet the challenge is by following option number 3. Have a basic idea of what is going to happen in the story: beginning, middle, end and then just write and see what happens. Of course, every individual is different and different options will suit them the best, why not try all three and see which works best for you?

Here are some things to think about. Will your story be fiction or non-fiction? Are you writing a short-story, a memoir, a novel? Who are the main characters?

If you are really stuck, you can use a random idea generator – even for your character appearances and names or you could use writing prompts to practice your writing. They provide you with a starting sentence and you use your imagination to finish off the story.

Try the what if … method e.g. what if a boy was a wizard (guess what that story is).

Try combining contrasting or very different ideas e.g. vampires and humans.

Try looking around you and using the first thing you see in your story e.g. a watch.

Try thinking about the most poignant moments in your life and write about what it was like.

Try going on Google images and creating a story from the images that you see.

Try keeping an idea journal, writing down little things that could be used in a story — like the stories that appear in your dreams, write them down before you forget them.


If you’re writing a novel, or short story. Planning isn’t a bad idea. You could write a summary of what happens in each chapter of your story. Think about how many characters you want in your story, or rather, how many characters need to be in the story. What do they look like? What are they like? What do they like? Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? Who are the side characters? Where is your story set: both time and location. Is it set in this world? or another world? If it’s another world — what are the rules of that world? Do they follow the laws of physics? Is it like the human world? What makes it different?

You could start by writing one sentence to describe your story e.g.  four children discover a world within a wardrobe. Then expand the description to a paragraph. Then expand each paragraph to a page. Try writing a synopsis of the story if that helps, or a blurb.

There are many basic plot structures too for stories: you might have heard of the three-act structure, or the four pillars of writing. I can’t fit more extensive details in this one post, but if you like a more structured approach in planning a story – research plot structure.


Conflict is the driving force of a story. Without it, the writing is more of a description rather than a story. Conflict can be micro and/or macro; and it is found in every story. The conflict between a boy and an evil lord, the conflict between a girl and a dystopian society, the conflict between a man and his inner demons. What is the main conflict in your story?


One of the hardest parts of writing a story, can actually be physically writing – although it shouldn’t be. The planning and outlining can turn into a procrastination tool that stops you from actually putting that pen to paper, or those fingers to the keyboard. If this is really the case, just type the first words that come into your head or even the first letters. Keep going for 15 minutes. Stop then read what you’ve produced.

If you are serious about writing, then realize that writing is a skill and a skill takes patience and practice. To master a skill requires dedication, and respect: meaning that you should strive to continually learn about the craft and practice it.

I know I still have a long way to go with my writing, but I’m trying. I’m writing. In this post I’ve only touched the surface of writing a story, there’s so much more to know out there. But the most important point in writing a story, is the act of writing itself. It’s easy to make excuses to put it off, but writing often, even if just 100 words a day adds up by the time you get to the end of the year: 365 x 100 = 36 500 words – the upper ends of a novella. Of course you can change this word count to whatever suits you, if you’re up for 1000 words each day, go for it: 365 x 1000 = 365, 000 words – 3 novels.

Good luck!


Preparing for exams: Revision Toolkit

The exam season is almost upon us and we need to be prepared before going into battle. Below are some resources that you can use to help get you through this tough period.

1. Revision Timetable

Make one and stick to it. Click on the link below to download a free revision timetable that you can print off and fill in.

Revision Timetable.pdf

2. Examination Dates

Be aware of when your exams are so you can plan ahead with revision. Click on the link below to download a free examination dates table that you can print off and fill in.

Examination Dates.pdf

3. Exam tips

Before the exam


Have I/do I….

1. summarized my notes.

2. answered questions under exam conditions.

3. tried some past paper questions.

4. checked the time and place of my exams.

5. have the correct equipment for the exam, e.g.

  • 2 sharpened pencils
  • rubber
  • 3 black pens (not gel pens) – check that they work
  • ruler – 15 cm and 30 cm
  • calculator; for maths exams you might want to think about bringing a spare calculator too.
  • protractor
  • compass
  • clear pencil case

6.  understood the format of the exam papers: i.e. do you know:

  • how many marks there are in the paper
  • the time allowed
  • how much this paper contributes to your overall grade
  • where to write your name and other information required
  • what materials will be needed to complete the paper

7. know your candidate number and centre number.

On the day of the exam – before exam

  • Make sure you have everything.
  • Arrive at least 20 minutes early so you can find exactly where you need to be, and prepare yourself.
  • Some exam centres need you to bring some form of ID, make sure you do.
  • Breathe.
  • Take labels off water bottles.
  • Wear a watch to keep track of time.
  • Switch mobiles off.

During the exam

  • Make sure that you have been given the correct paper.
  • Then read instructions carefully and fill in any information that is required.
  • Answer the questions that you can first, then go back to the others. You don’t have to answer questions in order.
  • Be aware of the time, but focus on the questions rather than the clock.
  • Don’t leave questions out and if you have time at the end check over your answers.
  • Breathe, you’ve revised for this exam, the answers are in your head.
  • Make sure you understand what the question is asking before you attempt it.

After the exam

  • Smile.
  • Don’t fret about it, it’s over.
  • Have a rest and relax.
  • Focus on the next exam if you have one, if it was your last one, lucky you!

Good luck!