The Edexcel GCE Biology specification and the exams

Are the context-led (SNAB) and concept-led approaches in the Edexcel biology specification for the 2008 examined in the same way?

The Edexcel GCE Biology specification represents two approaches leading to the same learning outcomes. All students sit the same exams.

By the end of the course the students will have covered the same biology, and there is one common assessment structure. Both courses are assessed through interesting coursework, and examination questions referring to biological contexts, applications and practical work.

There is a limit to how much context can be included in an exam question anyway, as you just add too much to the reading required.

See Edexcel biology specification for 2008

What do you recommend for student revision?

Revision tips for students from Nicola Wilberforce of Esher College

These revision tips are only relevant for the SNAB context-based version of the Edexcel GCE Biology course. They require access to the resources on

Download this same text to give to students. 

Should I get a revision guide?

There are revision guides published for SNAB (that is, for Edexcel GCE Biology) and for many students they can provide a ‘comfort blanket’, giving a sense of security. However, beware - revision guides can encourage passive rote-learning whilst giving the impression that you are understanding. Many biology exam questions ask you to apply your knowledge to new situations and problems. If you have ‘learned’ and ‘revised’ but not fundamentally ‘understood’, you are less likely to be successful in these questions. Deeper understanding and more through learning requires ‘active revision’. The snabonline website and textbook provides all the resources you need for active revision - so let’s get started!

Know what you need to know!

You can only be examined on what is in the specification. The whole specification can be downloaded from the Edexcel website but even for teachers it is hard-going. Students will find it much better to use the 'Check your notes' activities. These are ‘student-speak’ versions of the specification and are cross-referenced to the learning activities available on and to the Checkpoint questions in the SNAB textbook. The 'Check your notes' activity sheet for each topic is always the last activity number in any SNAB topic. For example, for Topic 1 Lifestyle, health and risk it is Activity 1.26. The specification material is covered in the textbook, which along with your own work and notes, should be your first revision resource. The textbooks may also include information that is useful or interesting, but you can only be examined on what is specified.

Use the Checkpoint questions in the textbook

For each SNAB topic, make sure you complete all the Checkpoint questions in the shaded boxes in the text book. They get you to summarise key biological principles and highlight the really important stuff you absolutely must learn. These will provide the skeleton of your ‘revision notes’.

Redo the interactives

Redo as many interactive tutorials on snabonline as you can, completing another copy of the worksheet as you go. You can download the worksheets onto paper or complete the Word versions electronically using a different coloured font for your answers so they stand out better. Compare your answers with the original tutorial you did and your teacher marked. If you didn’t do it before, your teacher may be able to let you see the teacher’s answer sheet so you can self-assess.

Make your own active revision resources

Have you seen the hyperlink on snabonline to the SNAB glossary? This is an A-Z of the biological words and phrases you should know the meaning of. Click on a letter, then on a biological term and see the definition. Use this information to make revision cards, with a word or phrase on one side and the definition or explanation on the other. Group the cards into topic packs. Test yourself or get others to test you - they read out the word, you tell them the definition, or vice versa .

Use Mediabank to make more active revision resources

There is a link to a folder called Mediabank in the left-hand menu next all the Topic folders on snabonline. This contains all the artwork and images used in the student book and activity sheets, with and without labels. Use these images to make more revision cards. You can print off the unlabelled images (black and white to save ink) and label them, or use the labelled images to create mix and match or cut and stick revision activities. Here you can reinforce your learning in a visual and kinaesthetic way by ordering processes, making comparisons and describing and labelling biological structures.

For example, use image 1.10B to learn the structure of the heart. Print off the labelled image, cut away all the labels and stick the unlabelled heart to another background piece of paper. Separate and trim the labels, mix them up and then place them all in the right position. Use the labelled image in your AS student book to check you are correct. Repeat until you always get it right. Do it again the next day, just to make sure, and so on. Keep all the pieces in a large labelled envelope or plastic wallet and label it ‘heart structure’. Whenever you need to revise this topic, shake out the pieces and do it again!

You can do this with many different topics. It works particularly well for processes as well as structures as you can order the stages.

Do or re-do the end of topic tests

Ask your teacher to set or reset the interactive end-of-topic tests on snabonline. There are also exam style end of topic tests that your teacher can set you.

Complete past examination questions

and check them against the examiners’ mark schemes. Be strict with yourself and ensure you use the correct terminology in your answers. It is easy to say ‘Oh, that’s what I meant - I got that right’ when self-assessing your answers, but often your answer wouldn’t get full marks in an exam as you weren’t precise or detailed enough. Your school or college may allow you access to the past papers or you can download them yourself. Edexcel examination papers that are over a year old can be downloaded for free from the Edexcel website but more recent ones can only be accessed by teachers by a secure download. This is so they can be used for mock exams and tests!

Exam papers from the previous specification

The current specification started in 2008. It is very similar to the previous Edexcel GCE Salters-Nuffield Biology specification and past papers and mark schemes for that can be downloaded from the Edexcel website

Material examined in the ‘old’ Unit 1 (Topics 1 and 2) and Unit 5 (Topics 7 and 8) papers will be similar to the 2008 specification. Topics 3 and 6 are also pretty much the same, but Topics 4 and 5 have been changed quite a bit. This means that you must use the old Unit 2 (Topics 3 and 4) and Unit 4 (Topics 5 and 6) with care. The synoptic style questions from the old Unit 6 paper will be examined in a similar form within the new Unit 5. The new unit 6 is coursework, which used to be part of the old Unit 5.

How does SNAB address How Science Works?

How Science Works (HSW) is integrated into the specification statements, so teachers and students are clear about the way this will be assessed.

For AS level, the HSW is examined in the contexts provided in the topic specification statements, and through the coursework.

In A2, the HSW is exemplified in the topics, but can also be examined through other contexts.

Practical-related HSW content is assessed both through the written exams and teacher assessment. The idea is that all HSW content is developed over the AS course, and assessed formatively by the teacher or by peer assessment.

The formal assessment for AS HSW takes place through a visit or issue report, teacher assessment of using apparatus, recording results and presenting and analysing data, and through the written exams.

At A2, the HSW is assessed through an individual investigation drawing on the practical and investigative skills developed at AS, and though the written exams.

See this link to where you can download the Edexcel GCE Biology specification

Where can we get hold of the specification?

Here are details from Edexcel of the Edexcel GCE Biology specification which started September 2008. Specification for 2008

How is the coursework assessment in the current course different in SNAB from other A-level Biology courses?

SNAB AS Coursework

In the Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology AS course, students complete a visit or issue report.

The written report may be a record of a visit to a site of biological interest, or a report of non-practical research into a biological issue.

In both cases the student identifies a relevant question or problem. The report concentrates on what biologists are doing to find a solution. The report should be between 1000 and 1500 words.  The report can be marked internally, or externally by Edexcel.

Students complete the core practicals and other practical investigations during the course. Teachers verify that students have completed the core practical work to develop the practical biology skills identified in the specification. Knowledge of these techniques and skills may be assessed in questions on the written papers.

SNAB A2 Coursework investigation

Students devise and carry out an individual experimental investigation, and present a written report of their investigation. This report will be marked by the teacher, with moderation by Edexcel.

See the Edexcel GCE Biology specification


Please can you give me some ideas for SNAB Unit 6 student investigations?

There are a vast number of ideas on the Edexcel website

Look for tutor support materials. You'll need an Edexcel log on (achieved via your exam secretary) as this is secure material.

A rummage through the SAPS website

Thank you for Graham Hartland of Tomlinscote School for the SAPS suggestion.