Newport Girls' High School

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A-level Biology Live!

21 January 2019

This week our A-level biologists travelled to Birmingham to take part in this year's impressive Biology Live show talks. Not only did this open their eyes to new scientific concepts, it also allowed them to gain valuable tips for their A-level examinations.

 Biology Live is an annual event held in Birmingham, where professors and doctors of a wide range of biology fields come together to give short talks about their fields. The talks all have a link to the A level biology specification and an examiner also goes through exam technique and revision tips. It was a great day and really beneficial to consolidate our learning during our exams, as well as teaching us some new things!

Throughout the day, we listened to numerous lectures by esteemed university professors and doctors on a variety of topics which are incorporated into the A-level biology course. This helped to further and secure our knowledge of the theories and principles that we explore during class, and how they can be applied in the wider world. We started off the day with a talk from Dr Hannah Critchlow, named one of the top 100 influential women in Science by the University of Cambridge, who explored the chemical processes that form assumptions and thought patterns in the brain, and how different psychedelic drugs may unravel these assumptions for the treatment of individuals with chronic mental illnesses.

We were also afforded lectures from Professor Steve Jones and Professor Lord Robert Winston on human evolution and the genetic similarities we still share with primates along with fascinating debates on the ethics behind genetic selection. Dr Jennifer Rohn delved into the deadly potential of antibiotic resistance, rationalising the commonplace nature of bacteria in our bodies (around 100 trillion bacteria on our body at any given time!) and how these can both help and harm us.

Following a quick break for lunch, Dr Ben Goldacre expanded on the idea of the human influence on the natural world and the impact that science can have on areas such as the MMR vaccine scandal in 2001. A particularly compelling point was regarding media coverage of the HPV vaccination’s introduction into the UK and Northern Ireland, with the same news outlets reporting vastly different perspectives on the vaccine based on the political agendas in each country. Overall, all of the lectures we heard were not only thoroughly informative but helped foster our passion for the real-world applications of the theory we learn in class, proving inspirational for many of those who attended.

During Biology live we listened to two talks by an examiner of A-level biology exams. In her first talk we were told about the importance of active revision, such as revising by doing practice questions and making mind maps of a topic with the textbook closed, then opening the textbook and checking through for any errors or missing facts. Ensuring that your revision is active is very important, as you are actively engaging with the subject rather than just reading and subsequently forgetting the contents of the textbook.

In the second session with the examiner, we learnt about exam technique and required practical elements of the course. We learnt that in exams, you should ensure that your answers are precise and clear, using specific scientific terminology, so that the examiner can easily comprehend what you are trying to say as they cannot infer points from your answers. Additionally, we learnt the importance of the layout of our exam answers, as listing many possible answers may make you lose points due the examiner being unable to pick a correct answer. Overall, we all found this section of the day to be very important, as it helped prepare us and give us vital knowledge for upcoming a-level exams.

Overall the day was a huge success, as we were able to expand our knowledge on topics covered in the a-level biology specification and explore how the theories that we learn in the classroom are applied everyday by scientists and doctors in the wider world, along with acquiring vital tips on exam technique from an examiner. A-Level biology live was a fantastic experience for us all, with the lectures proving inspiring for many.

(Rosie, Victoria, Jess & Sammi, Year 12)