The Association for Science Education

Collins AQA GCSE (9-1) Biology

ASE Evaluated

Title: AQA GCSE (9-1) Biology - Student Book
Resource type: Student Books
Publisher: Collins
ISBN: Biology 9780008158750 Chemistry 9780008158767
Publication Date: May 2016
Format: Paperback
RRP: £18.99
Ages: KS4 GCSE (age 14-16)

ASE Expert Evaluation:

The new GCSE science courses for first examination in 2018 represent a significant shift in emphasis. Well-written textbooks can provide fantastic support for students and teachers alike. They supplement great teaching; provide an accessible and practical resource for students; give a wide range of opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding of the subject and, last but not least, provide interest and inspiration for the reader. This article explores the new AQA GCSE Biology Student Book from Collins, to see how it measures up.


The student book takes us on a journey through the biology content and has been reordered from the AQA specification so that it flows in a sequence for learning and progression. Organised into chapters and double page spreads, the format might appear unadventurous but, actually, a great deal of of thought has clearly gone into the publication to ensure that it covers all bases.

The useful “How to use this book” section at the start draws the reader’s attention to the key features of each double page spread. Each spread identifies the learning objectives in clear accessible language as well as the key words. Each spread contains three sections of increasing difficulty and, after each section, questions help the student and teacher to check that the ideas have been grasped. Higher tier content appears clearly in separate boxes.

“Key concept” pages set the scene and present the core ideas for each chapter. In aiming to leave no stone unturned the book also covers all the required practicals and maths skills; it provides differentiated checklists and worked examples for answering questions. Each chapter is rounded off with a set of wider reaching questions.

A good balance is struck between accessibility and interest for talented students. 

A good balance is struck between accessibility and interest for talented students. The photographs and illustrations are well chosen to spark interest, although bigger ones would enhance the effect further! Once having drawn the student in, there is plenty to stimulate further thinking.


We all will have our own opinions on the best order of topics for teaching, but the approach here is sensible and useable. Decisions have been made for the reader about where key concepts appear. For example, diffusion appears as a key concept in Chapter 2 “Photosynthesis.” This provides a suitable context rather than dealing with it in an isolated way. Opportunities are taken to revisit and build on the key concepts; for example, diffusion is revisited in Chapter 3 when osmosis is covered.

Working and thinking scientifically

The book encourages students to consider the role of evidence in our understanding of science. Uncertainties are explored; for example, data are presented about the inheritance of earlobe shape and why it cannot be stated conclusively that a single gene is involved.

The eight required practicals on the AQA Biology specification are supported by fairly open activities, which set the overall form for each practical but leave the student to make a range of decisions and think scientifically. 

The eight required practicals on the AQA Biology specification are supported by fairly open activities, which set the overall form for each practical but leave the student to make a range of decisions and think scientifically. The learning objectives for each required practical encapsulate the Apparatus and Techniques from the AQA Specification, but does so in simplified wording. The required practicals on their own will not properly develop and embed a full range of practical skills so most teachers will rightly have far more practical activities. The teacher guide identifies, supports and encourages many other opportunities for practical and investigative science, in addition to the required practicals, guarding against schools doing the bare minimum.

Developing higher level thinking

The learning objectives at the start of each spread include command words such as “explain”, “evaluate“ and “interpret”, and so remind the reader that there is a lot more to biology than just “knowing“. The questions ramp up in difficulty and the teacher can easily direct students straight to ones offering appropriate challenge. Teachers may wish to supplement the questions with others to further develop wider skills such as evaluating and synthesising. Many of the photographs are captioned with a thought-provoking question. The “check your progress” section in each chapter is a useful tool for students and teachers.

Preparing students for all the assessment objectives (AO1-3)

A nice touch is provided by the worked examples of exam-style questions using student-speak answers with annotations. They encourage the student to give detailed and precise answers and the tone is positive, friendly and not at all patronising.

The questions at the end of each chapter are linked to the assessment objectives (A01 to A03) and give extensive opportunity to practise different styles of questions. As the teaching profession becomes familiar with the new style of assessment, this provides a useful starting point.

AO1 (knowledge and understanding) with its 40% weighting is very well supported. Students and teachers can draw from a range of activities in the book to develop the remaining 60%: AO2 (applying) and AO3 (analysing, interpreting, evaluating, concluding and improving). However, teachers would want to ensure that their schemes of learning and plans have frequent opportunities to focus on these areas.

Development of Maths Skills

Most teachers will probably welcome the inclusion of maths skills dotted throughout the book. Rather than embedding them within double page spreads and risk them being lost, the maths skills are highlighted in their own spreads within the context of the surrounding lessons. They go a long way to supporting the student. However, the teacher will still want to help them with the language differences they may encounter compared to their maths lessons and also with the mathematical processes. The ASE publication “The Language of Mathematics in Science”, available from Spring 2016, should prove to be the perfect companion for teachers in these respects.


We all know that there is no substitute for great teaching, but the Collins AQA GCSE Biology Student Book is an engaging and very useful resource to help teachers and to support students’ learning. Please don’t mechanically plod your way through one spread per lesson (as if you would!), but combine the use of this book with teaching that develops the full range of skills. Whether being used at home by a student or in class with a teacher, this book has a lot to offer.