Choose from a natural selection

28th March 2003 at 00:00
Rob Musker looks at textbooks for AS and A2 biology

Many approaches are taken by publishers in deciding how best to cover the specifications for AS and A2 biology. Some use separate texts for each section of the course while others cover the whole qualification within a single book. There are also numerous textbooks that cover many or all of the specifications and could support other courses such as the International Baccalaureate. In addition to these texts there are also some that are not intended to cover the specifications, but to supplement the AS and A2 courses, such as books that look at the synoptic skills or practical elements involved in the qualification, or those providing useful additional information and resources to key biological concepts, such as microbes. Some resources do not come in book form but are available only onlineThere are many good textbooks available for these courses and the extra support resources are improving. In terms of quality, there is little difference between these books; however, there is a great deal of difference in price and, with changes mooted at this level, some of the more general texts may seem better value for money. Apart from financial constraints, it is important to consider design, content, structure and the quality and quantity of extra support materials. The best books to support this level of qualification have been reviewed in the survey.

Key issues to consider when making a choice:

Content

The most important consideration is whether the book covers the specification you are studying and whether there are any scientific flaws in the knowledge used.

After this there are many elements to consider, such as whether there are enough questions at the correct level and whether they test the synoptic element of the course. Is there support for the practical work or are there extension material? Are the examples and case studies chosen relevant to the student?

Design

How well does the book stand up to the "flick" test? Is the text easy to read? Is it engaging? Are there relevant diagrams and photographs to help the students? How well is colour used? Does the basic page layout allow the reader to follow the information logically?

Structure

Is the content organised in a clear and logical manner? How do the extra sections in some books make them stand out from the other texts?

Extras

As well as the books there are many types of additional support for these courses. These include teacher packs on CD-Rom, websites and student revision guides. These often show the greatest difference in terms of quality and substance, and should be considered before you buy.

TITLE

CUP. Cambridge Advanced Sciences. Biology 1 pound;14.50 (AS); Biology 2 pound;13.50 (A2); Environmental Biology (2nd ed) pound;8.95 (A2); Growth, Development and Reproduction (2nd ed) pound;8.95 (A2); Applications of Genetics (2nded) pound;8.95 (A2); Mammalian Physiology and Behaviour pound;8.95 (A2); Microbiology and Biotechnology (2nd ed) pound;7.95 (A2). Tel: 01223 325566 www.uk.cambridge.orgeducation

CONTENT

This series has been endorsed by OCR and completely covers OCR specification A. All the AS materials are presented in one book, but the A2 year is covered in a core textbook with a choice of optional material in five other books. They are accessible for all students at this level, but lack extension material to stretch the most able students.

DESIGN

The text is easy to read but the books contain fewer photographs and diagrams than most of the other books reviewed. The optional module on microbiology and biotechnology is the only book reviewed that is black and white throughout, so it is less inviting.

EXTRAS

Some of the books in the series have small appendices with useful information to supplement the text.

STRUCTURE

All the books in the series share the same structure. Each chapter starts with an overview table and finishes with a useful summary and a small set of questions. There are also some questions in the text, which vary in number depending on the chapter and the course book. For example, there are four in the asexual reproduction chapter on growth, development and reproduction. The books all have clear glossary sections and answers to the in-text questions towards the back.

VERDICT

This series is accessible but lacks some of the inspiring additional features in a number of the other books surveyed.

TITLE

COLLINS. Collins Advanced ScienceBiology pound;27.99. Tel: 0870 787 1612. www.collinseducation.com

CONTENT

All specifications and the International Baccalaureate are covered.

The great breadth of content is accessible to all students, with extension material also highlighted. Scientific contexts for the concepts are given and regular questions allow the content to be interrogated. Key concept summaries make the text even more accessible.

DESIGN

There are large colourful diagrams and photographs with clear and interesting text. The book is well organised throughout, with good use made of each page.

EXTRAS

There is a teacher support pack (pound;34.03 plus VAT) for biology and human biology, with further questions, a glossary and answers to exam questions from the book. The series is also supported by its own website (www.collinseducation.com)

STRUCTURE

This is a large book with eight main chapters broken down into 38 sections.

The start of each section highlights the level of knowledge, AS or A2, but there is no guidance for the different specifications. Each section starts with a relevant introduction and has many questions and "remember this" boxes for review. Each section finishes with a well written summary and key skills assignment. There are many sections of exam questions throughout the book.

VERDICT

This book is excellent value for money. It is well written and colourful, and will appeal to students.

TITLE

COLLINS. Collins Advanced Modular Sciences. Biology AS AQA pound;19.99 (2nd ed) (specificationB) Biology A2 AQA pound;18.99 (specification B). Optional units A2 (pound;10.50 each): Behaviour and Populations; Applied Ecology; Microbes and Disease Tel: 0870 787 1612 www.collinseducation.com

CONTENT

These books fully cover AQA specification B in some depth. There is a single book for the AS qualification and, to complete the A2 course, there is a core textbook and a choice of three books for the optional modules. The A2 book finishes with several useful chapters that look at building scientific skills for investigational work or at the synoptic element of the exams.

DESIGN

These are colourful books with large diagrams and photographs. The text and pictures flow well.

EXTRAS

There are teacher-support CD-Roms for the AS and A2 courses (from May, pound;40.84 plus VAT). These contain extra features such as learning checklists, graphics for presentations and exam tips. Some very good student support materials provide a concise review of the specification and have assessment materials and answers to help with the revision process (pound;4.75 to pound;6.25).

STRUCTURE

The material is covered in a logical progression, following the specification. Each chapter starts with an introduction to make the material relevant to the student and ends with several pages of exam questions. There are questions within the text and application and extension boxes to extend more able pupils and make the work more interesting. The answers to these are at the back of the book.

VERDICT

These books provide a rich, interesting text that uses diagrams and photographs to good effect. The course is well supported with extra resources and is highly recommended for AQA specificationB.

HEINEMANN. Advanced Level AS Biology for AQA B pound;17.50. Advanced level A2 Biology for AQA B pound;18.99. Tel: 01865 888080. www.heinemann.co.uk

CONTENT

These books have excellent coverage of the AQA specification B. The layout is easy to follow, with step-by-step schematics to show students how to carry out the relevant practical work. There are questions throughout and those at the end of each unit contain coloured diagrams that will be more engaging to students.

DESIGN

The books are easy to read and well illustrated throughout. The text is split into sections and well supported by diagrams.

EXTRAS

There is good teacher support, with a pack and CD-Rom for each book. These include practice and homework questions with answers to exam-style questions. Heinemann also produces good revision guides for this specification covering the material clearly, with particularly good tips for exam questions.

STRUCTURE

Each module starts with a coloured concept map showing the link between the units and modules. Each spread covers a particular section of the specification, starting with an introduction and ending with a summary.

Extra questions are provided at the end of each module. There is an extensive set of answers at the back of the book and a glossary.

VERDICT

These books and resources are well planned and cover AQA specification B in an engaging manner - highly recommended

HEINEMANN. Heinemann Advanced Science. Biology (2nd ed) pound;26.99. Tel: 01865 888080 www.heinemann.co.uk

CONTENT

This 760-page book matches all specifications and optional modules for ASA2. Focus pages introduce each chapter. The chapters end with useful summaries but relatively few questions. However, there are several pages of exam questions at the end of each section.

DESIGN

This is a text-rich book with some very attractive diagrams. Some parts are less easy to read due the density of the text while others make better use of diagrams and colour.

EXTRAS

Each chapter has a small section on how to develop key skills in that subject area. Charts to match the chosen specification can be downloaded at www.heinemann.co.ukscience

STRUCTURE

The colour-coded index is easy to use but there is nothing in the book to help you navigate between the different specifications. Each chapter starts with a relevant focus for the material and there are colour-coded boxes that highlight basic facts and techniques or provide extension material.

Each chapter finishes with a useful summary and questions, and each of the seven sections finishes with several pages of exam questions.

VERDICT

This sound book is excellent value for money and has a multitude of uses.

TITLE

HODDER AND STOUGHTON. AQA Biology Specification AA2. A New Introduction to Biology pound;15.99AQA Biology A2 Specification A Further Studies in Biology pound;15.99 Tel: 020 7873 6000 www.madaboutbooks.com

CONTENT

These books are clear and concise. Each chapter ends with summaries, text questions and useful exam questions (but no answers are provided).

There is also an assignment to build up the necessary skill, consolidation of key terms and extension material, but there is no glossary.

DESIGN

The design of this book makes the text very accessible and clarity of language ensures it is easy to read. Some pages would benefit from more diagrams, and some of the diagrams are a bit small.

EXTRAS

Assignment sections at the end of each chapter help build the skills needed at this and subsequent levels.

STRUCTURE

These books split the unit material needed for this specification into 13 sections. The chapters share common features, starting with a topical issue and ending with exam questions and an assignment.

VERDICT

These books contain concise texts with interesting introductions and good extra features. A recommended buy for AQA specification A.

TITLE

LONGMAN. AS Level Biology pound;19.99 A2 Level Biology pound;19.99. Tel: 0800 579 579 www.longman.co.uk

CONTENT

These books cover the core content for all the major specifications with sound text and diagrams. There are plenty of questions in the text, with answers and a summary at the end of each chapter, plus several pages of exam and synoptic questions with answers at the end of the book.

DESIGN

The text is friendly but appears dense although the typeface is larger than in some of the other books. There is a good mix of photographs and diagrams.

EXTRAS

There are no free resources or extra material to support these courses. The "scientist of the month" may be useful in some contexts. The chapters contain a few examination hints and questions suitable for developing key skills.

STRUCTURE

Although fairly large, these books are easy to navigate using coloured pie-charts to identify the specification and level of qualification.

Optional material is also covered. Each chapter starts with a brief introduction and overview and ends with a summary and questions. Summary, definition and reminder boxes reinforce learning while extension boxes provide extra material for more able pupils.

VERDICT

These are sound and interesting general books with very useful review material and questions.

TITLE

NELSON THORNES. Essential AS Biology pound;17 Essential A2 Biology (on sale from Summer 2003, pound;19) Tel: 01242 267100 www.nelsonthornes.com

CONTENT

The book has complete coverage of the AS specifications of the English and Welsh exam boards and would also be useful for other advanced courses. Most of the spreads have summary tests requiring students to fill in the key words. Each chapter ends with a double-page spread containing exam questions.

DESIGN

This book makes good use of the space available. The text, with bullet points, is accessible and well supported by photographs, diagrams and tables, although some of the text on diagrams and tables is too small and dense.

EXTRAS

www.nelsonthornesessentialbiology provides a useful extra resource with online multiple-choice tests for each chapter, detailed content lists and answers to summary tests. A teacher support CD-Rom (pound;80.00 plus VAT) is also available.

STRUCTURE

The structure is straightforward; chapters are broken down into double-page spreads, with the specification indicated at the top. A glossary is provided but no extension material or activities.

VERDICT

This book is attractive and easy to use, and covers the specifications with great clarity. A recommended resource.

TITLE

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. Advanced Biology pound;27.50 Tel: 01536 741171 www.oup.co.uk

CONTENT

This very useful book covers ASA2 core material for all exam boards, and key terms and concepts in the options offered. The text is broken up by bullet points and well written with key words. Extra material can be found in "Fact of Life" boxes.

DESIGN

This book is very text-heavy but with attractive pictures, especially at the start of each chapter. The text and diagrams on some spreads are very small and difficult to read.

EXTRAS

There are very useful specification guides for this book at www.oup.co.ukoxedsecondary sciencegridsbiology

STRUCTURE

The chapters in all five sections are laid out in double-page spreads. I liked the objectives at the top and the quick check questions at the end of each spread. Chapters finish with a useful summary but this is squashed in very small text. There are practice exam questions with answers and a good index (but no coding to help navigate between the material needed for different boards). There are good reasons for buying a single book for a course or to support several courses. However, the book is not as student-friendly as some of the others reviewed.

VERDICT

This books offers a great deal for a relatively low price. It can be used as a resource for many advanced courses, including the International Baccalaureate.

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