The essay question is always The Big Bad of A2 Biology, student worry so much about it. Personally I like it, it gives the students to opportunity to show what they have learnt over the two years and show that they can link the learning objectives and think synoptically. Because at the end of the day knowledge isn’t partitioned in separate units but it’s a intertwined mesh of facts, ideas, concepts and analysis. Only an extended essay can really give students the opportunity to show that understanding and give the examiner the full force of two years work.
Preparation is key to the students getting over the fear of the essay. I think more longer essay style assignments should be set at AS (personally I know I don’t do that) and at A2 an essay question should be set regularly.
It’s not just students working individually though. Setting a question to a group of students and getting them to brainstorm a plan is an excellent way to get them over the fear as they are working in a group. Different groups can be given different questions then present their plans to the class and more discussion can take place.
In the AQA Mark Scheme two of the content marks are for material that isn’t on the specification, the promotion of students to read around the subject it so important. Having a department subscription to New Scientist and Biological Sciences Review is good and I always check the Science section on The Guardian online every morning to see if there is anything I can wangle into a lesson or just something that might spark an interesting conversation in class. I also recommend what ever popular science books I’ve enjoyed over the years and tell them what I am currently reading (The Emperor of all Maladies in case you are wondering).
So here’s the document I use to explain the essay question to students. It’s AQA specific but please steal what you think might help.
And here are some example essay plans.