OCR A level biology: mathematical skills handbook

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This Handbook is intended as a resource for teachers, to clarify the nature of the mathematical skills required for A level biology, and indicate how each skill is relevant to the biology subject content.

Contents include:

Arithmetic and numerical computation 

  • Recognise and make use of appropriate units in calculations
  • Recognise and use expressions in decimal and standard form
  • Use ratios, fractions and percentages
  • Estimate Results 
  • Use calculators to find and use power, exponential and logarithm functions 16

Handling data

  • Use an appropriate number of significant figures 
  • Find arithmetic means
  •  Construct and interpret frequency tables and diagrams, bar charts and histograms
  • Understand simple probability
  • Understand the principles of sampling as applied to scientific data
  • Understand the terms mean, median and mode 
  • Use a scatter diagram to identify a correlation between two variables 
  • Make order of magnitude calculations
  • Select and use a statistical test
  • Understand measures of dispersion, including standard deviation and range 
  • Identify uncertainties in measurements and use simple techniques to determine uncertainty when data are combined


  • Understand and use the symbols: =, <, <<, >>, >, ∝, ∼ 37
  • Change the subject of an equation
  • Substitute numerical values into algebraic equations using appropriate units for physical quantities 
  • Solve algebraic equations
  • Use logarithms in relation to quantities that range over several orders of magnitude


  • Translate information between graphical, numerical and algebraic forms
  • Plot two variables from experimental or other data 
  • Understand that y = mx + c represents a linear relationship 
  • Determine the intercept of a graph   
  • Calculate rate of change from a graph showing a linear relationship
  • Draw and use the slope of a tangent to a curve as a measure of rate of change

Geometry and trigonometry

  • Calculate the circumferences, surface areas and volumes of regular shapes


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