Comparing SNAB with traditional approaches to A-level Biology

The A level Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology (SNAB) course was designed to introduce key ideas in advanced biology through interesting contexts and applications. Context-based approaches to teaching science such as SNAB have been favoured because they motivate and interest students.

This study focused on the under-researched question of whether these approaches result in different or better performance, compared to more traditional concept-based approaches.

It found that students following a mixed approach to teaching biology, where their teachers often drew on both context and concept approaches, performed better than students following either mainly context-based or concept-based approaches.

Students following a context-based (SNAB-style) approach to studying biology at advanced level do as well in examinations as students following a more traditional concept-led approach. 

  • It is likely that a mixed approach is part of the advantages already attributable to selective and independent schools. These could include greater purchasing power for textbooks by parents and the school and the ability to draw on a wider range of in-school and out-of-school facilities for teaching and professional development.
  • Teachers’ choices of approach are determined by the interaction of three clusters of factors. These clusters are concerned with: external factors, student factors and teacher factors.
  • A factor the study could not evidence but that is likely to be important, is the extent of the cohesiveness of teaching teams and their ability to act as professional communities sharing and reflecting on the suitability and efficacy of teaching approaches and resources.
  • Having one specification for Biology, that could be taught by one or the other or a mixture of teaching approaches, has opened up a professional space for teachers’ decision making. Teachers that might not otherwise have seen the benefits of teaching using the types of student-centred, interactive activities that SNAB has invested in and developed, have been exposed to new ideas.

The report also includes recommendations for schools, awarding bodies and for teachers’ professional development.

Project details



Professor Judith Bennett and Dr Martin Braund, University of York

Grant amount and duration


1 July 2011 – 31 January 2013



'Teaching approach and success in A-level Biology'

 Download main report (PDF)

 Download literature review (PDF)