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Elementary Mathematics for Biologists

Subject Summary: Part IA Elementary Mathematics for Biologists

This course is designed for students who do not have GCE A Level Mathematics. It covers applications of mathematics and statistics in the context of biology and is problem-based. In addition to standard techniques, students will be introduced to the principles of modelling biological systems and experimental design. This course fulfils the requirements for a mathematical qualification in Part IA of the Natural Sciences Tripos, but does not provide a qualification to read Mathematics in Part IB.

Programme Specification: Part IA Elementary Mathematics for Biologists

This course is taught jointly by the Departments of Biochemistry, Psychology, Pathology, Pharmacology and Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.


  1. to provide students who have not taken mathematics to A level with a toolkit of basic mathematical techniques used in biology.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. have acquired the facility to use algebraic equations to make statements about physical quantities;
  2. understand the use of logarithms and powers;
  3. be able to use of standard functions such as sine, cosine, natural logarithm and exponential;
  4. be able to use calculus to evaluate rates of change and cumulative effects and be able to evaluate simple expressions involving derivatives and integrals;
  5. understand basic descriptive statistics and be able to perform simple significance tests;
  6. be able to use a spreadsheet program to organize data, perform calculations, and 'fit' theoretical expressions to empirical data.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, examples classes and computer workshops.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • one unseen written examination, based on lecture material and the computer workshops (for aim 1 and learning outcomes 1-6).
  • five assessed exercises, based on the lectures, examples classes and workshops (for aim 1 and learning outcomes 1-6).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None. The course is intended for students who have NOT taken A Level Mathematics.

Recommended: Any science courses.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.