Background Bioscience has a long history of being challenging to teach and learn within nursing courses and little has been published on new ways to assist students in their learning. The aim of this study was to determine which of three different interventions would assist student performance in a nursing bioscience unit. Method To begin, the contribution of recent prior learning in science was investigated by comparing the final exam marks of 182 students in the bioscience unit with the science marks they achieved at high (secondary) school. The effect of recent prior learning was then tested by investigating whether the first intervention, a pre-nursing bioscience workshop of 63 students, would substitute for recent high school science. Two further interventions were tested that used a stronger student-focused contribution to the teaching and learning within the bioscience unit. These were the Human Body Club which was composed of 44 under-performing students and an online learning platform known as LearnSmart that was used by a cohort of 263 students. Results and discussion Good and recent high school attainment in the sciences did improve student performance, whilst recent prior learning in the form of a bioscience workshop did not. Both student-focused interventions improved student performance. The longer a student spent using LearnSmart the more their mark increased. However, the Human Body Club which provided additional support and shifted the bulk of the teaching and learning to the students was the most effective of the three interventions in assisting students to pass the bioscience unit.