How to A Levels: H2 Biology

Studying Biology is…memorisation? And then you go to the exam and memorise everything only to realise you can’t answer a single question. How to compare this and that sia??!?! What point of comparison? How do I know what kind of R groups this protein has?

While Biology is indeed a content heavy subject, it is more important to know how to frame that content such that it can be used in an examination context. This article will teach you how to study for Biology in a four-step process starting from understanding the topic to being able to answer examination questions like a pro.

1. Active Learning with Lecture Notes

The very first step to learning Biology might seem the most obvious – study the actual content and grasp the topic. But learning content isn’t just reading your lecture notes. If you really want to retain information, engage in active learning.

Explain back each concept back to yourself, make your own notes or try explaining it to a friend. You can also record yourself to listen to yourself explain certain topics while you are on the train. All of these methods engage in active recall that force your brain to recall and retrieve information from your brain. It also is an indicator of whether you truly understand something and have the ability to put the knowledge into words – a skill you must have for your examination.

2. Explain it Back to Yourself using Learning Objectives

After you have understood the content itself, the second step is to frame your knowledge based on what the examination is looking for. SEAB has all their learning objectives online. If you structure your notes based on the learning objectives, then you are structuring your knowledge for the examination. The great thing about Biology’s learning objectives is that they are often literal questions. Take a look at a few below.

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These learning objectives are quite possibly literal questions in exams (some even essay questions). Hence, when you make notes, make them in accordance to these learning objectives and try to memorise based in this form. Like one very … very long tutorial.

3. Practice!!! Do Your Tutorials and Examination Papers and Frame Your Knowledge Further Based on these Questions

Of course, we cannot stop at just writing notes and the learning objectives alone. Practice is important for familiarity with examination conditions. Biology has a lot of different types of ways in which they will ask questions, and exposing yourself to different types of questions is crucial.

If you go into an exam and encounter an entirely different question, it might intimidate you even though you know a lot of information. So practicing is important for exposure and familiarity. Most importantly, make sure you practice to familiarise yourself with keywords and how to answer based on how many marks each question is allocated.

Comparison Questions – Focus on the point of comparison

If you look at Biology as big separate chunks of knowledge, you might find a lot of difficulty answering questions. Instead, remembering Biology is an ecosystem of knowledge, and topics can be linked. Although the learning objectives are usually a good basis for what most questions will be like, H2 Biology often asks for questions across topics. For example, comparing a protein with a carbohydrate – these things, then, might not be what you have prepared yourself for. Hence, for comparison questions, always think of what the point of comparison can be rather than only knowing everything about starch and everything about glucagon as separate entities.

Application Questions – Focus on the characteristics and principles of the topic

Especially for topics such as Cell Signalling and Viruses, they might give you an entirely “new” cell signalling receptor or virus. However, when these kind of questions arise, make sure you remember the principles and characteristics of a cell signalling receptor or virus. These characteristics are often what will inform you how to answer the question.

But what if you end up with a question you’ve never seen before in an exam? The best advice to tackling application questions is to remain calm and list out all the different characteristics, processes, etc that are relevant to the topic itself and see if it is able to answer the question.

One good example is on how photosynthesis causes a pH change inside the thylakoid membrane. Like what!? But if you think carefully of the photosynthesis process in the thylakoid membrane, it makes sense that the H+ accumulation causes a pH change when photosynthesis occurs. Hence, with your understanding of photosynthesis AND what happens in the thylakoid membrane, this can inform you how to answer such an application question.

4. Final Revision – Consistency

After going through these steps, make sure you go through your practice questions again and again and revise using the active learning techniques mentioned earlier. Most importantly, make sure you go back and review these topics over and over as time goes by.

Do not go into revision for every single examination having to start from zero. Reinforce your learning by revisiting and revising the same topic every few weeks. Being consistent is important for retention of memory but more importantly, to keep you from experiencing an overwhelming amount of stress when examinations near. Biology is indeed a pretty heavy subject – “don’t know the topic cannot do GG.”

But with these four steps, studying for Biology can be broken down into its monomers. Take it each monomer at a time.

Remember to dream big. 

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