Exam technique A level GCSE Biology science

Exam Technique and Revision for A Level Biology by Rebecca Webb

by Caroline Bowmer, posted 02 Nov 2020

‘Nullius in verba’ (‘take nobody’s word for it’)

The Royal Society’s (look it up!) motto ‘nullius in verba’ is one of the key tenets of Science. As a scientist, we look for evidence, patterns in data and develop logical conclusions based on what has already been previously discovered.

And this is how many exam questions are structured. Pick a question and analyse it – don’t worry about answering it yet, this is an exercise in question interpretation.

What do I mean by ‘analyse’?

  1. Look for biological terms. Stop and scribble down a quick meaning of the term.
  2. Look for ‘command words’. Are you clear about the difference between ‘Comment’, ‘Describe’ and ‘Explain?
  3. Are there distinct sections in a graph? – Label them A, B etc. If so, you will need to comment on each section. Can you describe a trend? ‘As the independent variable does X, the dependent variable does Y’.
  4. In tables, not only look for trends, but do some calculations. This might be a mean, or the difference between each result.
  5. Does the data have +/- information? This is the Standard Deviation. What does this tell you? Work out the range +/- 1SD. Add the error bars to a graph if not already provided.
  6. Link the trend to theory you have learnt. Jot down ideas. Eg, if the question is about photosynthesis, draw a skeleton Calvin cycle to keep you on track.
  7. If, like me, you are dyslexic, try re-reading the question backwards. Yes, I know it sounds totally bonkers, but a word you might have missed – such as ‘outside’ the cell, will pop out.
  8. Focus on the first couple of lines of the question. If you are given information, you will need to use it in the answer somewhere.
  9. Cover up the dotted lines with a blank piece of paper. (you can do this in exams too) It is natural for you to go straight to the individual questions under exam conditions. But, stepping back and making yourself analyse the information allows the brain time to think and make conections.

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