How to get an A/A* in A-Level Biology
Updated: Sep 14
A-Level Biology was one of my favourite subjects I studied at A-Level and I ended up achieving an A* by the end of y13. What makes biology so intriguing is that you learn about how your body works on a cellular level and it is truly amazing. For example, nervous impulses that link the spinal cord to the muscles can travel at speeds ranging from 70-120 meters per second (m/s) along myelinated (don't worry if you don't know what this means you soon will!) neurones.
Biology isn't only limited to the human species, you also cover the biological mechanisms and processes in plants and animals. What is most amazing about biology is how it is such an interdisciplinary subject. You deal with ethical issues, historical ideas, geographical concepts and much more!
Here are a few of my tips that can help you achieve those higher grades!
1) Make sure you know all the key words in each module and their definitions. It might seem trivial but this is vitally important, especially if you do OCR Biology since there are multiple choice questions in all the 3 papers. Definitions can come up in these MCQs but also as 1/2 markers in your paper. I think what sets apart high achievers is the understanding they have that every mark matters. You should be hitting full marks on 1/2 mark question realistically speaking 90-95% of the time.
2)PRACTICE QUESTIONS. I've mentioned this so many times in this blog because i cannot stress the importance of this enough in Biology. They are a form of revision but also learning since there may be new things in the mark scheme you may not have known/understood before. They also help you know what the examiners are expecting. for example I quickly got to understand that on an enzyme
3) Practice and understand the differences between describe, explain and evaluate. type questions. This is really important as these questions are often are worth 46 marks.
Describe questions require you to simply look and state what you see in front of you using figures normally from a graph or diagram.
Explain questions require you to pick apart the information given and use your own knowledge to answer the question set-avoid waffling.
Evaluate questions require you to look at the data in front of you and explain whether it is reliable, accurate or successful and why in relation to a statement.
4) Understand the difference between reproducibility, validity, accuracy and repeatability and when to use them. The amount of times I have dropped marks in exams for using accurate when I should've used reliable and using the reproducible when I should've used repeatable is crazy!
Repeatability looks at whether or not a person using the same method and equipment will get the same results.
Reproducible looks at if someone different did the experiment using a slightly different method or piece of equipment would the results still be the same?
Validity means that all the variables are controlled To make sure you are only testing what you want to.
Accuracy refers to how close the results are to the true answer. Make sure you really know the definitions to avoid making the same mistakes I did!
5) Examiners Reports are really useful in looking at past students mistakes when it comes to answering certain questions either topic based or using the different command words. Studying this helps you avoid making the same mistakes in your exams but also give you an insight into what the examiner is expecting when they ask you these questions. It is also worth noting that the question styles/topics students seem to get incorrect the most are likely to come up in the future.
6) Learn the key processes accurately such as the light dependent cycle in photosynthesis, the cardiac cycle, translocation and many more. This can often be neglected when you have so much to learn however these processes are often worth a lot of marks in the exam paper or can be worked really easy recall marks which you should be aiming to get full marks on 95% of the time.
7) Study diagrams as there are going to be questions in your exam papers where you have to either draw a diagram of the cross section of a dicot plant stem, veins, arteries etc for example. There are also times where you may have to label diagrams and a good way to revise is to draw these diagrams before annotating them thoroughly and explaining everything you can about them.
8) Understand the ins and outs of the required practicals. Required practicals can often come up at six mark questions in the exam and you can't cannot afford not to know what the practicals are. You can also get questions surrounding a practical that another student has done and with questions requiring you to point out any mistakes the student may have made as well as explaining their answers using your own knowledge. If you know the ins and outs of these practicals as oppose to a surface level understanding, then answering these questions become easier.
These tips are not here to guarantee you an A/A* in your exams but to help you structure your revision and just general A-level studies from the get go to help you work towards achieving those higher grades!
Hi, I'm Aba and I started The Student Scope to give other students advice on their academic journey. Have a look around and enjoy!