Top A Level Biology Tutors share how to score well for H1/H2 Biology!
A Snapshot of A Level Biology
Biology, much less A Level Biology specifically, has a notorious reputation of being one of the most content-heavy and memory-dependent subjects to study for. It requires hours of discipline and conscious memorisation – it is no wonder that so many JC students require help and have opted to attend A Level Biology Tuition lessons. This article aims to give you an overview of what preparation you would need and a summary of the tips that Top H1/H2 Biology tutors have shared on how to score well for A Levels.
Biology is defined as the study of living things and their vital processes, and deals with all the physicochemical aspects of life. It helps us to understand the living world and the ways its many species function, evolve and interact. It is rumoured that A Level Biology is the least difficult out of the 3 A Level Science subjects – but this does not mean that it is in any way easy. The preamble of the SEAB syllabus states: (a) from Primary 3 to Primary 6, students learn about how life works at the systems level (b) from Lower Secondary Science to O-Level Biology, students learn about how life works at the physiological level (c) at A-Level, students learn about how life works at the cellular and molecular levels while understanding the implications of these at the macro level.
As seen, while O Level Biology aimed to give students an introduction and good foundational base for the subject, the A Level Biology syllabus now covers content at extreme in-depth levels, all the way down to the crux of specific details. There is a steep learning curve that students need to be prepared for, and A Level Biology tutors highly recommend that it would be best to have taken Biology at O Levels before the A Levels, because it assumes known knowledge of the former. It is also a prerequisite at many JCs (eg. CJC).
At this point, if you are asking yourself if you should take H1/H2 Biology (or even take it up at all), the first thing you ought to consider is your level of interest in the field. If you are intrigued by the intricacy of all these interactive life systems, then yes, the answer would be to go for it! On the other hand, if you find Biology boring or fail to appreciate its contents, then chances are that you would need to rely heavily on the help of A Level Biology tuition and it would not be the subject for you. The content will seem extremely dry and boring, making it difficult for any information to be absorbed or retained. The second thing to consider would be your future career goals – if you are intending to pursue degrees like Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Biomedical Science, chances would be that H2 Biology would be a prerequisite to getting into these courses. Looking at the subject prerequisites listed for the various undergraduate courses by NTU will give you a better idea on how important Biology is for your desired course, and help you to make a better decision on whether to take the subject up at all.
It will also be a good idea to check out our Top Science Tuition Options in Singapore if you require help with Biology.
Tip 1: Know your Content Well
The first tip to scoring well for the A Level Biology exam is to know and understand your concepts thoroughly. Similar to Chemistry, the A Level Biology content is going to be at least 4x heavier than that of O Levels, and much wider in both breadth and depth. JC spans across only 2 years, and there will not be much time to get all this substantial content locked down within school hours. Lectures are often rushed and paced according to the masses, so a good habit to form is to read up on your lecture notes and perhaps do a Google search on some of the more difficult terminology prior to each lecture, to avoid lagging behind too much. With A level Biology tuition, you will be able to get a tutor to help you unpack concepts and to help you comprehend them better. This additional help-time outside of school hours would be beneficial, especially needed for massive topics like Molecular Biology and unfamiliar ones like Infectious Diseases, which are harder to grasp. Revising your notes after each lecture will also help to keep you refreshed on new content.
Get to know your terminology well (know how to spell them!) and start memorising them early – students cannot afford to lose unnecessary basic marks here. A tip that A Level Biology tutors have given on how to get around complicated and daunting terminology is to break these words down into different segments to find their root word meanings. A simple example would be the word “electrophoresis”. By breaking it down into “electro” (using electricity) and “phoresis” (to be carried), one can easily grasp its meaning – using electricity to carry. Just by knowing and memorising your terminology well and also being able to explain concepts clearly, you will be able to at least pass the exam and potentially score a decent grade, so do get these basics down first!
In attending A Level Biology tuition, you will be trained to approach the subject always looking at the big picture and the broad umbrella, before going into the micro-details. Take note on how the topics are linked, and appreciate how the similarities connect them together. A smart way to study is also to note on which are the more commonly tested topics (lecturers tend to hint or focus on them more), and pay more attention to them more extensively. Information in Biology can be segmented into the various prospects, such as classifications and topical hierarchies, process flows and causes & consequences, and comparisons & contrasts. Be familiar with these in order to organise your information well, which will in turn help you to process your thoughts better while studying.
A Level Biology tutors have also highlighted that an excellent way to check on your content knowledge is to look into the official Learning Outcomes of each topic in the SEAB syllabus (H2 Level). There is no excuse to miss out on any of your content as they literally state what you must know, and are even stated in the probable format of how the exam questions may turn out to look like!
If you are a struggling JC student who may be completely overwhelmed by the H2 Biology content and you are confident that Biology would not be a strong requirement in your future prospects, perhaps you can consider dropping the subject to the H1 level. CJC has conveniently summarised the topics excluded out of the H1 syllabus: – Organization of Genome – Control of Gene Expression – Communication and equilibrium in Organisms – Evolution and Biodiversity, Species and Speciation – Infectious Diseases
Another major important point to note is that H1 Biology does not entail any Practical component, and will be solely theory-based. The number of topics are almost nearly halved (see H1 Level SEAB syllabus here), however do expect the level of difficulty of the exam questions to be equally as tough nonetheless.
Tip 2: Applying Your JC Biology Knowledge Correctly
The most common problem that Biology students face is that they are not scoring despite thinking that they have all their facts memorised well. Enrolling yourself into A Level Biology tuition can help take this frustration away, as students will learn how to find out what the exam questions specifically want, and to spot keywords that are essential in their answers. Students need to learn how to analyse the exam questions well and accurately deduce what is required of them. Failure to do so results in these students either: 1) giving incorrect or irrelevant concepts that is not suitable for the context at hand, or 2) blindly regurgitating as much information as they can remember, assuming that writing more = scoring more marks
With the exemption of some basic ones, questions posed in the A Level Biology exam require high-level analysis, application and cross-referencing skills, and are sometimes designed creatively to trick our students. With the vast syllabus content in their heads, students often struggle to identify which specific concepts to raise in their answers. The marking scheme for Biology is often rigid and very specific; your personal A Level Biology tutor will be able to highlight which exact words that examiners are looking for in your answers in order for you to attain the maximum mark per question.
Enrolling into A Level Biology tuition will give you the opportunity to clock in a lot of practice by doing as many past year papers as possible and more importantly, to read up and familiarise yourself very well on all their answer keys and marking schemes. Exposure to a great number of questions and their respective model answers will be the ultimate key to scoring well in the A Levels. You will start to pick out several recurring patterns in the question types and formats, as well as find the similar keywords that will be essential in your answers. A tip that your personal A Level Biology tutor will teach you is to note on the time/point to mark ratio – make sure that you allocate the appropriate number of minutes and number of points needed to fulfil the number of marks indicated. Recognising which exact words are needed and applying the correct answering techniques will definitely help to improve your marks.
As only basic calculations are needed for the A Level Biology exam, students need to focus more on their English language skills, as compared to Mathematical skills. The MCQ Paper for A Level Chemistry requires a lot multi-step calculations on top of your knowledge of qualitative content, thus resulting in many students being unable to complete the paper due to the lack of time. Meanwhile, the trick to scoring for the MCQ Paper for A Level Biology is to read the question very carefully, as the phrasings used in questions and answers would be designed to trick you. Attending A Level Biology tuition lessons will train you on this. Students need to pay attention to the words used and ensure that they do not perceive information incorrectly. This will help them to reduce unnecessary careless mistakes. As with reading, ensure that you present your answers clearly as well. A Level Biology tutors always advise their students to write in a clear and concise manner to make their answers as precise as possible. It is essential that you have develop a good command of English not only to recognise the question requirements, but also to help you present your thoughts in the most organised manner possible.
Tip 3: Prepare for Effective Revision and Memorisation
When studying for Biology is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is that there will be a tremendous amount of memorisation. Undeniably, this cannot be done overnight. Many Biology tutors have seen their students burn the midnight oil throughout the night before their paper, and while this last minute cramming strategy may perhaps work for the O Levels, it certain will not for the A Levels. Tutors cannot emphasise anymore for their students to start early in order to prevent panic attacks and mind blockages.
The biggest favour a JC Biology student can do for him/herself is to polish his/her content as early as soon as the topic is over and to start the memorisation process immediately. This is common regretful advice given from JC graduates to their juniors. One must find a way to memorise content smartly and most efficiently that works best for him/herself from the start. Begin creating topical summaries, mind maps and diagrams for yourself to get a full grasp on all your content, and work on the knowledge gaps that you have found in the process. Make use of graphics to aid visual learning, and practise drawing your anatomies and structures as well, as these visuals would help to deepen your understanding and strengthen your memory. Another common observation in the A Level Biology paper is that there are a lot of comparison questions which require cross-topic referencing (eg. bacteria vs animal cells), so it is crucial that students prepare adequately for this. It is critical that you do up your own personal comparison tables for easy side-by-side references when revising.
Another important tip given by top Biology tutors is that while revising your work for the exam, do not just re-read your personal notes but also take the effort to actively answer a list of collated questions previously brought to your attention. What this means is that on top of your notes, also compile a list questions that you had found to be tough and unique from your tutorials and across various past year papers previously attempted. With these singled out, you would then be able to revisit the solutions anytime, and even raise them very easily during your personal A Level Biology tuition lessons if you had forgotten on how to do them and need further clarification again. While practising your papers, constantly accumulate these questions that you have answered wrongly to, so that you can relook at them again later. Also leave sticky notes with complex concepts / solutions that you are especially weak in and would constantly need to refer to the most (do not put them everywhere or it would defeat the purpose!). Create a checklist of topics and exam papers to confirm your preparation, and ensure that all are eventually ticked off 1-2 months before the actual A Levels.
Tip 4: Read Extensively, Even Beyond the Extension Topics
An important piece of advice that top JC Biology tutors will impart to their students is to read beyond the lecture notes. Having extra general knowledge regarding further deeper explanations on certain concepts will improve your understanding of the topic, as well as to give you extra marks in your paper! The immediate thing that students tend to do when their school teachers mouth “this won’t be tested in the exam” or “this is just FYI” is completely shut down and dismiss it. This is a grave mistake that students need to correct. Reading widely would be especially beneficial for Paper 2 (H1 Biology) or Paper 3 (H2 Biology), whichever applicable to you. The format is as below:
As seen, these papers contain the Free-response Questions, and answers from students are expected to be almost essay-like. Referring to the SEAB syllabus: – Section A (H2): “There will be one or more stimulus materials that may be taken or adapted from a source such as a scientific journal or book. This material may not necessarily relate directly to the content of the syllabus. Questions may require candidates to explain terms used in the passage, analyse data, justify decisions, perform calculations and draw conclusions based on information in the stimulus material.” – Section B (H1 & H2): “The quality of scientific argumentation and written communication (in your free-response answer) will be given a percentage of the marks available.”
For Section A in H2 Biology Paper 3, students will be given data and text(s) with information from outside of the syllabus. This is scary to some, as the information may be completely foreign and they may not know how to approach the question. Students would be tested on their higher-order analysis and evaluation skills by integrating their knowledge from different parts of the syllabus and relating it to the text. Therefore by reading widely, students might be able to better comprehend the information given in the unfamiliar text(s) and better analyse them accordingly.
For Section B in H1/H2 Biology Paper 2/3 respectively, students are required to make valid and sound arguments in their evaluations. Having plenty of out-of-syllabus knowledge would come in most handy in this section, as this is what would differentiate your answers from that of your peers. The “quality of scientific argumentation” would definitely be elevated as the use of outside knowledge would showcase one’s ability to apply logical reasoning to back his/her arguments. Students need to show that they are knowledgeable and able to apply information flexibly into different contexts.
Attending A Level Biology tuition lessons would help to brush up your answering techniques and provide you with extra knowledge to help improve your scientific knowledge. Nonetheless, always be proactive to do a Google Search on terminology that you have read but are not familiar with, and take the initiative to take this information down. Remember, more homework done would leave you with less guessing work in the examination!
Tip 5: Engage a Biology Tutor to Answer your Queries
The amount of content for the A Level Biology syllabus can get overwhelming for many students. MindFlex would like advise that if you are already feeling engulfed early into JC1, perhaps it is time to approach a helpline. Engaging a private JC Biology tutor would help you to catch up on your work and clear your doubts regularly, and keep you on track with the school pace. Some tricky topics may take extra time to be understood, and your tutor would be able to provide you with visual aids and video animations – to show complex biological processes or which structure enables what function, etc. These visuals will help you to comprehend concepts better without blind memorisation.
Students often panic when they get stuck on questions that they completely do not understand. Engaging a tutor can help to advise you steps on how to unpack the question and identify the topic at hand, before teaching you how to link to the relevant concepts needed. He/she would be able to advise you on your answering techniques and let you know what is missing in your answers, what irrelevant content you have written too much of and why you cannot score the full mark. Ask your tutor for additional content outside of the book as well, so that you are able to have a deeper understanding of your topics. Private A Level Biology tuition can provide you with a personalised lesson plan on top of the necessary resources (your tutor would have a bank of various’ past year papers), and offer you a comfortable environment to ask questions without stress, judgement and time constraint.
Lastly, having a personal tutor also gives you a chance to verbally explain your concepts out loud and receive feedback. These conversations promote a more active rather than passive learning style, and this can indicate how well you know your stuff a lot more clearly as compared to studying on your own. Not only would these consultative lessons will keep you engaged, frequent pop quizzes or mini tests would also force you to carry out consistent revision, keeping that knowledge etched well in your memory.
Despite the heavy content, it is still very possible to ace your A Level Biology paper once you have found effective ways to study for it. If you are not scoring well, it is either because: 1) you do not understand your work 2) you do not know how to apply your knowledge to answer the question 3) you cannot remember your work
There is a lot on your plate (considering all your other subjects) and having a personal tutor would greatly relieve a great mass of confusion and burden off your shoulders. He/she would be by your side on every step of the way to guide you and ensure that you do not get lost. By seeking help early, you will be able to better focus on internalisation and memory retention and this will lead you to scoring that A. Contact MindFlex to engage a a Biology tutor today! Do also be sure to check out our other Biology related sources such as 5 Effective Ways to Prepare for O Levels Biology.