Often I get students who are fine with understanding the concepts/information in Biology, but simply don’t know how to study for Biology. This always surprises me, because “how to study” was not a problem which I experienced during my high school years. However, I can understand that students, although very bright, may not be doing too well, simply because they don’t have a strong study strategy.
As such, here is my little guide to studying Biology. It can equally apply to the other science subjects, for example Chemistry.
1. Make Notes
The 1st step to success in Biology is making a set of notes, which work for you. This means that they have to make sense to you and be easy for you to scan read. Depending on your needs, they may be bullet points, tables, flowcharts, diagrams, or paragraphs. Personally, I’m a dot points person. But I have had students before, who prefer notes written in paragraphs – probably because it is easier to read and understand when the information is written in context.
To begin making your notes, you should organise them by the syllabus dot points! I cannot stress enough the fact that all you are examined on are the dot points and you need to make sure that you cover all of them. You can download the HSC Biology Syllabus here: http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/syllabus_hsc/pdf_doc/biology-st6-syl-from2010.pdf The syllabus dot points are on page 39 – page 73.
You should pay attention to the verb in each dot point. For example, dot points starting with “identify” do not require much information.
Also critical, is the fact that you need to have notes for BOTH the 1st and 2nd column of dot points. The 2nd column tends to be 1st hand investigations (experiments, models) and 2nd hand investigations (research tasks). For each experiment and model, you should have:
- the method – including equipment, procedure etc
- the conclusion – you do not need tp remember specific data results
- less importantly, safety notes, how you could improve reliability/accuracy of data, limitations of your model etc
You can compile your notes using various sources. I did this, because I sometimes found that school either missed something (or I didn’t understand it). What you can use is a combination of:
- Your notes from school
- Notes from past students on the boredofstudies website
- Study guides – Macquarie, Excel, Surfing Biology
- HSCOnline website: http://hsc.csu.edu.au/biology/
Surfing Biology is particularly useful for the Option topics, which isn’t always covered in the Macquarie and Excel books. Surfing Biology books focus on each topic separately so you get a lot more detail.
I recommend using a combination of those sources above – you can check the information, get more information to flesh out your notes, and get a better understanding from reading the same concepts from various sources.
Once you have printed your notes out, you can highlight or read them – then start memorising the little things, which you have to memorise. For examples, Anopholes mosquito, candida albicans, history of malaria, phagocytosis – all the technical stuff.
2. Practise Papers
The next step is then to test that knowledge through past HSC papers and practise papers.
You can download past HSC papers and answers here: http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/hsc_exams The Board of Studies also has a feature where it automatically randomises and generates a number of multiple choice questions pulled from past HSC papers (2001 onwards): http://www4.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/course/higher-school-certificate/biology/
You should also try to get copies of past trial papers, such as the Catholic and Independent Trials as well as trial papers from your school and other schools. Swap papers with your friends from other schools. You can find some past trial papers here: http://exampapers.web.fc2.com/ep/12/biology.html
By doing past HSC and trial papers, you can test your knowledge and also determine which dot points you are forgetting or getting wrong. Then you can focus your studying on those!
If possible, you can also try doing the papers under the 3 hours exam conditions.
You can also get practise exam papers from books like Excel and Success One.