How to Study for HSC Biology

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: 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:

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: 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):

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:

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.

29 comments for “How to Study for HSC Biology

  1. July 27, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I was always struck with information overload and never had a decent plan until 2 year when I got a really good tutorial leader who put me through some good study plans. You just have to stick to your guns with them and life becomes so much less stressful.

  2. September 10, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    yeah is the very nice thank you

  3. allie
    October 16, 2010 at 11:28 am

    so i have a week before bio for the hsc
    i hvant done much study, would you recommend going through every single dotpoint as how many past paper???
    man i dont think i can get all of da theory done thers so mcuh

    • tutortales
      October 16, 2010 at 9:05 pm

      Hey Allie – yes, go through each dot point. Some of it you won’t even need to “memorise”, because it’ll be so basic to you by now. Eg. the dot point in MAB about pH being the measure of acidity etc. Skim through as many past papers as possible – mark the ones you wouldn’t know how to answer and THOSE are the dot points you should probably focus on. TT

  4. going to fail
    October 18, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Hey im really freaking out.
    I havent done much study as in i havent made my own notes.
    I have so much content and resources from my teacher it just feels like so much to absorb to make my own notes from them.
    Do you recommend that I make my own notes ? or use the notes I already have from my teacher instead of doing past papers?
    Im really stressed and dont know what to do.

    Thanks heaps

    • tutortales
      October 19, 2010 at 9:44 am

      The content/resources your teacher gave you are good – but they’re not organised by the syllabus dot points (often they give you more information than you actually need to know). And given that there’s not much time, I would suggest grabbing a good copy of notes from the BoredofStudies website (which follow the syllabus) since there’s not really enough time to make your own at this stage. Then power through as many past papers – the questions you stumble on are the dot points you need to revise! TT

  5. help needed
    October 29, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    sorry just to get this straight.
    would you suggest doing all the hsc past papers using the notes and then look over the notes once again to see if youve coered everything? i think thats best right now seeing as there isnt much time left. what do you think?

    • tutortales
      October 29, 2010 at 10:32 pm

      No problem – what I mean is, you should do all the past HSC papers WITHOUT the notes (so you can identify what you know already/automatically in your mind). The questions which you can’t answer or which you get wrong are what you need to study more on (using notes). All the best! TT

  6. HN
    October 30, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    well i needed notes 4 almost every 2nd q. in the short answer :
    should i go through content then and then past papers?

    • tutortales
      October 31, 2010 at 7:18 am

      Yep! Go through the content you couldn’t remember – and try to memorise. Then do some papers – see if you’ve improved etc. TT

  7. Schoolgirl
    November 14, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    i’m in the first term of year 12 now

    and last term for the yearlies i made my biology notes, i did as many past papers as i could find. i tried really hard!

    and then it was really disappointing, i didn’t do as well as i expected myself to do. i did even better in economics and i didnt study as hard for that!
    and what was even more disheartening was that i got lower than a friend who i swear didn’t study as hard as i did (all she did was read the freaking textbook the day before!) >:(

    so i will try your way and see if it helps :) i really hope so..

    • tutortales
      November 15, 2010 at 8:43 am

      That’s sad to hear you didn’t do as well – even though you worked really hard. Maybe ask your friend to see her paper, to find out where you went wrong – whether you didn’t know the content, or whether your approach to answering the question was incorrect etc. TT

  8. tutortales
    December 9, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I’ve just changed the name for you. TT

  9. Schoolgirl
    December 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    thanks! :)

  10. Hopeful passer
    January 30, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Hey tt,
    i started year 12 last term and have already written out notes for 4 of my 5 subjects so i have notes prepared and wont freak before the hsc. Umm for bio and my other subjects i study all the dot points off the syllabus but im worried that i should be learning more than the syllabus e.g it doesnt say in the syllabus to study the components of blood but is in our textbooks and we have to learn it at school. Thanks.

    • tutortales
      January 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm

      The components of blood is actually in the syllabus – look at Maintaining A Balance 2. 2nd column, 4th dotpoint: “analyse information from secondary sources to identify the products extracted from donated blood and discuss the uses of these products”.
      But generally, there is nothing wrong with learning more than the syllabus – in fact, this can come in very handy where questions are long response (5-8 marks), because then you can put in extra detail to show your in depth knowledge. But to avoid having insanely long notes, you need to use your own discretion as to whether you think it is important (include in your notes) or not important (just read it over in the textbook, but don’t deliberately aim to remember/note it down).


  11. January 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I like your strategy, and its fairly similar to what I did in year 12. I’d like to add that HSC Biology seems to be mostly remembering things, and because of this, its possible to finish the 3-hour final exam in just half the time by mind-dumping everything.

  12. Andrew
    February 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    this methodology of Studying/Preparing for HSC, particularly Science subjects is SPOT ON!,

  13. hsc!!!!
    March 12, 2011 at 9:40 am

    thanks for this it really helped to get me thinking about notes.
    i was stressing heaps cause im in the secound term of yr 12 and hadn’t even started notes im not actually doind bio but i am doing both chem and phys so it still helps heaps
    i was stressing cause half yearlys r comin up and i hadn’t done much study for sciences at all but im going to start notes right now.
    i was just going to use the notes on hsc online cause i think there really good but i don’t think i will learn as much as doing my own.

  14. :O
    April 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    hey, could you get me a link of the hsc Bio notes please, i cant find anything on the boredofstudies site =

  15. 99.7
    May 1, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    how would you prepare for a practical exam?

    i have one later this term and its worth A LOT. it could make or break my entire course and im really worried about it

    • tutortales
      May 4, 2011 at 6:08 pm

      Have they given you an indication of what dot points the practical exam will be about? If so, you should study those dot points (obviously), as well as revise things like independent/dependent variables, how to improve reliability/accuracy of experiments, how to correctly graph information etc. TT

      • 99.7
        May 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm

        they said it was on all of blueprint of life, maintaining a balance and 3 parts of genetics code broken (so its everything…)

        and then in the notification they gave us the biology skills syllabus

        thanks for the help though!

  16. Anon
    May 10, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Hey TT, I have a Biology practical exam coming up and I have no idea on how to prepare =/ The teachers haven’t given us any clues whatsoever, in fact we don’t even know the topic it’s on! Apparently it could be on anything! The assessment notification sheet merely gives us a brief outline on the first hand investigation and the outcomes assessed, one of which are: ‘H6 Explains why the biochemical processes that occur in cells are related to macroscopic changes in the organism’.

    So, how can I effectively prepare for this exam?

    • b
      August 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm

      same here !! my exams tmrw and im still unsure about what to study for -.-
      my teachers wont tell us any information .. they mentioned NOTHING! so what was your exam on?

      • anon
        November 23, 2011 at 8:14 pm

        What was yours on? Same situation here!

  17. harriette
    October 19, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    so biology paper is next week and I have summarised and summarised my notes but for some reason it’s not sticking in my brain… I have done heaps of past papers but not up to the standard I want, there’s so much content.. Do you recommend just going through dot points, identifying where I need to focus and going from there? It seems like most dot points :/ I have 2 exams before then so can’t focus on it.. Does reading the textbook help at all??

  18. January 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    I’ve just uploaded a set of HSC biology notes at to help out students studying biology.
    If you look through them and think they are reasonable could you add the link to your link section.

  19. skuxxdawg
    August 18, 2012 at 10:39 am

    better to type or write notes and is it worth it to write notes when you already have notes from past students

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