As school starts to get back to normal and exams start popping up out again, we’ve taken some time to sit with our Biology team to work out exactly what you need to know before sitting a Biology exam. We’ve put together a few handy exam tips that can help give you the best chance of getting the marks you deserve.
1. Structure your answers efficiently
There are some easy traps to fall into when it comes to crafting an answer in your Biology exam. Restating the question, over-explaining your answer and excessively long sentences are some common mistakes that are too easy to make, especially in the long response questions.
To prevent this, pay attention to the structure of your answers and make an active effort to be as efficient as possible. This might take some pre-planning just before you start writing, and although it might eat up 15 seconds of exam time. It is well worth it when you end up writing a much better, more succinct response. If a question asks you to ‘outline two differences,’ use headings to make it clear where you are writing these differences. If you can use a bullet point to explain something better than a long, complex sentence, go for it.
The exam is looking for you to provide correct and clear explanations, not write a novel. The more efficient your answer, the clearer it will be and the more likely you are to get full marks for it.
2. Draw if it’s easier
Whether or not it is explicitly stated in the question, drawing a diagram or table is an accepted, valid form of answering a question for Biology. If doing so appears to be the most sensible way of answering the question, then not only could you do so, you should.
Let’s say you are asked to outline a particular chain reaction. Doing so with words alone can lead to convoluted, difficult to follow sentences. A diagram, on the other hand, presents that same information in a much more digestible format.
So long as you have made sure your diagrams, graphs, or tables are clearly labelled, carefully drawn, and accurate, then go ahead and use them wherever they work best.
3. Do the multiple-choice questions first
Unless you feel very strongly that you work better doing long responses first, getting the multiple-choice questions out of the way is probably the best way to go.
With MCQs, the chances are you will know the answer straight away or need to guess. Either way it’s a quick process, so blitzing through what you know and leaving what you don’t until the end frees up the majority of the exam to focus on the longer form questions without the pressure of MCQs hanging over you.
Your MCQs can also contain hints to help you out in the longer responses so it’s handy to have read them first.
4. Figure out the key terms in the question
The verb used in each question will ask for something a little different, as per the definitions of key terms. ‘Identify’ will ask for less detail than ‘outline’, and so on. Figuring out exactly what each term is asking for before answering them is super important for how you go on to structure your answer.
Establishing how you’re going to answer each sort of question, whether it be responding with a diagram to ‘construct’, using bullet points for ‘describe’, and then applying that in the exam will make a big difference.
Examiners are looking for engagement with the question, not just regurgitation of information. The best way to achieve this engagement is to recognise and react to the differing demands of each key term.
5. Highlight the key terms in your answer
This one is not absolutely vital, but if you have the time, a decent move would be to highlight any key definitions, words, or explanatory passages in your answers. Doing so will make it that bit easier for whoever is correcting your paper to identify the areas where they can award you marks, something definitely of value in any exam!
While these tips might not be the be-all and end-all of your chances of success in your Biology exam, when used on top of your knowledge in that subject and all the practice you would have done leading into the exam, they could help push you the last few inches to your dream mark.