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Four tips for studying HSC Biology

By Lauren Condon on 12 March 2018NSWblogSubject advice

Biology is one of the heavyweight champions of HSC subjects in that there is a tonne of content to learn and you have to wrap your head around a lot of ideas and processes at the same time. Yay for you for picking Bio! Anyway, with that exam coming up, let’s dive straight into the ultimate Biology study guide with all the advice provided by our amazing Biology video creator, Hayley.

1. Look for clues in the syllabus when note taking

Whether you’ve already written your bio notes or you’re just about to start (😬 ), this is super critical in helping you actually cover all of the content.

So firstly, follow the syllabus dot points as the structure for your notes so you know you haven’t missed out on anything. A missed day of class here or there won’t be the end of the world if you sit up and pay attention to that syllabus when you write your notes out.

Secondly, pay attention to the level of thinking required in the syllabus. When there’s this much content, you don’t want to drain time or memory space with unnecessary information. If the syllabus says to identify something like 'identify the pH as a way of describing the acidity of a substance' then you literally just need to identify that point. You don’t need to be able to critically evaluate it or any of that higher level analysis.

On the other hand, if you do see a high level term like evaluate - e.g. 'evaluate the effectiveness of vaccination programs in preventing the spread and occurrence of once common diseases' - then you really need to also be able to do things like identify, outline and discuss those vaccination programs as well.

Also, just a heads up that even if you get notes off the internet or borrowed them from your smartest friend, make sure you use those notes to write your own set so you can check they’re 100% complete. And hey, writing your own notes also really helps you remember the content.

2. Tap into creative study methods to keep the content alive

When it comes to all the content in Biology, it really helps if you’re actually interested in what you’re studying. And you’re pretty lucky with Biology because it is actually super interesting and it’s not like you’re trying to pretend you’re passionate about discovery some other subjects. Hit up different versions of the same information like reading different books, watching youtube videos, David Attenborough documentaries, Nat Geo shows or even Catalyst throws out some biology related bangers. Check out one of Hayley’s videos here for a little creative #biologyinspo.

Group study is also a solid option on top of your own study. Biology is a pretty popular topic so you’re not going to be short on studybuddies and it’s good to share ideas on how to remember different concepts, labels and processes.

3. Biology study is more than memorisation

One of the dangers of content heavy subjects is that it’s pretty easy to get caught up in trying to memorise everything and not really paying attention to any other kind of study… Yeah, that’s a pretty good way to set yourself up for some v. frustrating biology exams.

Instead, your biology study needs to be a little bit more well-rounded:

  • Learn your fundamental concepts
  • Have examples up your sleeve. The syllabus actually specifies a lot of the examples you’re going to need which just makes it all the more of a lifesaver.
  • Use a lot of diagrams, tables and dot points in your notes because they’re a really good way of managing information and can even be used to answer questions in exams. Get amongst them.
  • Instead of rote memorisation, it’s more important to focus on understanding the different processes. Some really good examples of this are mitosis, meiosis, polypeptide synthesis and the theories for the movement of substances in plants. Every one of these processes has heaps of steps, but as long as you’ve got the basic idea nailed you should find it easy to imagine what’s going on and answer questions on them.

A broader approach will actually mean you memorise a lot more of the content naturally but it also means you have a super solid foundation to rely on in any assessment or exam.

BONUS TIP: Recognising that the examiners don’t want you to memorise everything, and that they can only ask you about what’s in the syllabus is a serious gamechanger. They don't actually want robots who can spit out facts, they want humans who can pinpoint the relevant facts and think about what these facts mean in terms of the ‘bigger picture’.

4. Expose yourself to as many past exams and questions as possible

We still can’t get through a study post without finishing up by saying that you should practise 🤷‍ . It’s almost like it’s super important… Anyway, when it comes to Biology, get amongst as many exam style questions as possible. The questions in your textbook aren’t necessarily HSC style questions so try to pull them from past papers if you can. Even if you’re not going to properly answer them and get them marked, at least read the question and the marking criteria/answer. You’ll build up a decent understanding of how you’ll need to deliver the content and increase your chance of getting marks when it comes to your own exam 👌.


Your Bio exam might feel pretty intimidating but focus on a balance of knowing the content, having a deep understanding and having the skills to actually answer the questions. Don't forget to stay calm and get a good sleep before this exam so you can stay sharp for the whole three hours 👩‍🔬👩‍🔬👩‍🔬 .

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