chapter taken from 45 Tips, Tricks and Secrets for the Successful IB Student: https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Successful-International-Baccalaureate-Student/dp/0993418783
The sciences are fundamentally different and it is this difference that makes one more difficult than the other. Biology is a game of memorisation; if you can remember everything then you are guaranteed a 7 as the critical thinking involved is minimal when compared to the other sciences. Nonetheless, it is extremely easy to lose marks for missing out on simple points, so practice a lot with the question bank and past papers and understand what the question is asking.
How to Guarantee a 7 in Bio
Here are a few tips that got me through HL Bio and might help you too.
As you may know Biology is a very content-heavy subject, but there are no complex concepts that you need to understand. It is just pure memorisation but there are some techniques that can make the HL bio trip less stressful and more enjoyable.
It is important that you make NEAT notes that are aesthetically pleasing. This may sound obvious but if your notes are visually appealing, you will have a better time looking at them. The more often you look at them, the better. As you go through the topics try to summarise all the information on a single A4 sheet. Condensing information will make you memorize more effectively. It is also crucial that you go over the topics more than once and you should make various different note sheets per topic as you move through the syllabus. You should never exactly copy the book.
Use different styles of study methods. It is important that you don’t only stick to flashcards but also make yourself big summary sheets. Use drawings, colours, neat handwriting… Try and be as diverse as possible in order to transform the information from the book into something that is your own. This will really help process and remember all the information. Bio is also one of those subjects where if you have a friend who just makes really neat and awesome notes, you should try to get a copy from them if you can.
It’s crucial that you familiarise yourself with the exam structure and style. I recommend getting the Questionbank even if there is a new syllabus. The more questions you do, the better. This is really important for the big 20 mark questions. Reading the questions and looking at the markschemes helps you understand how the examiners think. It is also imperative that you go through your answers using the markschemes after a biology test. The more you do this the better you will get at writing answers that are tailored to the question asked. Basically just try and do as many past papers as possible; it really does help.
Study from markschemes (for the 20 mark questions). Some questions like “explain the process of translation or transcription” just never change and are recycled every other year. I recommend doing this for a few big questions per topic so you can be sure that one will come up at least. However, this should be done close to the exam time.
Keep your notes on display in your room or bathroom. The more often you see your notes the better. Even if it’s just 3 minutes while you are brushing your teeth. This is really important for diagrams as there are around 30 of them that you must memorize.
The best way to do well on your exams is to know the material, so lots of revision. Most importantly is to find a way that works for you. I personally find that re-writing notes to make them look more appealing works best for me. The other important part is being consistent, even if it’s only twenty minutes a day it really helps to keep material fresh in your mind. The final piece of advice, given to me by my coordinators, is to try to make connections between topics and between subjects. So for instance in both Chem and Bio you do an organic chemistry unit, you can try to overlap knowledge there.
You need to know that there are three types of examination questions:
1) Multiple Choice Questions (Paper 1): You choose the answer from four possible choices. Read them all, eliminate any answers to narrow them down. Always give answers and never leave questions empty. Leave the hard ones till the end and focus on the straightforward ones.
2) Structured Questions (Paper 2 and 3): Each question is broken down into sections. Answers are written in spaces or on lines. If you run out of space, complete elsewhere on the examination sheet itself, but clearly indicate where you wrote the rest of the answer. In paper 3, you are allowed to have extra paper. The marks are allotted at the end of each question; useful for you to know how many points and details to include in the answers. An example of this type of question is the data-analysis question (beginning of paper 2). It requires you to analyze graphs and compare results. (See Data-Analysis Questions).
3) Free Response Questions (Paper 2): These questions require long and detailed answers on lined paper. You are the boss of the style of answer (best choice, tables, carefully annotated diagrams..). Usually the questions will direct you. Sometimes ( Section B ) you are given choices. Read them carefully to choose the question that best suits you and you know you can answer the best. Always follow a logical sequence in arranging your answer and avoid irrelevant information. Try to make your handwriting as legible as possible.
Basically, 50% of the questions require factual recall. So recharge your memory! These questions require direct answers: LIST, STATE, OUTLINE or DESCRIBE. The other 50% involves expressing ideas that are more complex or involve using your knowledge of things you haven't been taught.
These questions usually start with:
EXPLAIN - Sometimes it involves giving the mechanism behind things with a logical chain of events. It is a 'how' sort of explanation with 'therefore' being the keyword. However, sometimes it involves giving reasons or causes; a 'why' sort of explanation with 'because' being the keyword.
DISCUSS - Sometimes, you have to include arguments for and against something. Try to give a balanced account. Sometimes, you might include a series of hypotheses without making a final choice.
SUGGEST - Mostly never taught. Use your overall biological understanding to find answers. As long as they are possible, they will receive a mark!
COMPARE - refer to previous section to see a detailed explanation.
DISTINGUISH - Include only the differences in your answer. Use 'whereas' to help.
EVALUATE - Assess the value, importance or effect of something. How useful is the technique/model? What are its impacts on others/environment? Use your own judgment and criticism as long as it's valid and biologically correct.
Other action verbs are more straightforward and you'll probably answer them easily.
I know many of us suffer from these types of questions. Read the question carefully. Underline any keywords in the question (sometimes, there are hidden facts that examiners put to see if you pay attention or not). Always underline action verbs in the questions (discussed above). This helps in case you forget or get messed up.
Start with the question, see how many marks are allotted and solve accordingly (2 marks means at least 2 major points in the answer, and so on). In case of graphs, always read the title of the graph, each axis and its units. In case of calculations, show your working and always indicate the units.
Study the data presented carefully many times (but watch out for the time). Be familiar with it and start solving. Practice such questions in your free time. They might really be annoying, but it really helps in the long run.
I would suggest revising from a range of different sources - I prefer using Bioninja (http://ib.bioninja.com.au ) and other online IB Biology websites to make notes from since the textbooks either have too much or too little of certain bits of the syllabus. If your teacher isn’t great or you're just not able to concentrate in class, check out Alex Lee on Youtube – this channel basically got me through Bio HL. I-Biology.net is another holy grail of IB Biology resources.
To be perfectly honest, there is such a myriad of resources out there that you just need to spend a good couple of hours searching around and finding what you find works best for you. The official IB Biology study guides are also great, but you should make sure that your revision is always remaining active and not just reading/glossing over.