Smiling IGCSE Biology student

Tips to Ace Your IGCSE Biology

IGCSE Biology is known as a challenging subject. The amount of information students need to master can feel like a struggle. In fact, some students even ask themselves if it is possible to learn it all in the limited time available.

However, the answer is ‘yes’!

Although of course, you need to revise the subject thoroughly and carefully. In this post, we’ll walk you through key approaches to revising IGCSE Biology and share some tactics and strategies to help you ace your exam.

 

Is IGCSE Biology a Difficult Subject?

Biology is a hard IGCSE subject, especially if you are not a native English speaker. In comparison to other subjects, it has a lot of very specific vocabulary to learn. As well as an extensive syllabus. There is also a lot to memorize and some complex topics.

This means Biology can become overwhelming for students. But, if you have enough time and diligence to go over Biology topics, the top grade is within your reach.

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Formats of IGCSE Biology Exams

It is important to understand the formats, methods, and requirements for your IGCSE Biology assessment, so you can prepare in a targeted way.

You can find these details in the subject specifications. Every exam board issues its unique specifications, that’s why it is important to know which body sets your exam. There are three options.

  1. Edexcel International GCSE Biology specifies two papers. Paper 1 grants 110 marks maximum and spans 2 hours. Paper 2 is 1 hour 15 minutes and awards up to 70 marks. Each paper can have multiple-choice questions, short and open-response questions, calculations, as well as questions related to practicals. Edexcel uses a number-based grading scale from 9 (the maximum) to 1 (the minimum).

 

  1. With the Cambridge exam board, you can choose which grading system you prefer. CAIE International GCSE Biology 0970 has a traditional 9-1 system and CAIE International GCSE Biology 0610 envisions the A*-G scale with A* being the top grade. Other than the grading system, both specifications are the same and require 3 papers. The first paper, which you need to sit for 45 minutes, awards 40 marks and has 40 multi-choice questions. The second paper gives a maximum of 80 marks. This 1 hour 15 minutes-long assessment is designed for short answers and structured questions. The final paper lasts 1 hour and brings 40 marks. It evaluates the skills you acquired during practical studies (although it is not a practical exam).

 

Keep in mind that CAIE Biology uses a tiered system. The “Core” tier is for average students and with it, you can get a maximum grade of 5. For more able students, there is the “Extended” tier, in which the grades range from 9 to 1, but of course, the questions are more complex.

Your teacher will help you decide which level is suitable for your abilities. But it is very important that you understand that you will not be able to reach the top marks unless you are entered into the “Extended” paper.  There is a grade overlap allowing for students who will perform s little better or worse than their teacher expected.

So, it is important to make sure that if you are determined to hit the highest grades your teacher enters you for the “Extended” paper.

  1. The specification for Oxford AQA for International GCSE Biology provides for two equally significant papers. Each of them brings a maximum of 90 marks within a 1.5 hours-long assessment. The grading system is the traditional 9-1. There are structured and open-question assignments.
IGCSE Biology Revision Tips 

Hopefully, now you understand what to expect from your Biology exam. Without further ado, let us share the best ways to prepare for it. Our tips range from concept comprehension to getting an expert IGCSE tutor.

Get Clear on the Structure of the IGCSE Biology Exam

This means understanding which types of questions you will need to tackle and in which papers.

While this sounds complicated it is actually really simple.  You need to make sure that you give a brief answer to a 1 mark question and a longer answer to a 3 or 5 mark question.

By doing this you won’t waste time and will make the most of every second to secure the marks you need to get a top grade.

This also means understanding the question.  Have you heard of the phrase “command terms”?  If not, then you need to quickly get up to speed as you will find it hard to reach top marks without understanding it.

You really need to read the WHOLE question before you attempt to answer it. Then you will be able to identify the command term.

A “command term” tells you what the examiner is looking for from you when you answer the question. For example, if the question askings you to state or name, the examiners are looking for a one-word answer.

In contrast, if the question asks you to explain and it is worth 5 marks, then you must give a longer answer.  You can also see that you will need to include 5 elements in your answer.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but this also means that you must not waste time writing information that is not directly related to the question you are trying to answer.

Wrap Your Head Around Key Biology Concepts

There is a lot to sink in when it comes to IGCSE Biology. Unless you have a photographic memory, just reading through books, notes or resources won’t get you far.

Instead of trying to memorize everything, try to understand the concepts that underline key biological processes. To do so, you can break each topic down into small pieces and highlight their key terms, concepts, or processes.

algae research in laboratories, biotechnology science concept

Start with the Hard Topics First

We tend to spend more time working on the topics we like. It’s natural because we are often drawn to things that are simple and less challenging. However, your chances of getting a 9 in your IGCSE Biology exam become slimmer if you give your time only to the things you like. In fact, you should do the opposite.

Identify topics you like least and deal with them first. You probably don’t like them because they are complicated, a lot of work, or you just don’t understand them. Well, these are your weaknesses, and your revision should focus on getting rid of them.

Specific Advice for EFL (English as a foreign language) Learners

IGCSE Biology can be particularly hard for EFL learners.  This is because the course presents students with a lot of additional vocab. Even more challenging is the fact that in Biology many terms have very specific scientific meanings,

If there are words that you struggle to spell or use correctly find a way to memorize them. Use pictures, mnemonics, and other tricks to commit these complex words to your memory.

Find the Effective Learning Techniques that Work for You

Our brain struggles to hold large amounts of information coming in a limited time. For this reason, reading textbooks and trying to highlight the most important nuances is not as good as you think. A more beneficial tactic is to alternate passive and active learning technics, which activate different parts of the brain.

For example, you can combine reading and taking notes. But not just notes in the form of continuous text but something that is more visually impactful such as flow diagrams, tables, schematic representation of processes, mind maps, etc. Using these visuals, you can then put your memory to the test. Every now and then, try to recreate some of the visuals without looking at them.

Make Use of Spaced Repetition

Things you now hold in your head may not be there after a while. If you don’t revisit them every now and then, they tend to fade away. Revisiting is what spaced repetition is all about.

After learning a topic, go over it again in a week or so. Then double the interval and repeat the topic again. Do this a few times while gradually increasing spacings. By the time of your exam, these topics are going to stick in your memory.

Solve Past Papers

Past exam papers are extremely useful to learn the types of questions you’re likely to get in your exam. This implies not only topics but also question formats (multi-choice, structured, short answer questions, etc.).

It is much easier to get ready for your assessment when you know what to expect. So try to answer as many past papers as possible to train your recall. Ask your teacher or tutor to give you more exam questions to practice.

Practicing with papers has one more positive effect since it can improve your understanding of concepts. When you’re done answering a paper, consult your textbook to see what you got right and wrong. Use the mark scheme to see where you lost valuable points, so you make sure you don’t miss out in the final exam.

Take notes of the things you got wrong. Before attempting to solve another paper, go over your mistakes. After a while, you’ll notice that you get fewer and fewer wrong.

Study Together with a Friend

Working on past papers with a study buddy is more beneficial than doing it all alone. You can switch your works and mark each other’s answers. We tend to notice other people’s mistakes better than our own. Hence, a friend is able to easier point out your weak areas more easily. You, in turn, can do the same for them.

Apart from that, you may try to give an oral presentation to each other focusing on the things you and they struggle with. This way, you can have a listener for the concepts you’re confident in. Simultaneously, you will be able to get a different perspective on the things you’re unsure about.

Don’t Leave it too Late to get Help

Don’t hessite to get help when you need it. If something is not clear to you, your teacher should be able to explain. So don’t be afraid to raise your hand whenever you have questions.  It is better to wrestle with a subject you don’t really understand while your teacher is teaching it to you. Take ownership of your learning!

However, if you have moved on without truly understanding a topic or now that you have come to revise it and feel truly lost, it may be time to call in the professionals.

Unfortunately, your biology teacher won’t have much time to walk you through every topic or concept that eludes you. Luckily you have other options to try. Have you ever considered getting a Biology tutor? The best thing about hiring a tutor is that they can offer an individual approach to your needs. From explaining the trickiest concepts to checking your answers for past papers and even setting mock exams, there is so much a tutor can do to improve your biology knowledge.

Helping you ace your IGCSE Biology exam is what our mission is. At TutorsPlus, we are proud to have experienced and attentive tutors who led many high schoolers to success. Contact us at 022 731 8148 or info@tutorsplus.com and dramatically improve your academic results.

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