Great Oak Tutors

How to succeed in A level Biology

Know your A level Biology content? Still got a disappointing grade? You are not alone. The underlying problem is that the A level Biology exams are not designed to test your subject knowledge, but your understanding of the subject. The reason for this is to distinguish between those who have a photographic memory, and those who actually understand the subject. So, for example, a question will not say “describe the mechanisms of enzyme inhibition.” It will say, for example  “Molecule X has been used to treat gout, which is caused by a build up of uric acid. Enzyme Y catalyses the the production of uric acid from its precursor, molecule Z.” Never heard of X, Y or Z? Don’t panic! You are not alone! Nobody doing the exam has. No, gout is not in the text book either. What the examiner is really saying is: “tell me about competitive inhibition.” Sound more familiar? Yes, that is in the book! The technique is to get into the examiners mindset, and understand how the questions are almost always asked indirectly. Almost invariably, you will be presented with a question on an organism you have never heard of before. Don’t worry, nobody doing the biology exam has heard of it! What it is asking is for you to apply the principle you have learnt to an unfamiliar situation. For example, natural selection: 1. Random mutation, 2. Selective pressure. 3. Survival of the individuals best adapted. 4. Reproduction of the survivors. Doesn’t matter whether it’s bacteria or giraffes or anything in between. Apply the principles and you are a winner every time!

Another thing to understand is that the examiner is a total ignoramus. You are not talking as one educated professional to another, you are talking to a tabla rasa, a blank white board. The examiner does not know that you know anything at all – you have to prove it! Got the active site and the substrate the wrong way round in your sentence by mistake? Think the examiner will know that you know what you are talking about anyway? No chance! In the examiner’s eyes, you know nothing. Examiners also like technical words. Selective pressure, ultrafiltration, active transport, you know the sort of thing. Make sure that you put all the relevant ones you know in. In the mark scheme, some of them will be underlined. That means they are a must have.

Finally, there is one other point, er, you do actually have to know the subject as well. How do you get to know it? By osmosis from the teacher? Diffusion from the textbook? That works to some extent. But how do you get to know things that somehow didn’t get across your membranes, not by diffusion, not by osmosis, not by facilitated diffusion? Active transport! Use a little bit of ATP! What I mean is that whenever you get a bit that’s obscure, note it down and ask about it! This is easier if you have an A level Biology tutor, as the tutor is just for you. If you have no questions, the tutor can ask you questions to see what you know, but if you already know what you don’t know, you are in a much stronger position; you are an active student, and you are getting much better value in your tutorial.

Good luck!

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