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Exam Hints





In the final paper there will be 25 of this type of question. Many students find these particularly difficult and see them as a real stumbling block to improving their test marks. Here are some ideas that will be useful in improving your performance.


Work on these truths!


    • There is one and only one best answer
    • There are no tricks in the question
    • The better you understand the work the more likely it is for you to get more of these questions correct.
    • You will see through the distracters or wrong responses more clearly.
    • The more that you practise these questions, the better you will cope with them.


Students get multiple choice questions wrong for a variety of reasons and so there is no magic that will make you an expert overnight. The main reasons for the selection of wrong choices seem to be:


    • A lack of knowledge that it relevant to this question.
    • A misunderstanding of biological terms.
    • A lack of sufficient conceptual understanding and therefore experiencing problems in applying the ideas learnt.
    • An inability to correctly analyse the data, interpret graphs and relate the material learnt in the course to new situations.


If you work through a consistent pattern and approach to your questions you are better off making the best informed decision and sticking with it. Many students often find themselves with time left at the of the paper and start doubting their original choices, making impulsive changes. They often regret these decisions.


If some multiple choice questions are difficult and take too long, leave them until the end of the paper and then return to them if you have time. This will also give your subconscious time to think it through properly.


Remember, put into perspective, each question is worth 2 marks out of 200.


The multiple choice questions come in several types and different orders of difficulty. Some are strictly memory recall of the content of the course; others involve reading a small section and require you to apply the concepts you have learnt, whilst the more difficult questions require you to analyse data or to evaluate material presented.


Take care with the memory recall questions. Some students rush these, thinking they are straightforward compared to the more difficult ones.

You should spend about 40 minutes on the multiple choice questions in the paper. There are worked examples of different types in Biology Essentials.


This site might give you more ideas about how to answer this style of question.


Here is another site with some examples - it includes other study techniques.




In answering these questions there are several points that can help in your responses.


Here are a few sensible suggestions:


    • Carefully read and identify the critical parts of the question (particularly the command words e.g. list, explain, compare). Underlining them may help.
    • Recall the areas of the course that are appropriate to the question.
    • Write down any relevant equations or diagrams that might be useful.
    • Plan your response on some scrap paper.
    • Check that the number of points you have made fit in with the marks allocated for the question.


In reading through the question you should be looking for several things:


What type of question is it?

    • Recall of basic information
    • Analysis of data that has been presented to you
    • Higher order questions that are looking for your ability to apply the knowledge you have learned


What is the question asking?

    • A name of a structure
    • An explanation of a process
    • A description of some process
    • A comparison of 2 structures



This is now part of Sections A and B of the exam but still require special skills.

You may be asked questions on the following:




    • You must be prepared to read data from an investigation and determine a hypothesis.
    • To do this, firstly try to identify the independent and dependent variables (see below for definitions).
      • The independent is usually what the investigator purposely changed (the experiment)
      • The dependent is what is being measured (the prediction)


    • Your hypothesis is broken into two parts
      • The experiment
      • The prediction.


    • To make a prediction look at the results (dependent) and observe how this changes with the independent variable.




    • Variables are factors that change during an experiment.
    • The independent variable is the factor that the investigator purposely experiments with to observe its impact on the experiment. Eg. Concentration, time, light intensity, temperature, pH.
    • The dependent variable is the factor that the investigator is measuring as a result of the independent variable changing. Eg. Enzyme activity, rate of reaction, concentration
      • N.B. as a general rule of thumb the independent is the first set of data in the results table.
    • Other factors should be held constant to reduce the effect they may have on the result.


Control Experiments


    • This is part of the experiment which is set up to prove that only if the independent variable is changed then this will have an impact on the results.
    • It does not have any variables.


Results Table


    • Results tables should be ruled up
    • It must show the independent variable and the dependent variable/s measured
    • Make sure to take into account number of records taken. Eg days, weeks





    • Label the x-axis with the independent variable and the y-axis with the dependent variable
    • Include relevant units for each variable
    • Use a correct and consistent scale for axes
    • Graph using a pencil
    • Graph the curve of best fit(i.e. equal points above and below the line)
    • Devise a key if there is more than one line
    • Do not include zero on your line unless it is part of the actual results taken
    • Give an appropriate title




    • Look at the graph and observe patterns to see if it suits the hypothesis
    • Conclude how the independent variable impacted on the dependent variable.



    • Identify potential sources of "random errors". These are usually (but not always) due to human error. A good procedure will minimise but never eliminate them.
      • The scatter of the graph around the line of best fit is a good way to see if the random errors have had a big effect on the results.
      • Little scatter means that the results can be described as reliable. This is best achieved through thorough method and a large sample size.


    • Identify potential sources of "systematic errors". These are usualy (but not always) due to equipment/chemical errors.
      • These errors can include; faulty equipment; accuracy in personal measurements; preparation of chemicals; limitations of equipment.
      • The effects of these errors can be reduced by repeating the experiment.
      • If the repeats confirm the results, then the validity of the experiment has been established.




  • Generally you will be give two questions that you must answer in an essay style. Here are some tips to get the maximum score for this section.

    • Pay close attention to how many sub-questions are being asked. These are worth 12 marks.

      • If there are two sub-questions, you need to make three key points per sub-question.

      • If there are three sub-questions, you need to make only two key points per sub-question.

    • Do NOT write an introduction. For the exam, they are a waste of time and are not given any credit. Don't bother with a conclusion unless you are prepared to synthesize your main ideas.

    • If you add a drawing, make sure it is readable and relevant. Don't bother otherwise.

    • Three other marks are for style including

      • Is the response at least half a page in length and is it structured in the form of sentences and paragraphs?

      • Does the response contain correct grammar and spelling?

      • Does the response clearly explain concepts using relevant and concise biological language? 

    • If you are pressed for time, ditch the style marks and write in dots points!





More ideas will be added later but here is a start:


Mind-mapping:  This site takes you through the steps to effectively mind map from scratch.




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