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“How to revise Biology A-Level?” is a popular question. Why? Well, guess what’s the 3rd most popular A-Level of 2021? You guess right! Biology. Around 63,765 students enrolled in A-Level Biology 2021.
It’s no surprise then, that many students seek tips and tricks on how to revise Biology A-Level. After all, revising for A-Level Biology can be a daunting task.
Just glancing at the vast amount of content you’ll need to cover can make any A-Level student quiver in fear. However, with the right revision approach and strategies, you can get that A* without having to sacrifice your mental well-being.
In our Biology summer schools, we ensure our students have access to our Academic Skills Workshops. Here, you’ll build on your revision skills to prepare for university-level learning. Giving you a boost ahead of the competition.
We’ve also prepared this article to introduce some of the critical steps for revising for A-Level Biology. If you follow through with these essential elements with consistency and determination, you’ll no doubt ace your A-Level Biology! Learn how to get the direction and confidence you need by reading this post.
A-Level Biology Revision Techniques
1. Print Out Your A-Level Biology Specification
Printing out your specification helps you
- Stay on top of things
- Check where you are in the course
- Create an efficient revision plan tailored to your needs
Why do you have to print it if you can just glance at the specs on your phone? Because it helps to check off topics you’ve already mastered. And scribble down comments that’ll help you stay on track.
Having a physical, tangible thing in your hand will help you focus. Mainly because using your phone to check the digital copy exposes you to many potential distractions. How easy would it be to check Instagram as you scroll through?
Remember, the challenge with A-Level Biology is the sheer amount of content you have to cover. You need a sheet to go back to and check which ones need more revision and which ones only require minor review. So you can plan your revision more effectively.
This is just tip 1, cover the next 10 tips and you’ll have the best chance of smashing your biology a-level revision to get into a great career path in biology.
2. Do Past Papers (Yours and Those of Others)
You may have heard this revision strategy multiple times. And for good reason! Checking out other people’s past papers before taking an exam helps you prepare. How? By
- Reading the questions and answering them
- Timing yourself. How long did it take you?
- Examining how other people answered the questions and what marks they received
Here’s the thing, it’s not enough that you have an idea of what questions will most probably come out in the exam. You also have to know how well you’ll most likely perform. And what topics you’ll need to revise more to ensure you’ll grab that A*!
And this is the reason why analysing your own past paper is a game-changer. The primary ingredient here is feedback. Go over your exam paper and ask yourself, “why am I losing marks?”
Where did you go wrong? Did you misunderstand the question? Maybe you weren’t as specific in your terminology as you should have been.
Analyse. Analyse. Analyse.
Then, do the paper again. Do it consistently! Until you’ve bulletproofed your answers and got them right.
3. LEARN Your Mark Scheme
Biology is a hard A-Level subject despite its soaring popularity. Do you know that only 12.8% achieved an A*, and just 21% received an A? Let’s compare that to the most popular A-Level subject of 2022: Maths.
For Mathematics, a whacking 22.8% gained an A*, and 24.3% bagged an A. That’s a huge upgrade from Biology’s results!
Why is it hard? Is it because the subject itself is difficult to grasp? Nope, that’s not it. Instead, biology is a hard subject because of the specificity of the mark scheme.
It doesn’t matter if you explained the process to a T. But if you don’t use the right words they’re looking for, you won’t get fine scores.
For instance, an AQA A-Level Biology question goes like this:
“Describe two differences between the structure of a tRNA molecule and the structure of an mRNA molecule.”
If you answer this question correctly, you’ll receive 2 marks.
What specific keywords does the mark scheme look for?
- tRNA has hydrogen bonds, mRNA does not;
- tRNA is ‘clover leaf shape’, mRNA is linear;
- tRNA has anticodon, mRNA has codon;
- tRNA has an amino acid binding site, mRNA does not;
Do you see now why you need to LEARN YOUR MARK SCHEME? Examine the mark schemes each time you study and analyse a past paper. In fact, paraphrase mark scheme answers into your notes and flashcards.
Read them. Integrate that knowledge into your long-term memory with constant repetition. And you’ll be spectacular!
Remember, your mark scheme is your northern star. It’ll guide you to that much-desired A* grade.
4. Use Flashcards
Flashcards are your absolute besties when it comes to revising, especially for A-Level Biology. Are you wondering why? Because A-Level Biology has so much content. There’s no way you can remember the entire textbook.
So you have to summarise and remember what matters most. And what better way to help you do that (and more) than flashcards?
Here are crucial tips on how to use Flashcards when revising for Biology:
- Create flashcards for every chapter
- Write only the most essential to increase recall
- Write the specific wording the mark scheme is searching for
- Put diagrams on each flashcard as much as possible to boost understanding
- Put a question in front and the answer on the back to test yourself
- Remember the objective: summarise
5. Scribble What You Just Read
Grab your textbook. Actively read the content. What’s the difference between passive and active reading?
- Passive Reading – Your eyes move down the page with hardly any retention
- Active Reading – You read to understand what you just read
Of course, since passive reading uses less energy, it’s easy to gravitate towards it. You could have been reading 5 pages in record time and still wonder at the end, “What in the world did I just read?”
To ensure you don’t end up in this unfortunate situation, scribble.
After reading a particular page or section of your textbook, close it. Then, grab a pen and paper and start writing down everything you remember.
You don’t have to blurt out the exact same paragraphs. What matters is that you remember crucial details. You can start by jotting down important terms. Then start defining and explaining as you begin to recall more and more.
If you hit a wall of nothingness, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, quiet your mind, and let your brain bring out facts you’ve just read. When you’ve exhausted everything you can possibly remember, open the textbook again.
Compare the results. What did you miss? What did you get wrong? Make a mental note of these. Then close the book, and start scribbling once more. But this time, scribble only the missing parts.
6. Answer Writing Prompts
This next revision strategy complements well with the scribbling method. After you’ve actively read through the chapter, collect prompts from the textbook.
Two of the best prompts you can take are definitions and diagram descriptions. For instance, say the chapter discusses “Introduction to Biological Molecules.” And underneath the “Bonding and Formation of Molecules” section, it reads,
“Atoms may combine with each other in a number of ways.” Use that as your prompt. Can you continue? Write down what you know about atoms combining with each other. Figure out if you remember the right words and draw the correct diagrams.
Then compare your answers to the textbook. In this scenario, the three major types of bonding are
- Covalent bonding
- Ionic bonding
- Hydrogen bonding
Did you get all three? Can you explain each one using the keywords the textbook uses?
Use this technique consistently to help you know which concepts you didn’t remember or comprehend.
Pro-Tip: You can use this technique for your notebook as well.
7. Watch Biology Explanation Videos
Need a fresh take on what you’ve just learned? Watch Biology explanation videos! Before you read further, please take heed.
Biology explanation videos should never be a substitute for actual reading and comprehension of your textbook and notes.
Because, again, you have mark schemes to stick to. And mark schemes are well integrated into what your textbooks and teachers say and how they explain.
Use Biology explanation videos to help fill in the gaps in your understanding. To complement what you’ve already learned. Some videos have interactive animations that are fun and entertaining to watch. Maximise them to increase and inspire your learning!
8. Draw Mindmaps
Suppose you want to reach for that A*. In that case, you’ll need to demonstrate that you have a cohesive and comprehensive understanding of the whole of A-Level Biology.
How? By gathering concepts and learnings from other chapters and integrating them into one info-packed answer.
In addition, do you know that you’ll most likely find the later chapters difficult to understand if you didn’t grasp the previous ones? For instance, you’ll hardly comprehend DNA if you haven’t mastered biological molecules and cells.
So mindmaps come in handy to help you see the whole picture and how they interconnect. Plus, it’ll help your mind make sense of where you are.
Start by drawing mindmaps for each of your modules. Then, as you progress through the course, create links among the various mindmaps you already have.
9. Practice Essay Questions
Approach your teacher and ask them to give you rounds of topics to write essays about. Here’s what you’ll do next:
- Time yourself
- Practise planning an essay within just 5 minutes
- Practise writing!
- Ensure your essays don’t only tackle the question in-depth
- But also in breadth by grabbing concepts and examples from different chapters
- Submit your practice essays to your teacher
- Ask for feedback
- Analyse what you could do to improve
- Rewrite your essay, and ask for your teacher’s feedback once more
- Do the process again and again!
Why is it essential to incorporate a wide range of examples/topics into your essay? To demonstrate that you comprehend most of the spec.
Another essential essay tip is this: ANSWER THE QUESTION.
Students often get carried away from the pressure of the moment that they see a topic (e.g. photosynthesis) and proceed to explain it. Without determining first what the question is asking for.
Is the essay question asking you to compare? Then explaining won’t cut it. You must mention the two things you’re comparing and state what’s different.
For instance, when you’re asked to compare photosynthesis vs cellular respiration, it’s not enough to say that both are essential biological processes.
You have to mention what differentiates photosynthesis from cellular respiration (e.g. photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. While cellular respiration uses oxygen and releases carbon dioxide.)
What if you’re asked to explain a concept (e.g. DNA replication)? Then go into the details. Write as if you’re a teacher explaining to a student what DNA replication is.
10. Wider Reading
Expand your horizon by reading more materials, such as newspapers and journal articles. Listening to Biology-related podcasts also keeps you updated on the real-world application of Biology. Giving you a fresh appreciation for the topics you’re studying.
It reminds you that the concepts you’re learning are not dead texts confined within the 4-walls of your study room. No, not all! Scientists and healthcare practitioners use Biology to solve our society’s complex problems today.
Hence, wider reading helps to keep you engaged and motivated. By exposing yourself to various materials, you can keep your interest in the subject matter fresh and maintain your motivation to study and revise.
In addition to inspiring you to revise, wider reading gives you a more comprehensive understanding of the concepts you are studying. This can help you better retain and recall information when revising for exams.
The key to maximising your knowledge is by practising critical analysis.
How? By looking into news stories and inspecting the validity of what the authors are saying. Were their conclusions logical? What are the implications?
What’s another benefit you gain by wide reading? Wider reading helps to improve your communication skills. By reading and listening to various materials, you can learn new vocabulary and improve your ability to articulate your ideas in a clear and concise way.
You’ll find this advantageous when writing essays for your exams.
Overall, wider reading is an important aspect of revising for A-Level Biology. It can help deepen your understanding, and enhance critical thinking and effective communication. Most importantly, it’ll boost your motivation and curiosity.
11. Prepare a Last Minute Review Sheet
Students often ask, “How do you revise for biology last minute?” The answer is you don’t. But you can review at the last minute using a “Last Minute Review Sheet.”
A last-minute review sheet doesn’t imply cramming the revision of the entire spec the day before the exam. Absolutely not! Why? Because cramming stresses you out. The exams are stressful enough as they are, why add to them?
Instead, a last-minute review sheet aims to remind you of information you always forget (e.g. definitions, equations.) So list these easy-to-forget items in your review sheet as you go through your regular revisions.
Remember, at the last minute, calmly go over everything you can. Let your eyes run down the paper. Slowly reading the words to help your mind remember. Refrain from panicking.
You can make it if you know you did your best. Believe in yourself! Walk into that room with confidence and calm. And you’ll do great!
There you have it! You now know impactful revision techniques to help you get that A* in A-Level Biology. So what’s the next step? If you’re planning to pursue Biology at the university, check out “A-Level Requirements for Biology.”