HSC Biology – How to Get a Band 6 From a State Ranker

First term of year 12 is now over for you all – whether or not you are studying or relaxing during these holidays, that is all up to you! But as this new year and new term begins, you might start to wonder, are there any things that I can improve on? Although a term has passed and (most likely) finished your first assessment, it is important to keep in mind that you still have so much time left to reflect and change your strategy in attacking HSC, and biology specifically! This time you have is probably the best in terms of improving your performance, where you have both some experience as well as a lot of time. 

This guide is meant to direct you in this time. To serve as the general roadmap to a band 6 – specifics will be covered in later blogposts as the year progresses, so do make sure to regularly tune in to the FCT page.

What should I do in terms of studying?

This is all up to you and what you find best.  Wasn’t the answer you were expecting? That is the point, it is not easy to have a study plan that is catered to each one of you. Some of you will cruise by on just a couple hours of studying at the end of every module while others will not feel prepared even with 6 hours of studying. The key however is to work to your strengths, and this is the guide I will be giving you – to be able to have the tools to work to your strengths this year. Essentially, what your studying should achieve is to fundamentally understand the content that has been given you. This is important in order to consolidate the knowledge into your mind. Biology as you probably know is content-heavy, arguably the most content heavy subject in the whole HSC, and hence the way to mitigate this is to understand what the content is trying to tell you. 

To do this, organise the knowledge you learn into their respective dotpoints, and the respective dotpoints with their content. You should be able to, by the end of your studying for that module be able to know from a dotpoint that is given to you what content came under it. This has to include the keywords from it, what the examples given were, if there are any small details that you must include in an answer, and what biological processes/techniques were discussed.

Conversely (and what a lot of students miss out on) is to also know what content (e.g, which biological processes, structures or examples) relates to which of the dotpoints in that module. i.e, that protein synthesis and specifically translation/translocation relates to the dotpoint “model the process of protein synthesis” which also included a number of subheadings. This compartmentalization of knowledge is incredibly critical, and it is something that you can do very easily since it takes a lot less time than memorizing. However, you will see that this method significantly increases your performance in questions, because you will lessen the main mistake most people make in biology exams – missing out on ‘details’ or ‘keywords’. There is another mindset that are just as important as compartmentalization. What are they?


Familiarize yourself with the content

Make sure that class is not the first time you are exposed to the content that you will be learning. Instead, read ahead of your class – whether it is in the textbook or your school’s own notes. The key here is to know what the topics will be, and what order they will be covered in. The main benefit of this is subconscious and not a conscious studying effort.

By having the ‘framework’ and mold in which the content is laid out, all that your class will be doing is help to fill in the knowledge. E.g, for module 7, get to know the different pathogens that you will learn about, read about what exactly the dotpoints will be covering in terms of innate and adaptive immunity. Learn about some of the techniques used to manage and control disease. In this case, it is not important to understand why inflammation comes before any specific defenses (which by the way, is important to know!), it is just to know that you will have to learn this content. With this knowledge, you are naturally looking out in class for the content that is most important and that benefit you the most. 


Familiarise yourself with the why and how the content relates to each other

Don’t just have knowledge of polypeptide synthesis, or that translocation comes after translation. Know the why, the how behind all of these processes. This is where the notion of this syllabus being more ‘application’ based comes from. For example, a theoretical question that is phrased in the HSC style would be: “Why is tRNA important in translation”. You of course know that its function is to carry a specific amino acid (determined by its anti-codon) and attach to the codons on the mRNA.

But if you put only that, you will get that all too familiar feedback – ‘lacking detail’. Why is it lacking detail? This is because you did not fundamentally explain why tRNA is important in translation, and how this relates to the purpose of translation as a whole. You needed to say that the point of polypeptide synthesis is to produce a specific sequence of amino acids in a polypeptide. tRNA assists in this because of the function that you mentioned earlier – this function specifically results in the correct and intended amino acid being allotted into its respective position along the amino acid sequence. That is what separates a band 6 answer from a band 5 answer.


This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many more things to cover, and they will be added to this blog as the year goes by. In the meantime, make sure to keep these points in mind while studying. Have a well-rested holiday and good luck!

(1) Comment

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    S.O 3 July 2021 @ 3:12 am

    If only I read this blog post 2.5 years ago when I completed my first term in year 12 or had a mentor from FCT guiding me through concepts I found difficult.

    Likewise, I will definitely integrate these top-notch tips into my study routine especially for my biology units at university.

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