Tips for Biology

Get memorising early                                           

Let’s face it – most of us aren’t great at memorising. And even if we are, we are still constrained by time and concentration. However, I think we can all agree that cramming content in last minute certainly isn’t ideal and this is just a little reminder to check in on your procrastination!


Make notes from the syllabus dot points

If there was anything I took away from all those biology seminars I watched and all those blogs I read, it was this. Honestly it applies to pretty much every subject, but I think it is particularly important for content heavy subjects like biology.


For example, my notes on Infectious Diseases looked something like this:


Investigate the work of Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur, to explain the causes and transmission of infectious diseases, including:

·      Koch’s postulates

·      Pasteur’s experiments on microbial contamination




  • Identified bacteria that caused tuberculosis in humans
  • Developed agar plate technique for growing microorganisms
  • Showed that bacteria cause anthrax in sheep
  • Examined blood of dead sheep
  • Identified rod shaped bacteria which he isolated and grew in cultures
  • Cultured bacteria injected into healthy sheep which then developed anthrax
  • Koch’s postulates
  • Microorganisms believed to be cause of disease must be present in diseased organism
  • Microorganisms must be isolated and grown in pure culture – culture only containing microorganism
  • Microorganisms from pure culture, when injected into healthy organism, causes disease
  • Microorganisms in pure culture are identical to original microorganisms


Make sure to choose a notetaking style that suits you

Although I’m a big advocate for the benefits of doing things by hand (the HSC is still a written exam), I personally found handwriting notes to be too slow and cumbersome for content heavy subjects like biology. It meant I could include images and links to external resources rather than relying on print outs or my often inaccurate sketches. That being said, you might prefer to handwrite your notes and that is perfectly fine too – I handwrote my notes for physics and maths because it was hard to annotate my own diagrams on my computer. What is most important is that you choose an approach that suits you and the way that you learn best. Feel free to use any shorthand or abbreviations. It is fine (and often recommended) to write in dot points. At the end of the day, your notes are for you and you alone, so make sure they actually help you!!


Practice on exam questions

Exam questions are often quite different to the questions you find in your textbook. Textbook questions are designed to supplement your learning and help you along, but exam questions are challenging for a reason.


For example, the question might say:

‘Using a named example of X, explain how Y…’


Make sure you pay particular attention to named Australian examples. While the new HSC contains topics from the old syllabus, there is now a much stronger focus on Australia, whether it be Australian scientists, flora, fauna, inventions, technology etc. Hence it is probably a more economical use of your brain space if you try to choose Australian examples whenever possible, even if the syllabus itself allows for a much broader scope.


The HSC also looks at case studies and historical examples. Here I would aim to have the broadest general understanding possible but also to know a few examples in detail.


If you do find yourself struggling to come up with examples on the spot, I would suggest practicing different types of questions which ask you to explain a biological mechanism or concept using real life examples. And don’t stop at the questions – make sure you also read through the sample responses provided by different textbooks and past papers. That way you are exposing yourself to a range of band 6 responses. While they may be different in structure and style, you can see the standard and content which will earn you those high marks. Remember, you aren’t aiming to rote learn their responses – the new HSC is specifically designed to discourage such approaches. Instead see how they have integrated their examples, included relevant details that supplement their response and targeted exactly what the question is asking (ie. not making the common mistake in biology of waffling on).

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