GCSE Biology Exam Preparation
Table of Contents
It can be difficult to know where to start when preparing for the GCSE biology exam. To help you get started with your revision, we’ve outlined some of our top tips to help you achieve your best possible grade.
Make a Revision Plan
A revision plan is essential for all GCSE exam preparation, not least biology, as there are a number of topics to cover. Set aside enough time for each revision session and use the AQA biology specification as a learning checklist.
It’s a good idea to start with a topic you enjoy, or one that comes easier to you, as this will help build your confidence. You can then focus on a topic that you find more difficult. Break the topic into smaller sections and tick off each unit as you complete it. Studying little and often will help you manage your revision and will be rewarding as you realise how much you have done.
Reorganise Your Notes
GCSE biology is a content-heavy subject, so it’s important to organise your notes so that you cover all the essential topics of the exam. Pull out any notes and handouts from your classwork folders that relate to the exam topics and rearrange them in a new folder. This way, you’ll have all the information you’ll need for revising immediately to hand.
Try using visual aids, rewriting notes using colour, or summarising them into bullet points to help you retain the information. When exam day arrives, you will have to rely on your ability to recall facts. Here are just a few techniques that can help to trigger your recall:
- Record your notes and play them back later
- Continually reduce your notes (every time you go over your notes, shorten them down further)
- Use question and answer cards — write a question on one side of a card and the answer on the other. If you get the answer correct, put the card in a correct pile, and if you get it wrong place the card in a pile for further revision.
When it comes to retaining information, everybody is different and what works for one person might not work for another, so it is best to try a variety of revision methods to find the combination that best suits you.
For more information on how to organise your GCSE revision notes, watch this video from student Emily:
Learn Command Words
Exam questions contain command words that tell you what the examiners are looking for. It sounds obvious, but you need to understand what the question is asking. A common mistake that students make is that they don’t read the command word correctly and end up losing valuable marks. Here are some of the most common command words to look out for in the GCSE biology exam:
- State – Answer with a single word or sentence. These questions are factual recall.
- Describe – You may have to say what something is like, or write a sequence of events.
- Compare – This requires you to explore what’s similar and what’s different between two processes, ideas etc. These questions can be difficult and students often lose marks for failing to complete both parts.
- Explain – You need to give details of why something happens.
Understand (and Practice) Different Question Types
There are four different types of questions in GCSE biology that you may be asked: multiple choice, structured questions, closed short answer and open response. Each question type requires a slightly different approach in order to satisfy examiners’ expectations.
Let’s look at each one in more detail:
Multiple choice – These questions are usually worth 1 mark in the GCSE biology paper. Some questions will test your ability to recall knowledge, whereas others may require you to use an equation to find an answer.
Structured – These questions normally use command words like ‘explain’ ‘why’ and ‘demonstrate’ to guide you towards an answer. Structured questions can involve several steps, so pay attention to how you present your answer. If you can’t identify where you’ll be awarded marks, you may need to restructure your response.
Closed short answer – Usually, closed short answers require a single sentence response. They typically start with command words like ‘state’, or ‘write’. They’re usually lower-mark questions but can be tricky to answer as they assess your ability to remember facts. Make sure you write enough to answer the question in full, but not too much that you end up wasting time in the exam.
Open response – These question types are usually awarded the highest marks in GCSE biology. They’re usually multi-step questions that require you to show your working and present your answer logically. The key to answering open response questions is to put yourself in the examiner’s shoes and ask where you’d award each point.
Use Practice Papers
Biology practice tests are one of the best ways to prepare for the GCSE biology exam. Practice test papers help you become familiar with the types of questions you could be asked on the day, they can also help improve your time management skills when taken under exam conditions.
When using practice papers, time yourself under exam conditions so you get used to answering questions within the required time.
Our biology packs contain questions that cover all eight of the syllabus topics. As part of the process of creating our packs, we thoroughly analysed examiners’ reports from previous years to ensure we have every question type covered. To prepare you for every eventuality, we’ve even included some of the most difficult questions that you’re likely to come up against in the exam.
Our packs focus on the key skills that you need to do well in higher tier GCSE exams and include detailed mark schemes for every question. Each question is labelled to identify the relevant exam boards.
For those preparing for the GCSE biology exam, we would highly recommend the following resources:
All of our GCSE packs are available immediately after download.