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How to pass Year 12 Biology

Studying biology can lead to all sorts of inspiring careers within medicine, healthcare or research. As a year 12 student, it’s the kind of subject that you can relate to your own experiences, whether that’s through genetics, evolution or disease. What’s usually less relatable is the process of intense revision and rigorous exams which go hand-in-hand with studying the subject in your final year at school.

To help you through the process, we spoke to Year 12 Biology teacher, Nicole Henry, who has 25 years’ experience at Western Heights College in Geelong. She offers her advice for getting the best VCE study score possible for Biology.

Read the textbook from cover to cover

‘This is really obvious but you’d be surprised at how many students don’t do it,’ Nicole says. ‘Aim to read ahead of class so that you’re actually reading in preparation for the content that’s going to be covered.’

The advantage of this is that you won’t be overwhelmed with information in the lesson. When your teacher runs through the content, you’ll have already read about it – and if there’s anything you need clarifying from the text, this is your chance to ask about in your lesson.

Access the study design

It’s important to understand the scope and study design of the VCE Biology course. Like all VCE subjects, this is governed by The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA).

‘What’s important for students doing Year 12 is that the study design has the content – both the key knowledge and key science skills – that the exam will be based on,’ Nicole explains.

‘Text books are written to this key knowledge, teachers will be teaching to those key knowledge points – and exams can only be written with those key knowledge points in mind.’

If you have a copy of the study design, you can check exactly what you need to know for their exam and use it to direct your revision.

'‘What’s important for students doing Year 12 is that the study design has the content – both the key knowledge and key science skills – that the exam will be based on.''

Nicole Henry,
Western Heights College

Keep up with ongoing revision

‘Every week you should be going over the work you’ve done at school, which means reading over it and reassembling some of the information into tables or point form, or into any other kind of graphic organiser that works for you,’ Nicole suggests.

‘Have a study timetable and make sure you’re allocating time for all of your subjects,’ she adds.

It’s also important to access past exams to help you prepare for the kind of questions you’ll be asked and understand how the examiners want you to answer them. ‘You could practice with one or two short answer questions a week, and that’ll be a really good way to highlight what you don’t yet know,’ Nicole advises.

‘Don’t be discouraged if you get a question wrong though,’ she adds. ‘As long as you go and find out the answer, it’ll strengthen your understanding of that piece of information. You can then keep those questions and answers in a folder, which will form the basis of your revision at the end of the year.’

‘You should be using those term three holidays in the September break for full-on revision for all your subjects. Study like you would at school, putting in a full day of work.’

If it helps you get through it, bear in mind that you’ve got plenty of time once the exams are finished to do all the fun things you want to do!

Ask questions

‘There’s no such thing as a dumb question,’ Nicole says. ‘If you’re thinking it, it’s guaranteed that half your class will be thinking it too.’

‘If you don’t want to ask in class, teachers are happy to talk to you after class or at recess. Remember there’s always help out there.’

Understand the theory of what you learn

‘The Biology test’s made up of a multiple choice section and a short answer one. Generally, students do well in the multiple choice, but find the short answer more difficult,’ Nicole explains.

‘Those questions are application questions – very few are about straight recall. Often, students don’t recognise the biology theory that they’ve learnt in the new scenario that they’re given in the exam. That’s why doing practice questions is a really good way to get better at this,’ she says.

‘It’s important to get into the habit of doing a practice exam, recognise what the question wants straightaway and then answer it. Biology answers don’t have to be long but they do have to contain the relevant points. Students need to be able to identify the biological theory in every new situation,’ she adds.

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