This year, any Scottish student worth their salt knows that Higher exams have been suspended. Instead, their classroom performance and assignments, as well as exams taken at the end of every study module will serve as their formal assessment.

Are you elated or disappointed?

For many students, their end-of-school exams are a rite of passage signalling their transition out of compulsory education and into the learning path of their choice. Some may opt for higher education - at least an undergraduate degree, while others would take the fast track to employment through apprenticeship.

As you had planned to sit Advanced Higher Biology, you're most likely in the former category.

Whether you wanted to pursue studies in marine biology, microbiology or train as a veterinarian, your Advanced Higher Biology grade would have been your starting point into the career you wanted. How will you get there now if you can't sit your Advanced Higher Biology?

And why publish an article about Advanced Higher Biology if no Higher exam will be administered this year?

If these are some of the questions knocking about your head, you're in luck: Superprof has answers for you.

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1st lesson free!
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5 (9 reviews)
James
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1st lesson free!
Jananie
5
5 (6 reviews)
Jananie
£20
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1st lesson free!
Wafaa
5
5 (18 reviews)
Wafaa
£25
/h
1st lesson free!
Gemma
5
5 (12 reviews)
Gemma
£30
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1st lesson free!
Habiba
5
5 (8 reviews)
Habiba
£25
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1st lesson free!
Molly
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5 (3 reviews)
Molly
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1st lesson free!
Ellen
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5 (5 reviews)
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First Lesson Free>

Why Revise with Advanced Higher Past Papers?

Considering there will be no Higher exams this year, this is perhaps the most pertinent question to answer. It plays to the greater discussion of how many resources one should draw upon to revise for any exam.

Let's say you're in your biology class and the study module is almost at an end. Your teacher says there will be an exam over the material covered in that module. Do you only go over what was covered in class or do you look for other sources of information so you can get the best grasp on what the teacher presented?

If you envision a career in the field of biology, you have to get the most complete picture you can of your subject.

You could work with animals in the wild or in a clinic
You may specialise in wildlife biology or veterinary medicine instead of lab or research work. Photo credit: USDAgov on Visualhunt.com

Some students spend hours in the library, poring over reference materials while others join study groups for collaborative learning sessions. Quite a few engage a tutor who can give them a new or different perspective on what they were presented in class. All of these are different ways of getting a more complete picture of your subject material.

That is why past papers and marking information is recommended as a study strategy, even in this year of no exams.

Have you thought about forming or joining a study group? How about working with a personal tutor - maybe a university student who is majoring in Biology? Maybe a Superprof?

In general, exams serve two purposes: to test your memory for facts and your ability to apply your knowledge.

You'll remember from your National 5 and Higher exams that Biology exams consist of a 2-part paper. The first is multiple-choice - the memory-for-facts portion and the second poses complex challenges to prove your ability to use what you know.

Not just your ability to use knowledge but to explain how you used it.

As you'll not sit Advanced Highers this year, you might lack chances to formally prove your ability to apply biological concepts. However, nothing says you can't prove to yourself that you can; drawing on past papers allows you to do just that.

Even better: the SQA provides four years' worth of past papers and marking information. So, while there won't be any time spent in a testing centre this year, you can test yourself to your heart's content... or ask your tutor to.

By the way, the SQA also tells you how to pass (Advanced) Higher Biology; read on to find out how.

What You Get From the SQA

Some students, upon starting their Advanced Higher Biology course, automatically call up the SQA website to download past papers and marking information. Some may bookmark the site for near-effortless future navigation but, after their downloads, generally don't visit that page again.

Those students are missing a trove of helpful information.

You could be a marine biologist and work in the field
Marine biologists study marine life in the lab and in the field. Photo credit: FWC Research on Visualhunt

If you type "Advanced Higher Biology Past Papers" into your search engine, that's exactly what you'll get: the SQA page with links to past papers.

However, if you direct yourself to the SQA website and progress through Qualifications > Subjects > Biology > Advanced Higher > Advanced Higher Biology, you'll find:

  • Up-to-date course information
  • Subject updates - what changes have been made to the exam, year-on-year
  • Course specifications
  • Tips for gathering evidence to support your answers
  • A guideline for understanding grade standards
  • Detailed information regarding your course work
  • Examiner course reports

Analysis shows that, of all of these resources, the examiner course reports are the most underused - a statistic that supports the idea the students do not make full use of the SQA-provided resources as they prepare for their exam.

Examiner reports are written after all of the students' results have been compiled and analysed. They detail which questions students generally answered well and those they had trouble with.

The last section of this report, Section 3, could arguably be the most valuable to students preparing to sit exams. Or, if you were meant to sit exams this year, it could work as a reference point for difficult biology, so that you can pay more attention to them as you progress through your course.

Section 3 reflects on past students' exam performance and gives suggestions on how future students could do better. It tells students what their teachers should change or improve, either in their teaching methods or by using updated course materials. It outlines how references should be presented (Harvard or Vancouver) and addresses ethical concerns during the experiment phase.

Far from Advanced Higher Biology being a test of your memory, it serves as a preview of your future, ethical scientist self. The examiner report is proof of that, as it considers every aspect of students' development in its review of their performance.

Did you take advantage of Examiner Course Reports ahead of your Higher Biology exam, when you downloaded past papers and marking information?

Other Study Resources

If we protest against using only past papers and marking information to prepare for Advanced Highers, we must equally sound off about relying solely on the SQA to provide pupils with revision materials... especially since the World Wide Web is so rich with information.

You might not have to sit exams this year but you still have to know all that you can about biology for the sake of your future career. In that spirit, we present these other helpful resources.

To get your career off the ground, make the most of study resources
Make the most of all study resources at your disposal; they can only help your future career as a biologist. Photo credit: Illinois Springfield on Visualhunt

Bitesize

Who doesn't know about Bitesize? As you've likely sat National and Higher exams, you probably clicked your Bitesize bookmark more than once, right? And, if you know all about Bitesize, you also know that they have nothing to offer Advanced Higher candidates... or do they? 

As you flipped through those Higher Bitesize pages, did you also take a look at what GCSE students' Biology Bitesize looks like?

For one, students in the rest of the UK may be tested by one of up to six different exam boards, of which no two exams are exactly alike. They may be more extensive and/or comprehensive, formulating questions differently and requiring more elaborate answers.

As you acquaint yourself with the GCSE Bitesize, you'll also discover the names of those exam boards, from which you could also download past papers, marking schemes and examiner reports.

Granted, they won't be A-Level material - Advanced Higher's equivalent, but better more information than less, right?

Quizlet

Quizlet is an interactive learning platform that you can customise for yourself, according to your revision needs. Widely used in the US, it's high time we Scots benefitted from it, too!

Signing up for an account is free, after which you may create a stockpile of flashcards, play games based on the data you entered and challenge your friends to study and play with you. You may also test your knowledge by taking quizzes; the software will grade your efforts and show you where your biology knowledge is a bit creaky.

Granted, it takes a bit of time to build your Quizlet because you have to enter all of the terms and definitions (or questions and answers) manually.

Or, you could use already-existing quizlets to review exactly what you need to know for your Advanced Higher Biology course. What a time-saver! 

YouTube

Watching YouTube is a lot of fun and has sometimes been the undoing of students who watch their fav channels instead of studying. That doesn't mean there is nothing good on.

By 'good', we mean helpful to your Advanced Higher quest.

You can search YouTube for Advanced Higher Biology videos and take your pick of offerings. We really liked Mrs Kennedy's Biology channel. She goes through each Advanced study module topic by topic, detailing what you need to know for your exam before going through the lesson, step by step.

Everything you need to know is typed out on presentation slides and includes graphics and designs. Of course, any time you need to pause the video and copy down what's on the slide, Mrs Kennedy won't mind - perhaps unlike your teacher.

She keeps her channel up-to-date; the latest revisions were made in October 2020 - no need to worry that you're being misled by an outdated video.

So, as you're cleaning your room or preparing your tea, you can have Mrs Kennedy playing on in the background. She can keep on informing you even as you go about your daily tasks and, if you happen to catch something noteworthy, pause the video (and your task) to write it down.

With all of this information, you might think Superprof has gifted you a complete guide to Higher Biology...

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.