Even though no Scottish student will sit Higher exams this year, pupils will receive marks on their classwork. Those will serve as their formal assessment grades. So, no need to download any past paper or revision resource, right?

Not quite. For one, if you sat National 5 last year, you know what a great help these papers can be - not just for biology facts but for the information unrelated to biology. How are the questions formulated? How is the exam structured? What answers are considered acceptable and what qualifies an answer as unacceptable?

And then, even though you won't report to a testing centre this year, you most likely will next year. As your Advanced exam builds on what you're learning now, wouldn't it be wise to get your hands on as much officially sanctioned study material as possible?

Finally, as you selected Higher Biology, you likely intend to work in a field related to biology. Whether veterinary medicine, marine biology, microbiology or food safety, you need as many resources as you can get your hands on to give yourself the best shot at the career you want.

In that spirit, Superprof forges on, clueing you in to where the best revision resources are.

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SQA Website Resources

Unless you've had a change of heart between the time you sat National exams and now - even if you didn't sit National Biology, you likely already know that the Scottish Qualifications Authority website is where you find Higher Biology past papers.

Even if you didn't know where to find past papers, your teacher, classmates and/or your favourite search engine likely told you.

If you've recently moved to Scotland and are not familiar with the SQA or Higher exams, or if you're the type of contrary student who prefers to go against the grain (like I was!), you'll appreciate us going through the SQA Higher Biology revision resources.

You'll study DNA and the genome in your first module
Your Higher Biology course first study module is dedicated to DNA and the genome. Photo credit: Libertas Academica on VisualHunt.com

Question Papers

Usually, this is a pupil's first stop. Here, we can see the exam's modular structure, how the questions are formulated and what type of questions feature on the exam.

At a glance, you'll see that the exam consists of two papers: one with multiple-choice questions and the other with different types of questions. The 25 questions that make up the multiple-choice portion rely exclusively on your knowledge of biology while the second paper calls for applying what you know.

For instance, you may be asked to calculate a ratio of percentage protein synthesis in a given dataset or describe the process of feedback inhibition of enzymes.

Looking over a question paper is apt to drive any student into a panic; some of those questions are complex and demanding. Perhaps it would be best to look over marking information, first.

Marking Information

The marking instructions for the multiple-choice paper are fairly straightforward, consisting of a table that indicates which answer is correct for each of the 25 questions. As resources go, it's fairly limited in its information.

The second paper is where this document earns its weight in gold.

First, it acquaints you with marking guidelines: what types of answers are acceptable and which are not, what could skew a potentially correct answer into not being correct and how spelling errors could discount your grade. Scary thought!

Getting past that introduction, you're treated to an orderly presentation of expected/acceptable answers and, where relevant, which answers would be considered unacceptable. Some of them seem to split hairs because they are so similar.

Consider the difference between "To give DNA polymerase a start point for replication" and "To start/initiate replication.". So similar are they that they may as well be the same, right?

Unfortunately not. The unacceptable answer doesn't include 'DNA polymerase', leaving the invigilator to wonder if the student meant DNA replication, cell replication or the type of replication that happens in copy rooms the world over.

Learning the difference between what the examining body considers a complete answer and how they determine what constitutes an insufficient one is an exam strategy you should adopt early on so that you can get into the habit of answering questions to satisfy their expectations.

Course Reports

By all accounts, these reports are the most undervalued resource on the SQA site. That's rather odd, considering that they are a summary of students' answering patterns - which questions were often missed/misunderstood, of trends and tendencies (more students missed this question than that one) and, most importantly, recommendations for future students to do better.

Who would pass up that kind of advice?

Superprof recommends going over these reports before you begin studying. You should focus especially on Section 3, where you'll find guidance on every aspect of your Biology course as well as the exam.

Note this revelation in 2019's report: "It was evident that candidates in some centres were still being taught content that has now
been removed from the course."

Wouldn't it be nice to know stuff like that before you get into your courses, so that you can ask your teachers whether they're teaching from the most up-to-date materials?

These reports are filled with this type of information. They should serve as your guide to passing Higher Biology.

Beyond the SQA: Other Websites Offering Revision Resources

We're so lucky to live in the Information Age! Just about anything one could want to know is available for the asking, including information targeted to your Higher exam.

While the internet is full of resources - some of questionable value, we present these four as the most reliable aids in your quest for good grades.  

Learn all about cell biology on Bitesize
Bitesize provides a great breakdown of cell biology. Photo credit: Arenamontanus on VisualHunt

BBC Bitesize

If you've been a student in the UK's education system for any amount of time, you most likely already know about Bitesize. Still, we'd like to offer you a few revision tips.

Before exploring the three study modules, scroll to the bottom of the page, to the Exam and Assignment module. Under Exam Skills, you'll be treated to advice on how to pass the exam, test-taking strategies and other need-to-know information. How to scale your graphs, tips for plotting data and how to formulate your answers.

A particularly nifty tip: mind how many points each question is assigned. If it's worth two points, your answer should provide two points of contention.

Quizlet

As this site's name implies, this platform allows students to challenge their knowledge in various ways. You may, for instance, build a database of biology terms, from which you could then study by using their flashcard utility or play games.

If you create quizlets of your own, you may invite your friends to study them and challenge them to compete against you for the highest game scores.

Should you not have time to create any quizlet, you may take advantage of already-created Higher Biology study sets.

Mind Maps

Depending on how progressive your school and teachers are, you may already be familiar with mapping as a learning resource. If not, here's the concept in a nutshell: visually organise your knowledge of a subject for more efficient study.

Ideally, you would create a map for each of your course's study modules; we'll pick DNA for our example.

Title your map accordingly, and then create sub-headers for DNA structure, DNA replication, gene expression and so on. Then, as you study, simply add new nuggets of knowledge to your map.

If you have an artistic bent you may draw your maps out on poster board; if you prefer the digital realm, you can download mind map software - for free, in some instances.

Tutors

Let's face it: life-defining exams are no walk in the park. Your entire future - from your earning potential to your quality of life depends on how well you do on your Higher exams. We're not saying that to scare you, only to point out the far-reaching consequences this ordeal will have on your life.

With that in mind, consider private tuition.

A private tutor can help you establish a study schedule and keep you to it. Tutors excel at passing on study and test-taking skills, at weeding through the mounds of study material to get to the critical parts and, most importantly, can help you build your confidence so that you face your ordeal with calm determination.

Superprof has hundreds of biology tutors on standby. Their qualifications range from the highly educated and experienced to undergraduate university students for whom the memory of their Higher ordeal is still fresh.

Online or in-person (when it's safe to, of course), with years in the teaching field or someone more relatable... Superprof biology tutors deliver the goods. You only need to ask.

Incidentally, you can find tutors and quizlets for Advanced Higher Biology, too.

Your interest in biology can lead to an interesting career
Your early interest in biology will no doubt reward you with a satisfying career. Photo credit: Atli Harðarson on Visualhunt

Higher Biology Notes from Other Sources

Pro revision tip: the best way to pass Higher Biology is to draw upon as many resources as possible. In that spirit, we close this article out with a list of websites you can find additional revision materials on.

  • Saint Andrews Academy: materials organised by study units
  • Oronsay.org: an expansive offering of everything from teachers' presentations to student worksheets
  • Springburn Biology Department: a list of Powerpoint presentations organised by key areas
  • Prestwick Academy: an overview of study modules with a comprehensive study map at the bottom of the page.
  • Compassion in World Farming (ciwf.org.uk): this site is more meant for teachers as it is packed with classroom activities to help foster a deeper understanding of biology. Targeted to Module 3.

Whether you're dismayed or jumping for joy at not sitting exams this year, you should still put in the study time and effort so that, next, year, you'll be ready for your Advanced Higher exams.

Anyway, considering you're likely aiming for a career underpinned by biology, isn't it worth your while to learn everything you can?

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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.