What's on the test?
What student hasn't at least wondered what would feature on an upcoming exam? For those of us who were a bit shy, we always silently thanked our more vocal peers for their audacity in asking about what we all wanted to know.
Of course, when it comes to Higher exams, we don't really have to ask, do we? The SQA is generous in giving us four years worth of past papers and marking information. We can get a pretty good idea of what's on the exam by reviewing what past exams contain.
That's not the whole story, though, is it?
Exams are about so much more than just the knowledge required to pass them. How are they structured? What's expected of us and how best can we deliver?
Those are the questions Superprof tackles in this article.
Know What You're Up Against
Think about the most popular film franchises: the Maze Runner, Hunger Games... even Harry Potter. They all have one theme in common: the characters go in not knowing what to expect; they have to adapt to situations as they arise.
These and other stories serve as an object lesson.
That lesson is 'Be prepared!', of course. Unfortunately, many students believe that being prepared simply means knowing everything there is to know on their subject matter. Such a limited idea of preparedness has been the downfall of students all over the world.
For one, you have to know how you will be tested. Will there be any multiple choice questions? Essay questions? How are those questions formulated and what are the expected responses? Conversely, what would be considered an unacceptable response?
And then, you have to be honest with yourself. For instance, you have to acknowledge that you excel at answering multiple choice questions but extended response questions knock you for a loop - or vice versa. Or you may not have trouble with any question format but with working under pressure - maybe you don't work well under a time limit.
Maybe you're one of the millions of students worldwide who battle test anxiety.
Simply knowing all about biology isn't enough to guarantee you good marks on your exam. To ensure the best outcome, you must consider the challenge as a whole - everything from each paper you'll have to write to your particular test-taking pitfalls.
Those preparing to sit Advanced Higher Biology might be a bit more in-tune with that particular aspect of test-taking. On the other hand, as you most likely sat National 5, you too probably know which aspects of exam-sitting are most challenging for you.
Know What's Expected of You
How silly! Of course, you know what's expected of you: getting a good grade, right? Also, extended practice sessions and lots of revision. So, you're all set, now! Right?
Wrong! As we mentioned above, if biology were all about knowledge, you could have it whipped simply by studying like mad until you know all there is to know at your particular level.
Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice. - Anton Chekhov
That Russian writer never sat Scottish Highers but he hit the nail on the head: your SQA exams are designed to test how well you can use the information you've amassed; not how much of it you have. If anything underscores the point we're making - that your higher is more than testing how much you know, it's that.
You are not expected to spew facts and figures but to analyse them, draw conclusions and express your ideas clearly. Nor are you expected to know all there is to know for your level of testing; each grade range allows for a few missed answers. In fact, examiners might get suspicious if you answer everything correctly.
The best way to know what's expected of you is to review SQA's marking information and course reports. Those reports are often overlooked but they may be the most valuable resource the SQA can provide.
They consist of an overall performance evaluation from all students who've sat that exam. It details what they did well, where they lagged and provides suggestions for what future students could do better.
How could any pupil not want that kind of information?
Higher Biology Study Resources
There's no doubt that, early in your Higher course studies, your teacher directed you to SQA's website. Maybe, if you're a jump ahead, you went there yourself to download every past paper and marking information available. Those are great revision resources but are they all you need?
Your exam is designed to test how well you can use information; why not maximise your ability to do that by building mind maps?
A mind map is a way to organise information and see how everything fits together. Let's say the topic at hand is human biology; that becomes the title of this particular map. You would then build subsets of information: anatomy, DNA, genes, metabolism and so on. Under each of these sub-headers, you would write information that pertains to each one.
You can either draw mind maps on poster board or use mapping software online.
Flashcards are another fantastic resource. You may build sets of cards for each category of biology you learn about and challenge your study group mates to a lively game of Guess the Answer. Having fun while learning makes it that much easier, don't you know...
If you have no time to write out your own cards, you might turn to Quizlet, a web-based study resource that allows you to create study sets and access those created by others. Quizlet allows you to study, play games and test your knowledge, all at no cost.
These study resources make great additions to Higher Biology past papers Course Reports you can find on SQA's website.
Higher Biology Notes
Unlike mathematics, biology is a rather specialised study subject. Consider that, if you enrol in a maths undergraduate programme, you may later qualify to work as an accountant, economist, physicist... a whole host of other professional fields. By contrast, biology doesn't translate well into a wide range of other disciplines.
Granted, biology counts among the natural sciences and, thus, a student could earn their undergraduate degree in biology and switch to geology, chemistry or physics for their graduate studies. They could, but it doesn't happen often.
Selecting Biology as one of your Higher exams proves the possibility that you're considering a career as a marine biologist, microbiologist, food safety specialist or even as a research assistant, helping to tackle the next pandemic virus before it makes itself known.
If all of that is true, biology cannot be a 'learn it and burn it' proposition.
Learn-it/burn-it is a common exam strategy many students adopt when studying topics that will have little bearing on their future career. It entails memorising the information needed to pass an exam without making any special effort to master that information.
Diagramming sentences might make the best case for learning and burning. Outside of school, few people, if any, go around diagramming sentences. That's not to say that knowing how to build effective sentences is a waste of time, only that, once you've mastered the skill, there's nothing more to learn about it.
No so with biology. It is a vast and as yet mostly unexplored field where knowledge is constantly evolving. Our understanding of organisms and how they interact is key to our planet's survival. If you plan to add to our collective knowledge base, you must learn everything and burn nothing.
For that, your Higher Biology serves to demonstrate how well you've succeeded at that. How can you get there?
- Feed your interest in biology: watch documentaries, read academic papers; go beyond what your school curriculum presents.
- Develop effective study habits: make sure you have a firm grasp of one topic before moving on to the next one
- Make full use of available resources: SQA past papers are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to studying for your Higher
- Draw on a variety of tools: textbooks, past papers and marking information are great but so are mind maps, flashcards and videos
- Get help when you need it.
Sitting Highers is a big deal. These exams take a lot of preparation and cause a lot of stress. Sometimes you just need someone who's more than familiar with the process and your subject matter to help you sort things out so you can go into your exam with a clear head.
Study groups are a great idea; you and a couple of thoughtfully-selected mates can study together. Tutoring is another excellent way to gain both knowledge and confidence.
Superprof's biology tutors can help you keep a focus on your studies while also helping you mentally prepare for the challenge you're about to face. In their role as academic coaches, they can help you hammer out study and test-taking strategies so that, come time to sit your higher, you'll be both competent and confident.
Need to know more? Consult our complete guide to Higher Biology...