Tips on Answering AQA Biology Exam Questions

We all know that a well designed and rigorous revision schedule is necessary to pass any exam. Make sure to use plenty of past papers and understand the types of questions that are likely to come up. This will put you at ease and reassure you that you can answer the exam. Once you're in the exam however, there are plenty of tips we can offer you to help improve and optimise your answers and exam performance. During the exam:

  1. Read through the exam! Prioritise the questions that you know the answers to easily and focus on getting those answers down. This will put you at ease. Then move on to focus on the more difficult questions, paying attention to how many marks each is worth.
  2. Manage your time. Use the number of marks per question to allocate your time. If you have a 1-hour exam and 60 marks, then spend no more than about a minute per mark. Specifically for AQA, they tend to put simpler questions at the start of a paper and harder questions at the end.
  3. Answer the question. Read through the question carefully and make sure you know what it is actually asking for.
  4. Be clear and concise. Make sure to put down only relevant information. Don't hesitate to plan your answer if it needs to be a bit longer. Make sure your sentences are short and precise and clearly answer the question. If you are asked to show your working, do so clearly, making use of the available space to answer the question.
  5. Cross out mistakes. Don't lose silly marks by leaving incorrect information on the page. Make sure it's cleary crossed out.
  6. Stay relaxed! If you're getting annoyed, pause and collect yourself and move on to a question you can answer.
  7. Re-read your work. If you have time, make sure to re-read what you've done.
  8. Keywords. Especially in biology you are going to be using a number of unfamiliar words. It is a good idea to know how to spell them and which subjects they relate to.

 

Answers
In short, the same as any other exam. But here are a few useful ideas, hopefully. Before the exam: Try and relax in the last half-an-hour or so before the exam. Read a book, sit quietly somewhere, listen to music - whatever works for you. Just don't do any last-minute revision. It almost certainly won't stay in your head anyway. So long as you've revised well in the weeks leading up to the exam you should be OK. As soon as the exam starts: Read through the whole paper, paying attention to number of marks per question. Make a note of any questions you know you can do without much trouble. Don't spend any longer than two minutes or so for each hour the exam lasts. During the exam: Time management. Almost always you'll be given the number of marks awarded for a question. Use this as a guide for how long you should spend on the question. For example, if you have a two-hour paper and one hundred total marks, then aim to spend no more than about a minute per mark. On a ten-mark question, if you still haven't finished it after ten minutes, leave the question and move on to another one. Time management is vital. Make sure you know what the question is asking you to do. This just means that you should read through the question carefully before attempting it. I've made this mistake a couple of times myself, missing a key word, and it can lose time or worse marks, so be sure never to put pen to paper until you know what you are going to write. Be clear and concise in your answers. For diagrams, don't fuss too much over perfect accuracy but make sure that all the key points are there, in the right place, and clearly labelled. For "Brief notes" questions, bullet-point sentences containing relevant information will do as well as, if not better than, a brief essay where the information required is buried under too many words. If you are asked to show your working, do so clearly, making use of the available space to answer the question. Don't skip too many lines of working at once. If ever you get stuck on a question but feel you know where you should be going, say so! It may not make a difference all of the time but if you can convince the examiner that you know what you are trying to do you may get a little extra credit. Also because it's possible that there's a mistake on the exam preventing you from answering the question, saying that you know what is required can help a bit to gain the credit you missed. This also helps if you found that you made a mistake and had to go back and make changes, to help guide the marker through what you actually did. Any mistakes should be crossed out, but just in case you weren't going wrong try to make sure it's clear what you wrote. Unless you're really frustrated, in which case scribble away if it helps to calm you down. Stay relaxed!!! If you're getting angry or frustrated or scared take a short moment to pause and collect yourself. At the end of the exam: Just before the exam ends, if you can, leave yourself a few minutes (ideally five) to read over all you've done. You may pick up a couple of mistakes and gain more marks than plodding through the short question you were just trying to finish. After the exam: Some people enjoy thinking about all the answers they gave and comparing it with other people's, but others prefer to forget all about it. I'd try to forget about it if you can and move on to the next one. Hope all this helps. Remember that the main points are RELAXATION, TIME MANAGEMENT, and UNDERSTANDING THE QUESTION. Good luck.
jim360
09 September 2012
One of the key aspects to a biology exam is being able to allocate facts, keywords or statements to marks. For example, when asked what an enzyme is for one mark, you could simply give the biological definition 'an enzyme is a biological catalyst'. If it is two marks, you would write 'an enzyme is a biological catalyst that speeds up a specific reaction by lowering activation energy'. The 'biological catalsyt', 'specificity' and 'activation energy' statements within this answer are all worth one mark. A good way to practice this is to go through marking schemes. Over the years, you will start to find phrases and key words that are often repeated. In your revision notes, highlight key terms (usually the scientific terms) so that you remember to put these in. It can be frustraing to write a correct answer but not recieve the marks because you left the terms out.
hywel
19 September 2012
When it comes to application questions try linking what has happened as a series of events. For example, when you are asked to explain why a certain change is occuring due to an experiement, follow a logical series of events that results in the change i.e. in the experiment A is changing. This causes B to change, which causes C to change. As a results D occurs. This way, a four mark application question can be reduced to a series of statements that can be allocated to the marks.
hywel
19 September 2012
Look at the way the question is worded. What they are asking you to do is very crucial. Words such as 'describe', 'explain', 'state' and 'define' all have different meanings and doing one instead of the other can cost you a lot for marks! In reference to these four, describe is simply say what you see - don't say why or how. If you are asked to describe a graph you simply write what is happening on the graph. Explain means to say why or how. Explaining the graph means you need to say why the changes occur and what is causing them. Define and state are very similar and are usually one mark answers. Whereas define usually asks you say what something is 'define respiration' state usually asks you to give one short statement to answer a particular question 'state why the heat is increasing - the heat is increasing because respiration is occuring'. Sometimes state and define can even be the same thing! Always make sure you look at the way the question wants you to answer it before you start writing.
hywel
19 September 2012
I agree that time management is an important skill but remember this will come with practice. Try getting some past papers and practice working on them. The most important aspect of time management is to allocate more time to questions that are harder (usually at the start). AQA puts simpler questions in the beginning and application questions at the end. These are about 5 marks and 10 marks respectively. Understanably you'd want to allocate more time to the 10 markers! WJEC contain essay questions at the back that need a lot of information but,if you know your topic, can be quickly answered. If you don't know them then they'll need more time to think up the answers.
hywel
19 September 2012
If you suffer from nerves then a good method of calming yourself is to practice under timed conditions. Get used to the pressure of needing to finish within a certain length of time and it will come easier in the future. Also, try flicking through the paper and finding the questions you prefer. The exam questions don't have to be done in order and you can always come back to difficult questions. Don't spend tonnes of time mulling over a question you're completely stuck on - you'll only get upset and frustrated! Mark any you could do or weren't sure of with a small dot and you can come back once you've finished the paper.
hywel
19 September 2012
one tip of advice I can give is to ask for extra time on the exam if you need it remember never rush an exam.
bodytherapist
09 November 2012
hi
bodytherapist
09 November 2012
So many useful tips given already - one other idea with particular reference to keywords and definitions in biology. Having taught to A Level, students often don't give enough importance to them. My advice is to ensure that prior to exam (as part of the revision process) ensure that you have a full list of relevant keywords, be able to spell them correctly (incorrect spelling will lose you marks!), be able to put them into context and within a topic be able to make connections between them. During the exam, read the question carefully and perhaps make a list of keywords that come to mind. This would help ensure that you give a comprehensive answer. Also, be mindful that describing a concept one way and then again in reverse will not automatically earn you two separate points. Therefore during revision, ensure that you scrutinise mark schemes and understand why marks are awarded (or not!).
hellouk
09 November 2012
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