Tagged: exam technique

Three days to go…..

For those students following the EdExcel IGCSE Biology course there are now just three days to go until the paper 1.  This is the two hour exam covering all the specification (with the exception of the handful of content points in bold).  If you started revision early enough, you should know be feeling confident that you have the knowledge and understanding needed for whatever challenge the examiner might throw at you.  So how best to use your time in the final few days…?  It is a tricky question as the answer will vary for different people – you must always do what you think is best for you and your chances.

But if it were me, I would be trying to do the following:

  1. Have a go at as many past paper questions as possible over the weekend.  Answer the questions under exam conditions, then mark them yourselves using the mark schemes available online.  Pay particular attention to marks lost due to poor reading/interpretation of the question or poor-exam technique.
  2. Prepare yourself for the questions that you “know” will come up on Tuesday.  It is almost certain that there will be a genetics question to make sure you remember how to set out genetic crosses correctly.  There is always a graph to plot and questions asking you to describe the pattern in a set of results.  How can you ensure you always get full marks on these questions which require no biological understanding to answer?
  3. Look at the experimental design questions and continue to practise them.  Check over all the required practicals mentioned in the specification and ensure you understand how they work.

Finally on Monday night, please get an early night so you are refreshed and ready for a 2 hour paper.  There is no point doing hours and hours of last minute cramming as it simply doesn’t work.  If the Biology exam were like a Spanish vocab test then I would encourage you to spend four hours before the paper going over and over the material….. But your exam is going to require you to interpret data, to make suggestions and come up with explanations for things you haven’t seen before.    You cannot think clearly or concentrate fully on reading the question when you are exhausted.  So if you decide to cram, the chances are that many more marks will be lost through tiredness than will be gained by any short-term memory gains.

Please go to bed at a normal time on Monday night and wake up at a normal time on Tuesday morning.

And the very best of luck to you all!

Banned Words in IGCSE Biology answers

There are one or two words which you should never use in your answers to IGCSE Biology papers.

  •  The boys I teach know that amount is a banned word.  If you find yourself writing amount, please cross it out immediately and think which of the following terms is actually the word you should be using:  concentration, volume, mass, number .

[Amount has a specific meaning in science:  it means the number of moles of a substance and seeing as you don’t need to know about the dreaded mole for Biology, it should never be used.]

Mole (this is a good photo of the dreaded mole)

  • Be wary of using the word nutrient without giving an example of what molecule you mean.  A nutrient is food molecule like glucose, amino acid or lipid.  When you are describing the things in soil that are absorbed into the roots and are transported in xylem, it is better to refer to them as minerals.


  • Level does not mean the same as concentration.  Don’t write about the level of oxygen when you mean concentration.


CORMS is dead: Long live DORIC

In Ancient Greece, the Doric order was one of their favoured architectural styles and offered the simplest way of decorating columns.. As you can see from the featured image, Doric columns have an undecorated square capital at their top.

I am sure you won’t get questions on ancient architectural styles in your GCSE Biology, but Doric (now DORIC) is perhaps a simpler way of remembering the key points to include in the experimental design questions in the exam.  I have written about CORMS before and there is nothing new in this post, simply a new acronym.

D stands for Dependent Variable.   This is what you will measure in your experiment.  The mark is often for how you plan to measure the dependent variable, how frequently you will take measurements etc.

O stands for Organisms.  What are the key variables relating to the organisms involved?  If using a living organism in your experiment (other than humans) often this involves using organisms of the same species, the same age and sometimes the same mass.  If you are using humans, you often need to standardise your groups for gender, health, age etc.

R stands for Repeats.  If you do more than one replicate of each set of conditions, it allows you to see how reliable your method is and also allows an average result to be calculated.  Think about how many repeats you think you would do: it depends on the experiment of course.  In a laboratory experiment, three might be sensible, if you are growing seeds to investigate germination, you might grow 200 identical seeds in a tray…..

I stands for Independent Variable.  This is the thing you are going to alter in the experiment.  So how do you intend to alter it and over what range?

C stands for Control Variables:  what are the variables that need keeping the same in every experiment in order to make the investigation a fair test?  Think what other factors might affect the dependent variable other than the one you are investigating.  And then think how you would keep them constant in an experiment.  I would suggest you need to identify at least two or three of the most obvious control variables to ensure you get full marks.

Simple!  DORIC is the new CORMS….

Last minute advice: no cramming please

I hope the paper goes really well this morning and all the hard work you have done pays off. This is the culmination of three years of work and there is little to be gained from any last minute cramming this morning. So I would try to relax and summon up your concentration and will for this one last exam.

  • Have a proper breakfast.
  • Make sure you are properly hydrated – fruit juice this morning and water in the exam (if allowed)
  • Read the question carefullyevery word in every question. If there are data given in the question, take your time to make sure you understand what the data means before starting to answer any questions.

If there is a risk for you today, it is that it is easy to get too blasé and slapdash in the final exams in a set. You have sat many papers in the last few weeks and you can forget the importance of the exam technique and question-answering skills you had honed in the middle of May. Please don’t let that happen to you. Focus for the entire 60 minutes, think before writing and don’t waffle.

  • Any question with more than 3 marks should be answered with bullet points.

Enjoy this morning, enjoy showing the examiner your mastery of iGCSE Biology and then enjoy a long, well-deserved summer holiday.