Tagged: revision

How to revise in the holidays: some PMGBiology tips for 2017….


Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 11.40.24Sometimes the hardest thing with revision is getting started…..  This post is meant to help you think about how best to make the most difficult first steps towards securing your A* grade.  I went through this with my Y11 classes before the end of term so this is just a re-cap.  There are very few original thoughts here (story of my life….) but perhaps I can inspire you to get started early in the holidays with your Biology revision….?

Most important – have a plan for the Easter holidays

Work out how many days you have available to revise over the holidays.  This will not be the same as the total number of days of holiday as you should have rest days where you do no work at all.  Ask your parents what family commitments you have coming up, think about your social life and subtract the days when it will be impossible for you to work.  This gives you a number of “working days”.

What do you do on a “working day”?

I suggest that you never try to do more than 4-5 hours of work in any one day.  Revision is not measured in hours, it is measured in progress and learning.  2 hours of effective work might be better than 10 hours inefficient time at your desk.  The aim here is to maximise the benefit you gain from your revision, not simply clocking up the hours.

Here is how I would organise things if it were me…..  Divide the working day into three sessions:

  • Morning:  9.30am – 12pm
  • Afternoon:  2pm – 4.30pm
  • Evening:  7pm – 9.30pm

The plan is this.  On a working day you always work in the morning session, every day, no excuses…. Ask your parents to be ruthless in waking you up and don’t allow yourself ever to sleep later than 8.30am or so.  There will be plenty of time for lie-ins and getting up at lunchtime in the summer holidays.  By midday, you will always have done half the work of the day.  How happy will that make you feel? Then choose either the afternoon or evening session (but never both) depending on how you feel and what other plans you have for the day.

How to organise a “revision session”

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You need a kitchen timer like the one shown above (not to scale as the textbook is quite large and the timer is quite small…..).  I bet if you ask nicely your mum or dad will let you borrow the one in the kitchen.  For Biology work, you also need your textbook and revision notes.   This is how I suggest you work.  Set the timer to 25 minutes, switch off your phone and start work.  Work at a topic until the buzzer sounds – no distractions allowed…. If your phone beeps, ignore it.  Snapchat can wait!    After 25 minutes stop and have 5 minutes off.  Make a cup of tea, check your phone and repeat.

I suggest that you revise 5 different subjects in one session.  (5 x 25 minutes)  You must try to make your revision interesting so you don’t get bored.  Bored people do not learn anything……

Different people learn best in different ways so do what works for you.  What works for no-one is just reading….  Make notes, revision cards, write out definitions of key facts, use IT if that rocks your boat, whatever you like just do not sit and read your textbook.  The key thing is to go over ideas as many times as possible, test yourself on your recall of facts and then try to practise some past paper questions.  Most importantly, try to have fun!  If you are enjoying it, you will be learning and that is the idea I guess.

Finally, the main benefit of having a plan is this….. When you are not supposed to be working (according to your beautifully crafted plan), you can switch off properly without feeling even a teeny bit guilty.  You can combine revising with getting on with enjoying your life.  The two things are not mutually exclusive!!  And with luck you will avoid feeling like Stewie in the picture below. If only he had a proper revision plan…..


How to answer multiple choice questions: a quick guide

Many of the students I teach are facing end-of-term exams next week.  And for my Y9 and Y10 students these are multiple choice papers which pose a different challenge to the more usual structured answer format.  So here is a quick PMG guide to help you score the highest mark you can on this kind of paper.  Good luck!

1) Don’t underestimate the opposition!

The biggest mistake students make with these exams is to be over-confident.  The reason GCSE exams no longer contain any multiple choice questions is because it was felt that this type of question is too difficult.  The examiner, by selecting four incorrect responses to every question, is trying to catch you out and the more plausible the incorrect responses, the better the question!  So your understanding needs to be really good to not be tricky by these underhand tactics…. Get revising!

2) Read the question carefully.

This skill is tested even more fully in a multiple choice exam. You spend less time writing answers (obviously), so this allows more time for reading and thinking.  Even with a “mark a minute” time frame, there is time for thinking and planning before deciding on a correct answer.  Write on the question paper, use it for rough work and planning.  And RTQ carefully – with many similar but incorrect answers on the page, it is so easy to decide too quickly what the correct response is and so miss out on marks you could obtain with a little more care.

3) Try to eliminate the obviously incorrect answers:  this will mean you are only focussing your thinking on the possibles.  It also means if you have to guess, you are maximising your odds of being lucky!  But be careful….. This strategy has an obvious flaw so be careful in what you eliminate.

4) Your best chance of getting a question right is the first time you answer it. So I suggest you leave blank any answers you are unsure of on your first go through the paper.  Don’t spend more than a minute on any question on this first pass through the paper.  You can come back to look at the harder questions at the end of the exam.  It is much harder in an exam to spot an error in a question you have already answered, so I would leave answers blank unless I am sure I am right….

5) Keep an eye on the time.  After 20 minutes of the exam, check that you are ahead of the time.  Most multiple choice exams are a “mark a minute” but I know that in our internal exams this isn’t always the case, so check.

6) Finally, make sure you answer every question.  There is only positive marking in these exams so you should always guess (see point 3 above).  The only way you can guarantee you won’t get a mark is if you leave the question blank!

Take a pencil and a rubber to these exams – both will be useful!  And good luck……..

Last minute panic

Clearly there is a lot of last minute cramming going on before IGCSE Biology paper 2 tomorrow….

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That is absolutely fine but please remember you also need a good night’s sleep so your head is clear.  Knowledge is only a part of the skills required tomorrow in the exam and at least as big a part will be played by your ability to read the question, to think clearly, to recall good answers and to show your understanding clearly on the page.  All of these will benefit if you get a good night’s sleep tonight!

Take your time to read the question carefully and before you start writing any response, take a moment to think “what are the key scientific terms I need to use to show my understanding?”  So many marks are lost by waffling on without actually stating the key idea!


IGCSE Biology paper 2 – predictions

I am always very wary of trying to “second guess” IGCSE examiners and predict what questions might come up as it can be a risky business.  But as all the Y11 students out there start a well-earned half term, I thought I would put up a short post with some suggestions as to areas of the specification that have not yet been tested.

Important Disclaimer:  Remember that the examiners can set questions on the entire specification in paper 2 (including all the bullet points in bold).  It seems more likely to me that the questions will be on areas of the specification not yet tested in paper 1 but you cannot guarantee it.  So please make sure you revise the entire specification and are as prepared as you can for any questions that might come up.

Topics not yet assessed on 2016 paper 1

  • Viruses 1.2
  • Enzymes and Biological Molecules 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 2.8, 2.9, 2.10. 2.11
  • Movement across Membranes (Diffusion and Osmosis) 2.12, 2.13, 2.14, 2.15, 2.16
  • Photosynthesis 2.17, 2.18, 2.19. 2.20. 2.21, 2.22
  • Breathing 2.44, 2.45, 2.46, 2.47, 2.48
  • Respiration 2.32, 2.33, 2.34, 2.35, 2.36
  • Kidney and Excretion 2.68, 2.69, 2.70, 2.71, 2.72, 2.73, 2.74, 2.75, 2.76
  • Plant Responses 2.80, 2.81, 2.82
  • Reproduction in Plants 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7
  • Water/Carbon/Nitrogen Cycles 4.8, 4.9, 4.10
  • Food Production (crops) 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4
  • Food Production (microorganisms) 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, 5.8
  • Fish Farming 5.9
  • Genetic Modification 5.12, 5.13, 5.14, 5.15, 5.16

Remember that there are posts on almost all these topics on the blog so use the search function on the Home page and just type in the syllabus code.

Finally, keep working hard. It is easy to get too comfortable about your exams now that many have already been sat.  A little bit of fear is still a good thing, so remember that 33% of your GCSE marks are still up for grabs and this paper 2 will make all the difference in determining your final grade.  No short cuts now, keep being organised, methodical and diligent.  The summer holiday will give you plenty of opportunities to socialise, have fun and relax so try to keep the momentum up in this coming week.  Good luck!

Any questions, please ask by leaving a comment on this blog post.

Last few IGCSE Biology blog posts on their way…

I am very close to having a comprehensive coverage of the EdExcel iGCSE Biology specification on my site.  These are the last few topics I need to address:

  • Female Reproductive system
  • Mineral Ions in Plants
  • Human diet
  • The Digestive System in Mammals
  • Small Intestine
  • Comparison between Sexual and Asexual reproduction
  • Cell Division
  • Use of Quadrats
  • Air pollution and Climate Change
  • Deforestation
  • Microorganisms and Food Production
  • Growing Crop plants
  • Fish farming
  • Cloning in Plants
  • Cloning in Animals

I hope that I can write the last few posts between now and Christmas.  Then I can focus again on the common areas of confusion and poor understanding in the run up to iGCSE papers in summer 2016.

Possible topics for IGCSE Biology paper 2 2015

Predicting the topics that might come up in an exam is always a risky business.  The most important thing to remember is that the examiners can ask questions on any topic at all in the paper 2 exam – this might include questions on topics they have asked already in the first paper .  The iGCSE specification is so large that it will be impossible for your understanding across the entire range to be assessed.

Having said that, I think it is sensible to focus your revision on topics that have not been assessed at all in paper 1.  My Head of Department has carefully been through the paper 1 (which I thought was an excellent exam by the way) and has come up with some suggestions as to what kind of questions might appear in paper 2.  (Note the important use of the word might…..)  Here is his list:

  • A question about blood, vaccination, pathogens, bringing in bacterial and viral structure, maybe comparing them to animal cells?
  • Something to do with enzymes, nutrients (monomers, polymers), some detail on elements of the digestive system that have not been covered?
  • Water uptake, osmosis, transpiration stream, potometers?
  • Photosynthesis biochemistry, maybe an experimental question, linking with respiration (hydrogencarbonate indicator experiment for example?)
  • Nervous system – reflex arc and eye structure and function are both ripe for a good question
  • Homeostasis question, on thermoregulation or kidney function
  • A question about cloning that links in with cell division, mitosis and meiosis, asexual versus sexual reproduction
  • Natural selection, evolution, selective breeding, maybe linked to an environmental context (e.g. global warming), or food production (e.g. fish farming)
  • Food webs and energy flow, along with a carbon/water/nitrogen cycle component
  • A respiration question that ties in with yoghurt and/or beer production

I think this is a really sensible list and a good way to start your revision for paper 2 in June.  Look at each of these topics carefully, make sure you understand the details in the specification and then have a go at past paper questions on each of these subject areas.  I will try to get some new blog posts up that address these bullet points in the next week or two (fingers crossed…)  There is already quite a lot in the blog if you use the “Search PMGBiology” function at the top of the home page.

Good luck and keep working hard!

Ten Rules of Bad Studying (adapted and plagiarised from Barbara Oakley PhD)

On the back of the document Barbara Oakley used to describe good studying and learning (see previous post) she also described Ten Techniques seen in Bad Learning.  These should “all be avoided as they can waste your time even while they fool you into thinking you are learning”.  You have been warned…

1. Passive re-reading. Sitting passively and running your eyes over a page.  Unless you can prove to yourself that the ideas are moving into your brain by recalling the main ideas without looking at the page, re-reading is a waste of time.

2. Letting highlights overwhelm you.  Highlighting text can fool you into thinking you are putting something in your brain,when all you are doing is moving your hand! A little highlighting here and there is ok but so often I see students who have basically coloured their notes in….  Use sparingly to flag up one or two important points per page, but no more than that please….

3. Merely glancing at mark schemes and model answers and thinking you could do it.  This is one of the worse errors students make while studying according to Dr Oakley.  You need to be able to solve a problem step-by-step (or answer a question one point at a time) without looking at the solution or mark scheme.

4. Waiting until the last minute to study.  Well we are less than 18 hours away from the main iGCSE exam so I hope none of you have done this!  Would you cram at the last minute if you were competing at an athletics event?

5. Repeating solving problems of the same type that you already know how to solve.  I see this a lot in Biology – students repeatedly practising the easy questions on topics they already know they understand. Waste of time!

6. Letting study sessions with friends turn into chat sessions.  Revision with friends can be fun as it allows you to check your problem solving, quiz each other and expose flaws in your thinking.  But there is a risk and that is that the fun can come before the learning and then you are all wasting your time….

7. Neglecting to read the textbook before working on problems/past papers.  I see this a lot too – students dive into past papers from the internet without bothering to read the textbook or try to learn the topics thoroughly. Would you dive into a swimming pool before you learn how to swim?  The textbook is your swimming instructor – so pay attention and work at it.  Past papers are conning you that you are revising if this is the first thing you do.

8. Not checking with your teachers to ask for help.  Teachers expect students to come to ask for help – it is our job to help you prepare for exams after all.  The students we worry about are the ones who don’t come in for help.  Don’t be one of those students.

9. Thinking you can learn deeply when you are being constantly distracted.  “Every tiny pull toward an instant message or conversation means you have less brain power to devote to your learning. Every tug of interrupted learning pulls out the tiny neural roots before they can grow.”

10. Not getting enough sleep.  I have written about this several times before and it is a biggy…. I am delighted Barbara Oakley shares my point of view.    Your brain pieces together problem-solving techniques and understanding when you sleep.  It also repeats and practises what you have put into your mind before you sleep.  Prolonged fatigue builds up toxins in the brain that disrupt the neural connections you need to think quickly and well.  If you don’t get a proper sleep before a test or exam, nothing else you have done will matter.  So please take note and go to bed tonight!