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How To Get The Best Marks in GCSE Biology

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

GCSE Biology can be tough, but it is certainly a manageable challenge. Before you can celebrate your top marks come results day, there are some things that you can do to help yourself get the highest marks possible this summer.

Cell biology at GCSE

1. What do you need to know for GCSE Biology?

The first thing to be fully aware of is what topics you’ll be examined on in the exam period for GCSE Biology. If you understand exactly what the topics are, it’s much easier to break your revision down into key areas of specific topics.

  • The nature and variety of living organisms

  • Structures and functions in living organisms

  • Reproduction and inheritance

  • Ecology and the environment

  • Use of biological resources

  • Cell biology

  • Organisation

  • Infection and response

  • Bioenergetics

  • Homeostasis and response

  • Inheritance, variation and evolution

  • Ecology

  • Key ideas

  • Cell level systems

  • Scaling up

  • Organism level systems

  • Community level systems

  • Genes, inheritance and selection

  • Global challenges

  • Practical skills

You will be sitting two papers regardless of exam board. The Pearson Edexcel GCSE comprises 2 papers, and all topics will be covered in both papers. The first paper is 2 hours long and is worth 110 marks. The second paper is 1 hour and 15 minutes and is worth 70 marks.

For AQA the papers are each 1 hour and 45 minutes long and worth 100 marks each. In Paper 1 you will be assessed on topics 1–4: Cell biology; Organisation; Infection and response; and Bioenergetics. Then in Paper 2 you will answer questions on topics 5–7: Homeostasis and response; Inheritance, variation and evolution; and Ecology.

If you are sitting the OCR exam board, both papers are 90 marks each and last for 1 hour and 45 minutes and will cover Topics B1–B3 and B7: Cell level systems; Scaling up; Organism level systems and Practical skills. The second paper will assess you on Topics B4–B6 and also B7, which are: Community level systems; Genes, inheritance and selection; Global challenges and Practical skills.

2. What kind of questions are going to be asked in GCSE Biology?

It’s impossible to predict the exact question that will be in your exam paper in the summer. However, you can make sure that you’re fully prepared to answer a range of questions in different styles. It may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but make sure you understand what the question is asking you to do. There are certain words and phrases used in exams that can indicate that the examiner is looking for a specific type of answer. AQA refers to these as command words.

Describe – Give an account of how something happens. For instance, a “describe” question could ask you to outline a biological process or the order that a series of events occurs in.

State – You are being asked to give a fact. Usually, these questions will only be asking you for a word or short sentence and they rely on you having learnt and remembered that key piece of information.

Explain – A question asking you to “explain” something requires you to give the details as to why something happens. Questions like this can have multiple steps that push you to present a well-structured answer.

Compare and contrast – These questions can be a little trickier, people often get caught out by only completing one part, rather than both commands. Remember, you must show the key similarities and differences between two topics. If you don’t show a balanced argument, then you’ll miss out on the top marks.

3. How to revise for GCSE Biology?

There are no secret tips or hidden shortcuts that mean you don’t have to revise. Revision is essential for you to be able to retain the information that you’ve learnt about all the topics that are going to be in your exam. Some of the topics you won’t have covered in a long while and you’re bound to forget small details here and there.

Maybe you have your own revision techniques that really work for you, but if not, here are a few ideas that you might find beneficial:

Beat the Clock – Using textbook questions or past papers, give yourself a time limit for a question. Get a timer ready and answer the question as quickly as possible. This strategy is good for improving your time management skills and simulating the pressure of an exam environment.

Mind MappingMind maps are a great way to help you retain information. They can be useful when linking topics together. Start with a subject in the centre and write out all the important information you think you need to know. Start off by doing it from memory and then, using a different colour, add in information that you missed. This allows you to easily identify where the gaps in your knowledge may be.

Cue Cards – A great way to use cue cards is to write down key words or formulas that you struggle to remember. Then place the cue cars around your bedroom, or around the house and then you can use them as visual triggers to explain them. In the exam, if you find that you can’t remember a particular word or formula, visualise your route through the house and all the cue cards you pass, and if you learn them well enough, you should be able to remind yourself of all the information you wrote down.

Student as Teacher – One of the best ways to make sure that you really know the ins and outs of a subject is to teach it. Nobody expects you to get up in front of your class and let your teacher take the lesson off, but perhaps ask a relative or friend to pick a topic from your exam or an exam question from a past paper. Explaining an answer or trying to teach someone something new, can really help to cement the information in your memory, you might even realise that you know more than you think!

4. How to organise revision

Once you know what you need to revise and how you’re going to revise it, the next question is when are you going to revise it? It’s very easy to procrastinate and put things off, but that’s the best way to run out of time and find yourself under-prepared. The only thing that you really need is a diary, a wall planner or a revision timetable so you can see exactly how many weeks you have left until your exam. Next, you need to decide the days when you want to revise for your Biology exam.

As you start to get your revision underway, you can cross off each day that you do revision for Biology - that way you’ll be able to see exactly how you’re progressing. This can really help with your motivation to get your books out: building a routine is one of the best ways to make sure that you do something that you have committed to doing over a long period of time.

Blog Post Crafted by Shea

Shea runs our Admin Team at TT. You will often find Shea with his head buried in a science journal reading about new discoveries.

He is a massive sports fan and can often be found wearing the colours of the red side of North London. He also loves to travel and is hoping to visit many more countries in the upcoming year. His favourite trip so far was to the Pacific North West of America.

Shea has always had a very keen interest in the life sciences. In 2017, he graduated with a degree in Biology from the University of Northampton.


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