How to Get an A in Biology [7 Steps]
Biology is hardly a subject that you can pick up in 2 seconds. It incorporates a little bit of Chemistry and Mathematics, mixed with its own principles - which makes it complex to say the least!
In saying this, the amazing thing about biology is that it is obvious in world around you.
Every plant around you has similar processes in its leaves, and every human has the same organ system driven by cells that work and replicate millions of times over the course of a life span. While there is a lot to learn and it is content heavy, biology is something that you can really apply to the real world!
This makes arguably easier to remember than other subjects like English and Maths. How a new protein is catalysed in the muscle or how your DNA replicates itself can stick easily since you’ll see it when your body operates and moves. If one of your friends or family gets sick, Biology explains how it happened and what the treatment options are.
In the long run, you become more understanding and appreciative of the world around you, and how it works.
Through all the complex processes and knowledge that you’ll face in Biology, always relating the concept back to its relevance in life and how it can help people is a great way to maintain motivation throughout the year. Maintaining that motivation, plus utilising all of the following 7 key tips, will guarantee your stance as an expert A-level Biology student!
- Step 1. Accept the Long, Difficult Work
- Step 2. Know your language
- Step 3. Diagrams and flow charts are your best friend
- Step 4. Be aware of everything – attempt to know all things
- Step 5. EBI Tests – make sure you’re prepped properly!!
- Step 6. Plan for the assignment and exams coming up – long term
- Step 7. Summaries – make them good, make them often
Step 1. Accept the Long, Difficult Work
At some point in Biology, there’s going to be a terms list that your teacher will give you with the instruction to simply “learn it”.
I’ll talk about the importance of knowing all this language a little later on, but you need to be prepared to have your brain overflowing with terms, knowledge and processes that are all unfamiliar, hard to learn and downright weird.
For how long will you need to be prepared to be able to recall this knowledge?
In my opinion, you’ll need to know it all year – if not across your entire time in Biology class.
Over your 40 weeks of school, you learn something new every day from each teacher in each class, and you’re expected to retain this information constantly. That system doesn’t change at any point, no matter what year of school you’re in – so it is up to you to take it in, and accept it.
One of my favourite teachers in school once told us that school should be looked at as if it’s the Tour De France.
When cycling in the Tour De France, you know it’s going to be hard work. You don’t embark on the journey expecting it to be easy, for everyone to just cruise along together – especially not if you’re wanting to get that golden first place.
No athlete in their right mind would head into the race complaining about how much work it is, how much effort they have to put in, and how much they want to give up. Losing is not an option for them.
But when we look at the incredible amount of work that is ahead of us – be it in Biology, any other subject, or even in life in general – and give up out of sheer fear, we make losing our only option.
Motivation is the key that will allow your effort to rise and meet your goals. Only when it does can you truly achieve highly.
If you know you’re struggling with motivation, make sure to check out our blog all about staying motivated and putting in a complete 100% effort in your schooling.
Step 2. Know your language
As I mentioned earlier, there will be many terms that you need to learn. Are all of them important?
The answer is, unavoidably, yes.
Just like the words “and”, “but”, and “the” in the English language are completely necessary to allow the language to flow, various terms in Biology have a specific meaning that allow you to explain various processes when writing an assignment or in an exam.
It also goes beyond just knowing the language, as you need to understand the key concepts to perform better in assessments.
“But Gyan”, you ask, “isn't knowing and understanding the same thing?”
To that, I say, “Nope!” There is a distinct difference between knowing a concept and understanding the concept – see below:
Often means simply memorising a flow chart or paragraph that relates to the concept, and how it works
Knowing how the concept applies in every context; knowing why something happens, and what would happen to each factor if something changed, etc
Take, for example, the term ‘Founder effect’. If you know that the Founder effect is the variation of a population that’s all well and good – but what happens if you get an applied question where you’re given information, and asked whether the Founder’s effect applies to them?
Are you going to be able to apply your knowledge to answer the question? What if new variables are thrown in?
Students who simply know the content will be great in knowledge sections, but can struggle intensely when it comes to understanding and applying of their knowledge. Those who not only know but also understand what they’re learning are those who truly have a leg up on their education!
Step 3. Diagrams and flow charts are your best friend
One of the best ways to retain a lot of information about biological principles is to create diagrams and flow charts.
It can often be very hard to remember a lot of information if it’s simply written out onto a page. Often the words will start to blur and you won’t want to remember anything that you learn.
Instead of making a hard subject even harder for yourself, make it easier by using these visual aides to guide you through the more difficult concepts:
- Flow chart of all subheadings and headings
- Definitions of broad concepts, and their effects on other concepts (use different colours for different
- Mind maps
Knowing the headings and subheadings for concepts is critical, since it helps your flow of thought when answering long and broad response questions.
Having visual aids allow you to see the process to an answer in your mind, making it easier to retain the information (especially if you’re a visual learner).
Visual study techniques are also advantageous for studying in time-stressed situations. If you’re about to head into a test, it can be difficult to write out full answers to questions and revise in that way. With diagrams and flow charts, you can still bring back to mind certain content, and process a far larger amount of information in that short time.
In saying all of this, visual information can be less in depth - which is why the next tip is so important:
Step 4. Be aware of everything – attempt to know all things
I know, it’s a little intimidating being asked to know everything in a subject. Ultimately, though, to get an A, that’s the mentality you have to develop.
There isn’t a drastic difference between those who get B’s and those who get A’s, but there are a few key things that mark that grade increase. B-grade students:
- Know the content well
- Can deliver on the briefs in assignments
- Can analyse situations effectively
However, they do so to a limited extent. They tend to study in very short amounts, or tend to learn things superficially (like only studying with visual techniques, rather than going in-depth). They don't plan their study or work ahead.
Most importantly, a B-standard student would try to find out what the exam question would be, and study solely for that. However, an A-standard student flips this mindset upside down, and assumes that anything and everything will be assessed.
This is the one key difference between an A and B student - going the extra mile.
In this case, it's in your knowledge and understanding. It's vital for your understanding, as well! Even knowing only 75% of the overall content is better than someone who knows the major 10% of the 5 different topics that have been covered.
Step 5. EBI Tests – make sure you’re prepped properly!!
EBI Tests are used to assess your ability to ‘E’valuate ‘B’iological ‘I’ssues. Essentially, schools will want to see how well you can use your brain to analyse information presented to you in articles. Your responsibility is to back up your ideas with reliable and valid evidence.
So… how do you do that?
I’m glad you asked!
It starts with knowing your source. Be the person in class who always knows the author, the date published, where it was published and a few things about the author’s expertise in the area.
Once you know that, make sure you know the article’s themes inside out, so you can write about other relevant articles and connect them. Finding common themes between articles allow you to connect multiple sources, making your response that much better!
With unseen questions, make sure you’re very specific about what you do. Highlight key information so as to keep yourself on track, and answer all parts of the question thoroughly, especially if it relates to an article you’ve been given. Know your articles well, and apply the knowledge you get from them into your answers!
Step 6. Plan for the assignment and exams coming up – long term
Since there’s so much you need to know and so many notes you’ll need to make, planning is the key to knowing when and how much work you need to do throughout the term.
Studying is analogous to sport. When training, an athlete must be aware of their intensity and volume of training so that they don’t burn out. When they have a break from competition and want to make serious gains in their fitness, they will up their frequency of training and train at a medium intensity in order to maintain consistent gains, but avoid becoming exhausted and burning out in the process.
However, when competition comes closer and they need to perform at their peak, they will up the intensity but decrease the frequency of their training, so that they are performing at a high level but still avoid overwork and burn out.
Similarly, you need to study in a way that allows for you to work hard in the lead up to exams and assignments, without you burning out due to over-stressing and pure exhaustion. The best way to do this is to plan before the term starts what the intensity and frequency of work for each week of term will be, based on the amount of school work that you’re going to get.
Now I’m not saying that you’ll get those allocations right straight away, but at least by knowing when your busy times of the term are, you know when you need to be putting in the effort and when you can relax a little bit. You also then allocate time to get ahead with content if you have spare time before exams or assignments.
In saying this, the best planners can work with a holistic plan that covers all their subjects - meaning that they know when to up the intensity of their study of subjects individually. These people are those who seem to have a lot of time. Realistically, they’re just in control and know exactly what is needed from them at any given point in time. They don’t do any more or any less, and that reduces stress for them.
You definitely want to get to that state, and early preparation is key in that regard!
Step 7. Summaries – make them good, make them often
Last but not least, putting time into your study notes allows you to keep track of what you’ve learnt and when. If you’re not making summaries and revisiting the concepts that you learn in class within the next week, it becomes very challenging (as in almost impossible) to learn all concepts to an A level in the limited time that you have during the term.
This is a challenge for all of your subjects, but especially for Biology, as you will be overloaded with content on a day to day basis. This content can’t simply be learnt and then forgotten – every day following, the content you previously learnt will be expanded on. Therefore, you need to find a place to store daily information, so that you can return back to it.
The best way to do this is to write out summaries. HOWEVER, it’s not enough to only write it – you need to make it appealing to look at. Use diagrams when describing mechanisms or labelling things, flow charts when there’s a process you’re summarising, and make sure you highlight your written concept notes so that the main points jump out at you from the page.
After this, studying becomes merely rewriting what you have highlighted into more succinct sentences, until you understand the concept completely.
Setting aside time every week to do this specifically will allow you to stay on top of your work, but you must develop a habit of doing it. Healthy habits like this will help you absolutely ace Biology, and might even flood over into your other subjects, propelling you towards success in all areas of your education!