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Author Topic: Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice  (Read 12856 times)  Share 

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Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice
« on: July 18, 2018, 09:45:01 pm »

Hey fellow biologists! I was lucky enough to get a 50 in biology last year while in year 11, so Iíve decided to have a go at writing some advice for current biology students. Itís my first advice post, so itís not perfect, but feel free to ask me questions and Iíll add it to the post  ;)

When it came to picking our VCE subjects for year 11, I wasnít even considering studying biology 3/4. I didnít study the course over the summer holidays, or pay for pricy lectures, or give up on all my extracurriculars, yet at the end of the year Iíd achieved a study score of 50.  Read on for my advice! Hope you guys find something helpful from this guide.

1)   Everything in Biology is connected. Once youíve covered a significant amount of the course, youíll be able to see that everything is connected. For example, Protein synthesis is the process by which peptide-based hormones are created, which act as signalling molecules, vital components of respiration and photosynthesisÖ and the connections go on and on. Once you reach this point a lightbulb should go on in your brain, making the subject much easier and more eye-opening. Try to find the connections between different dot points of the study design, even between unit 3 and unit 4.

2)   Donít stress over sacs, use them as motivation to keep studying. For year 11s at my school, studying biology is almost a rite of passage. In the days preceding a bio sac, at lunchtime the library would be crammed with year 11s furiously finishing their last revision. In our naive year 11 hearts we all truly believed that our sac results would make or break our final end of year score. (This is mostly false; while it does depend on the cohort, the exam is the most important factor for determining study scores- remember, exam: 60%, sacs: 40%. And by looking at ranking and sac marks, everything gets moderated at the end of the year. Lots of posts on ATAR notes explaining this stuff). My sac average was 89%, but keep in mind I had a strong cohort, so some sacs were quite difficult. In terms of ranking, our teachers wouldnít tell us, but basing off what scores others got, I was not in the top bunch of students. I was totally surprised with my score, a 50 had only been a subconscious daydream buried in the back of my mind. If youíre looking for a 40+ score, to be safe, Iíd suggest aiming for 80-90%+ in your sacs, but no stress if you donít make it. Cue the segue onto my next point specially for year 11s- while your ĺ subject/s might seem like the most important thing in the school-related world, year 11 is a year to test things and find out how you study best. At the end of the year, if you mess up, thatís great, mistakes are one of the best ways to learn. If you donít mess up and finish with a score youíre proud of, thatís great too, and will help take some of the pressure off year 12. 

3)   Study consistently and start exam revision early. I was lucky enough for my school to provide 10+ years of past company exams and topic tests. If you were to take 1 piece of advice from this post- do not underestimate the power of practice papers. I didnít start full practice exams until the end of term 3, however I went through topic tests (around 50 mins writing time) mid-way through term to make sure Iíd covered everything. At the end of term 3, most schools should have covered nearly every topic, so you can definitely start exams by the holidays. Looking back, I could have started unit 3 exams even earlier, term 2 holidays perhaps, but this depends of course on how many practice exams you have available. Before a sac, Iíd go over the notes Iíd written in class, complete checkpoints, do some relevant topic tests and draw out diagrams of anything I struggled to remember.

4)   Go over what you donít understand with someone else. Whether this be your teacher, your friends, a tutor or past biology student, getting help if youíre stuck is absolutely crucial. I would write up a list of questions and ask my teacher or tutor to explain things to me. (I had a tutor for biology, but itís definitely not necessary- my friend got close to 50 through pure hard work). Some people found group study worked for them, but usually I preferred to work on my own to really target my own areas for improvement. If youíre reading this later on in the year, chances are youíve found how you study best already, so stick with that. Also, make sure you have the study design handy, particularly closer to the exam. I had it saved on my laptop, but print it out, laminate it, stick it in the shower, whatever works for you. When you come across stuff you donít understand, or what youíve forgotten, ASK. Your teachers are there for you, itís their job! :)

5)   Understanding, not memorisation. Let me tell you now, understanding is KEY for a content-heavy subject like biology. The sheer amount of content may seem daunting, especially if youíre one to wrote-learn. But I didnít spend time writing out definitions or committing long texts chunks of to memory, instead, once youíve fully learned and understood a concept, long-term memory should follow. For example, think back to transcription and translation. Here is a chunk of text you may have been tempted to memorise in case it came up in a sac:

Write the key steps in transcription (4 marks)
-   DNA unwound to expose template strand (1)
-   RNA Polymerase attaches to specific sequence in promoter region of gene (1)
-   RNA Polymerase catalyses joining of RNA nucleotides that are complementary to DNA template. (1)
-   Pre-mRNA/primary transcript is formed (1)

But what happens if you forget a word? What is a polymerase anyway? What are complementary nucleotides? If youíve simply memorised this, you might be just able to score the full 4 marks, but be unable to explain what each component is or what it does. Instead, here is where understanding is really important. Understanding your key terms= forming a picture in your brain. From your knowledge of enzymes, substances with the suffix -ase are enzymes. A polymer is a molecule made up of repeating subunits. Hence, RNA Polymerase is an enzyme that catalyses the joining of individual RNA nucleotides into a pre-mRNA strand. Now it makes more sense, right?

6)   Find what motivates you. I wasnít one of those people who spent hours covering my walls with biology posters or flipping through cue cards before I went to bed. Instead I tried to complete as many practice questions as I could in my notebooks. I slowly filled up several exercise books through the year and weird as it may sound, getting through each book was what really motivated me. When I could see that I had maybe 20 pages left, I would be eager to fill it up with biology. Aside from practice questions, I wrote notes going over topics that I needed to revise and drew diagrams. Iím always doodling cartoons in my margins, so I loved redrawing out flowcharts and diagrams for processes like the humoral and self-mediated immune responses, photosynthesis and signal transduction pathways. Once you find what motivates you, studying will seem more of a pastime than a chore.

7)   You donít need to study ahead of school to do well. This point is especially relevant to those at schools with highly studious cohorts where everyone seems to have learnt everything 10 years ahead of class. While I initially struggled to pronounce words such as agglutination, let alone understand them, some of my classmates were breezing through, having covered it already in tuition or private study. But believe me, this isnít necessary (at least, not for me as a year 11 studying only 2 ĺ subjects that year), and if you use your time well, you should have plenty of time to fully consolidate and revise your knowledge for the exam. See point 3 for more info. 

8 )   Write notes from varied sources. If youíre on the TSFX mailing list, you might get emails telling you that writing notes is the single biggest time waster for students. (Yeah sureÖ we know youíre just marketing your lectures at us  ::) ) Go to free biology lectures and write notes. I went to the ATAR notes biology lectures as well as revision lectures held by Monash Uniís Pharmacy faculty. Both were a great way to hear information from a perspective that wasnít my teacherís. Pay attention in class, and write down everything (or most things) that your teacher tells you. They are the ones who know their stuff. Make your notes legible and colourful but donít worry about making them too neat. Draw biology-related pictures.

9)   The age-old study smart, not hard, is genuinely good advice. This oneís as common as a divergent/convergent evolution question in the multiple choice section of the exam. I didnít really get what it meant to study Ďsmartí throughout the year, but just did what worked for me. In my mind, studying smart was about active rather than passive learning. Passive learning- reading notes, listening to podcasts, watching youtube videos. Active learning- anything that involves putting pen to paper (or laptop if you prefer). As long as your brain is active, youíll be learning.

10)   The textbook is not always your best friend. I am in two minds about putting this point on here, as it entirely depends on your school and your own personal preference. Personally, I did not complete a single textbook question the entire year. In saying this though, it is also subject-specific. For subjects like maths and chemistry, most of the textbook content is relevant. But the textbook (my school used Heinemann) was full of supplementary information that took way too long to sort through. My notes were mostly taken in class, from my tutor, or from powerpoints.

tl;dr Everything is connected. A bad sac mark is not the end of the world. Start revising early. Try group study and always get help if youíre stuck. Donít memorise information, actually learn and understand it and memory will follow. Find what motivates you to study. Keep up in class. Write stuff down, whether that be notes or practice questions. Active learning vs passive learning- do what works for you. Donít be put off by the textbook. Remember that everyone has the potential to do well, whether that be meeting a prerequisite score or that elusive 40+.

 8) Thanks for reading and best of luck for biology!
« Last Edit: February 10, 2019, 04:01:31 pm by Joseph41 »


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Re: Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice
« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2018, 09:53:58 pm »
Damn nice post! Its really motivating, thanks for the effort you put into it!
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Re: Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice
« Reply #2 on: July 18, 2018, 10:16:13 pm »
No worries! hope it's helpful!
« Last Edit: July 20, 2018, 10:32:40 pm by not.yet.a.nerd »


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Re: Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2018, 07:48:19 am »
This post is super helpful! Thanks for taking the time to write it out  :)
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Re: Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice
« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2018, 06:42:09 pm »
Great post!!  :)


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Re: Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice
« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2018, 07:11:51 pm »
Thanks! This is really good advice! :).
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Re: Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice
« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2018, 04:45:59 pm »
Wiw, usually i hate these sorts of posts ("look at me, i got a 50!") but this one's great :) thanks!


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Re: Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2018, 10:06:08 pm »
Thank you!!
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Re: Getting a 50 in biology in year 11: 10 pieces of advice
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2019, 10:34:36 pm »
thanks for the advice, it was really beneficial ;D. Next year going to do 3/4 Biology ;D