Biology is a complicated subject. Its roots are best explained by splitting the word into two:
“Bios”- meaning life, and “Logos”- meaning reason. In essence, Biology refers to the study of life, and all living organisms. Often, it even overlaps with the fields of Geography, Chemistry, and Sociology, to name a few. That is why A Level Biology is known for being extremely content heavy. However, A Level Biology isn’t just about content memorizing! At Zenith, our JC Biology tuition programme strongly emphasises on critical-thinking and analytical skills, these traits are necessary for scoring well for the A Level Biology papers. At the O Levels, the curriculum merely touches on the foundational structures that underpin the many distinct fields of Biology. A Level Biology is an entirely different ball game where students are required to dive deep into a multitude of facets. In this article brought to you by Singapore’s top Biology tuition center, we provide a thorough breakdown of the JC Biology syllabus, while providing some useful pointers to help you ace your exams!
Fig 1. The O Level Biology curriculum
With reference to Fig 1., we see that while the O Level Biology syllabus merely touches on Cellular Structure and Molecular Genetics, with a sprinkling of Organisms and their relationship with the Environment, the main bulk of the curriculum consists of the study of Physiological processes, which is phased out at the A Levels. Instead, at the A Level’s (Fig 2.), Cells and Genetics are taught in much greater detail, with the added topics of Energy & Equilibrium and Biological Evolution. These four pillars of content are labelled as the “core ideas”. In addition, students are required to pursue 2 extension topics, namely a) Infectious Diseases and b) the Impact of Climate Change. These build on the content of the four previously mentioned “core ideas”. The four core chapters contribute to 90% of all available content tested at the A Levels, with the remaining 10% derived from the two extension topics. Here, we see that Biology is not just deeper, but also broader, at the H2 A Levels.
Fig 2. A framework of the H2 A Level Biology syllabus
In particular, Paper 1 (MCQ) contributes to 15% of the total grade, Paper 2 (Structured Questions) lends itself to 30% of the final grade, Paper 3 (Free-response Questions) lies at 35%, with the final 20% going to practical lab sessions. With the short answer questions standing at an ominous 65%, almost ⅔ of the entire A Level Biology grade, it is of paramount importance that students provide informed answers of high quality.
Tip 1: Memorise effectively
The first step to doing well for your A Level Biology exams is to memorise the mountains of content well. Your JC Biology journey consists only of a measly two years, which is why you cannot afford to leave any gaps in understanding during such a limited time frame. These relate mainly to scientific definitions, vocabulary, apparatus (for lab work), and their applications to the Social, Environmental, and Economic spheres of life. A Level Biology consists of a wide blend of different subfields, therefore it is crucial that students not only make the effort to understand the necessary content, but how such information relates to the bigger context of the world. A Level Biology is notorious for being “all content” and nothing else. That is a fallacy, because only students who have a solid grip of the content while holding a great understanding of the complex interplays within and between the “core” and “extension” topics will be able to tackle the A Level Biology questions with ease. While it isn’t just “all content”, content still provides the foundation to everything else!
At Zenith, we encourage the use of mindmaps, summarical diagrams, and even graphic visuals to aid in helping you to assimilate the content better. Another good practice would be neat note-taking skills to help you extract and reiterate key learning points from each chapter. This helps you to revisit the required content later without the hassle of having to flip through the textbooks again. Even the use of cheat sheets would come in handy in the weeks leading up to examinations.
Tip 2: Applying content purposefully to different question types
Being able to apply the myriad of concepts effectively to the different question types is a key skill that Zenith’s JC Biology tuition programme seeks to develop in our tutees. In order to do so, we have to understand the different command words that determine the type of a question. This allows you to recognise the appropriate way in which your answer should be phrased to cater to the demands of the question.
First and foremost are the “state” question types. These are characterised by defining, naming, or identifying important terminologies in the A Level Biology syllabus. Usually one mark questions, they are the most straightforward of the bunch and simply require you to identify whatever is being asked in the question. Take note of other terms also used to denote “state” question types, such as: name, identify, define and more. You may also have to list definitions while comparing different phenomena.
Moving on are the “describe” type of questions. This means that you should provide a detailed elaboration of, say, a process or a pathway. Usually, describe question types are rather surface-level, not needing students to make informed inferences to arrive at any conclusions. Another common term other than “describe” used to denote such questions would be “suggest”. This requires you to come up with a sensible description that can be easily coaxed out of the question.
The most common, yet lengthy question type in the A Level Biology papers would be the “explain” ones. These demand scientific reasons for, and logic of the why or how. Here, you are expected to support your definitions and descriptions with a more detailed and comprehensive working answer. Occasionally, you may even be required to support your explanations with diagrams or drawings (Fig 3.). Some other terms used to signal “explain” questions are: discuss, and account for. Your inference skills may be put to the test as well. Be sure to analyse in depth and make an informed choice to elaborate well.
Fig 3. An example of a “explain” question type requiring a diagram
Less common question types at the A Level Biology papers include “comparison” question types. Often, such questions fall into the umbrella of describe or explain questions, with an example being, ‘Explain a similarity and a difference in structure between the fungus lactase and the human lactase’ (4m). Yet another novel question type is that requiring “evaluations”, where you are made to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of techniques/instruments/practices. One such example is taken from VJC’s H2 Biology prelim paper (Fig 4.):
Fig 4. An example of the “evaluate” question type
The above question types demonstrate how A Level Biology students are required to apply the content learnt to fit the variety of question types on offer. But fret not, for at Singapore’s top Biology tuition center, we advocate dynamic, discussion-based classes which will hone your ability to overcome even the most frustrating Biology questions! Zenith’s JC Biology tuition programme absolutely dispels the notion that A Level Biology is purely content. As mentioned, the content learnt is dynamic, highly intertwined, and moulded for different sets of questions. With Biology as the stepping stone to a plethora of rising career fields, it has become more important than ever to score well in your H2 A Level Biology papers!
We hope you’ve found this A Level Biology guide and tips insightful. Zenith’s JC Biology tuition program welcomes you here with open arms!