A Level Biology is definitely no easy feat, especially when considering its high content load and stringent application requirements. Yet, it’s still an extremely useful subject to take on during your JC life, because it can open up a lot of doors for you in terms of university courses. In our previous article, we showed you how to secure your distinction for A Level Biology. For this piece, Zenith, the top JC Biology tuition centre in Singapore, will dive deeper into the open-ended questions that you will find in paper 2 and 3. Open-ended questions are a crucial segment of the A Level Biology syllabus (Fig 1.), making it essential to score for them if you want to do well for your A Level Biology.
Fig 1. A Level Biology syllabus from SEAB
As seen in the figure above, open-ended questions take up 65% of your A Level Biology grade, which is a significantly large portion, especially when it’s compared to other components like multiple choice questions and practical tests. Without further ado, let’s dive into today’s article, where the top JC tuition in Singapore, Zenith, has compiled 5 things for you to look out for when attempting these open-ended questions.
#1: Know your content well
In order for you to really score for A Level Biology, you need to be very familiar with your syllabus and the content it encompasses, given that it is weighted as 32% of your entire grade (see Fig 2.).
Fig 2. A Level Biology assessment objectives
In paper 2, you can expect both questions that are direct, and questions that require deeper analytic or application skills. However, in paper 3, most questions are of higher-order and require advanced application skills. This is also why Zenith thinks it is important for you to know your content like the back of your hand. It doesn’t need to be said that in order to correctly apply concepts, you’ll need to at least have a good first understanding of them. If you’re stuck recalling the appropriate content for every question, it’s almost impossible for you to be able to conduct deep analysis in your answers.
There is, unfortunately, no shortcut around this! Biology is known for the mountain of content that needs to be memorised. However, here at Zenith, our lessons often consist of ‘cheat sheets’ done personally by our tutors! Our tutors understand that the content required for the A Level Biology examinations can be very overwhelming, and a huge step up from the O Level syllabus. Thus, our dedicated tutors will always meticulously put together succinct yet comprehensive notes and/or summary sheets for your perusal. If you’re curious for a taste of the Zenith experience, feel free to sign up for our trial lessons here! There is a reason why we’re one of the biggest JC tuition centres in Singapore.
When studying for your Biology examinations, avoid blindly memorising your notes! In order to help you link ideas together better to facilitate your understanding, use those colourful highlighters you own and pick out the key ideas to familiarise yourself with a concept. Many times, students stop after highlighting important information, and this can be a grave mistake! This promotes passive learning. Instead, it’ll be much more useful if you could use your own words to sum up the key points of a chapter/topic/paragraph. Make your own notes!
Long sentence: Electrons are transferred from one electron carrier to another along the electron transport chain (ETC). As the electron carriers are at a progressively lower energy level than the preceding one, the transfer of high-energy electrons along the ETC will release energy. The energy released is used by the electron carriers on the ETC to pump protons across the thylakoid membrane to build a proton pool in the thylakoid lumen. This establishes a proton gradient across the thylakoid membrane and is subsequently used to synthesise ATP by chemiosmosis.
- High energy electrons are transferred to electron carriers of progressively lower energy levels down the ETC
- Energy released is used to pump protons from the thylakoid space to the thylakoid lumen for the formation of a proton pool
- The presence of an electrochemical gradient enables chemiosmosis to take place to generate ATP
Here at the top Biology tuition programme in Singapore, Zenith’s experienced tutors are exceptionally familiar with your A Level Biology syllabus with years of teaching experience under their belt. Our notes are unparalleled and our ability to spot questions for exams are also eerily good. Our reliable tutors will expertly sift through the hoard of information and identify only the crucial points you’d need to know to secure your distinction, so you don’t have to do it by yourself. Find out more about our JC Biology programme here!
#2: Break down the questions
Open-ended A Level Biology questions typically provide lengthy preambles, especially in paper 3. Thus, before you even get to the question, take some time (but not too long!) to digest the preamble. Highlight important key concepts that surface in the preamble (Fig 3.), because they will subtly nudge you in the scope/direction of the proposed question. Don’t forget to jot down any ideas that may come up as you read the question! There are also many different variations of question types and styles too. In order to avoid misinterpreting the question or only partially answering the question, appropriately break down the question into targetable segments.
Fig 3. Annotated question on genetic diagrams in paper 2
Note: this is not a complete genetic diagram, please do not leave your genetic diagram like this during your examinations. As you can see, we have annotated the question, highlighted the important information provided, and jotted down some extra details for easy reference.
Questions in paper 3 are often continuous and may be integrative, meaning that two or three topics can be woven into a single question. This is why it is important for you to jot down key ideas and topics as you read the questions to avoid feeling overwhelmed and going off point as a result.
As briefly mentioned in our last article, you should pay close attention to your phrasing if you want to supersede your peers to secure a distinction. We will be going more in-depth on this advice in this article, just because it is such a crucial practice in helping you score well. Many students who are already familiar with content find themselves struggling to obtain a decent grade and often wonder why. Well, Zenith has the answer for you!
Not paying attention to your phrasing in O Level Biology might have still scored you some marks. However, in A Level Biology, it is a completely different story! As you’re writing for a much more ‘advanced’ criteria, the examiners expect you to be specific when answering questions, meaning that you must name every process you mention, along with its products. One word can change the entire meaning of your sentence, so be very careful when writing down your answers! You must explicitly state the correct terms and concepts, not simply hint or imply that you know them. When looking through your marked tutorials, you may have realised that your tutors have written down certain letters beside your answers; ‘M’ stands for misconceptions, ‘P’ stands for phrasing errors, and ‘S’ stands for scope.
You might have had the right idea when brainstorming your answer, but your execution might have led the examiner into thinking that you have misunderstood certain concepts. This all boils back down to how you phrase your answers.
Wrong phrasing: Proton motive force enables H+ protons to be pumped across the thylakoid membrane for ATP to be generated.
Correct phrasing: Energy released from the high-energy electrons is used to pump H+ protons into thylakoid space. Phosphorylation of ADP to ATP via ATP synthase via chemiosmosis occurs using the energy released from the proton motive forces.
The way you have structured your answer might be incorrect. Be very careful when writing your answers to ensure that what you have written is conceptually incorrect. Avoid using words loosely, and pay attention to the small details.
Wrong phrasing: Protons diffuse down the concentration gradient from the intermembrane space into the matrix.
Correct phrasing: Protons diffuse down the concentration gradient from the inner membrane space into the matrix.
As mentioned earlier in our article, being specific is very important. You need to include names of processes, substrates, and products for every reaction.
No scope: Energy is released as electrons pass down the ETC.
With scope: Energy is released as high energy electrons are passed down electron carriers of progressively lower energy levels of the ETC through a series of redox reactions.
As we have mentioned earlier, specificity is crucial to scoring your distinction. In each and every chapter or topic, different processes and reactions will each have specific keywords that you cannot miss out.
Example: Infectious diseases
Vague answer: Macrophages engulf the viral particle and present viral antigen on cell membrane. Helper T cells bind to these macrophages and release cytokines. Helper B cells then undergo clonal expansion and selection.
Answer with the correct keywords: Antigen-presenting cells (APCs) like macrophages engulf the viral particle via phagocytosis. The macrophages then present the viral antigens on their cell surface membrane. Helper T cells with antigen receptors complementary to these antigens bind to the APC. Activated helper T cells release cytokines, which activate helper B cells to undergo clonal selection and clonal expansion.
As you can see, the chapter on infectious diseases has keywords centered around the idea of ‘activating’ and ‘binding’. If you wish to score the full marks for these open-ended questions, include the keywords because these keywords are what the marker will be looking out for. When studying school answers, keywords are usually bolded and highlighted for your reference. At Zenith, we also have similar practices to ensure that our students will be able to pick out keywords. All of our answers are short and succinct, with all keywords painstakingly highlighted by our committed tutor.
#5: Essay hacks
At the end of every paper 3 you attempt, you will have to complete one essay question. Essays make up 25 marks out of the total 75 marks that paper 3 is out, making it important for you to score in this component! At Zenith, we tell our students to break down each and every question, practicing ‘mark allocation’. ‘Mark allocation’ is extremely helpful because it will give you a general idea of how many points to write for each part of the question so that you do not overwrite or underwrite.
Fig. 4 Example of an essay question
When writing your essays, keep your sentences short and sweet. Avoid writing long-winded sentences because the longer your sentences are, the easier it is for you to phrase something wrongly and alter the meaning of the sentence!
In summary, here are Zenith’s tips for you to adopt when answering open-ended questions for your A Level Biology examinations!
- Know your content well
- Comprehensively analyze and break down questions
- Sharpen your phrasing
- Include keywords in your answers
- Practice mark allocation for essays and write answers that are straight to the point
In this article, Zenith has provided you with the information you need to kickstart your journey to attaining your coveted A Level Biology distinction by sharpening your answering techniques. However, if you want to know more tips and tricks to really secure that distinction, sign up for our A Level Biology programme today! Not only do we care about your academics, but we deeply care for your wellbeing as well! We have monthly welfare events for our students (Fig 5.), where we cater special food and drinks as a form of encouragement because we know that the A Level experience can be a tough one. Having said that, at Zenith, we also believe in having a strong support system for our students, where dynamic relationships are forged between tutor and student. Many of our students look forward to classes due to this strong rapport! They also enjoy coming early before lessons or staying back to get in a few hours of studying at our designated study area, where we have tables and comfortable chairs just for you!
Fig 5. Monthly welfare for our tuition kids
Sign up for a free trial here today! We’re so excited to welcome you into the Zenith family.