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Top Tips for Studying HSC Biology

Top Tips for Studying HSC Biology
Written by Ashlee Negrone

Tip 1: Conceptualize

It’s good to know how everything fits together in Biology. There are a lot of big concepts that cross over into several points, so you can understand something on several levels by conceptualising certain ideas. The best way that I found to do this was through mind maps that initially outline the main syllabus points, then extend into broad knowledge of content which relates. For example, the relation between Blueprint of Life points and Genetics: The Code Broken points, if you’re doing that option. This can simplify content and may make it seem a little less intimidating, if the amount of content seems overwhelming!

Tip 2: Syllabus

As with most subjects, your syllabus is your best friend. Questions in the biology exam can sometimes be word-for-word copies of syllabus points. If the dot point is weirdly specific, for example, describe the adaptive advantage of haemoglobin, then it’s a big hint that they will ONLY ask you about adaptiveness in haemoglobin. In these sorts of points, there’s really no need to over-learn certain points.

I realised I was over-learning syllabus points when I got a super-simple question wrong in a practice exam; it was on the consequences of excess hydrogen in the body. Whilst it was a clear question on enzyme and enzyme activity, I wrote a little summary on the symptoms on acidosis. It’s knowledge of content; but not focused on the syllabus and it cannot get the marks. So make sure you be specific with your notes!

Tip 3: Examples

In some marking criteria, marks are given for providing relevant examples. If you had different examples for every single syllabus dot point that you need, there would be quite a large amount; so try and make them overlap if possible.

One of the examples I relied heavily on was MRSA – methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. (You don’t have to memorise the full nomenclature!) I used this as a way to show how chemical conditions impacted organisms as well as an example for modern natural selection. It also is handy to relate to modern issues in medicine and the creation of superbugs. Finding versatile examples can save you a lot of memorisation, if biology isn’t really your thing!

For finding examples, I recommend using textbooks. They usually give a good indication of what kind of direction you should be heading in; and unfortunately, some are necessary to memorise and alternate examples sometimes don’t work as well. For instance, the pentadactyl limb. I had trouble with these types of examples initially because I wanted mine to be unique; but sometimes sticking with the most common is the best (because remember, there is a reason they’re so common… it’s because they work!

Tip 4: Practice Exams

Whilst practice exams are recommended for every subject, practice for biology is a MUST. You can know content really well, but it may not always translate well in an exam, leaving you possibly disappointed with marks. But I’m not a firm believer in doing practice papers for the sake of doing practice papers; just do them until you get the hang on how to structure answers.

For biology, because it is a science, you can often dot point shorter answers in exams if you give the right information. Short response answers usually don’t require a lot of attention. The questions you should look out for, because they are discriminators, are the longer responses, like:

  • Practical questions; often testing your understanding of validity, accuracy and reliability.
  • Broad statement questions; like discuss or compare. (Make sure to learn those BOSTES verbs! They’re essential in the higher mark questions.)

These are the awful 7 markers. Practice these as much as possible! They do take time to get the hang of; in terms of planning. Try to map out around 3-4 points to answer the question and integrate relevant examples and concise explanations. Don’t write too much! The space the exams give you should be enough. Good luck! For questions or tutoring inquiries, contact

Author: Ashlee Negrone

Ash studies Pre-Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. She gradutated in 2016 with an ATAR of 95.3 with the subjects Biology, Adv English, PDHPE, English Ext 1, Design and Technology and Studies of Religion 2U.
Contact for tutoring inquiries.

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