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Improving Expression in VCE Biology

By Quantum44 in Study
17th of July 2017

Quantum44 is a member of the ATAR Notes Forums, and won the May Member of the Month Award. They also achieved a raw 45 in Biology last year, and wrote an incredible guide on VCE Bio success here.

VCE Biology is a complex subject. You require not only depth of knowledge to answer questions, but also clear expression.

Developing knowledge for Biology is very important, but it’s also relatively simple. You can write notes, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, or use a multitude of other methods depending on your learning style.

It’s expression you need to watch out for. And that’s why I find people typically struggle with.

If you can’t clearly communicate your answer to the examiners, you simply won’t get the marks. So, I’ve compiled a few tips to help you get the marks you deserve for those tough extended response questions.


1. Use dot points

In my opinion, this is easily the best way to improve expression. You get to the point, and only include relevant information. You can easily identify patterns and apply knowledge based on what you’ve worked on in past exams. Often, I could memorise entire processes through dot points, such as protein synthesis, speciation, natural selection, and signal transduction.

You also know how to get the marks. Just make sure you use a dot point per mark, and actually say something worthwhile in that point.


2. Be concise

This may seem obvious, but too many people fall into the trap of over-explaining answers. Dot points should help you, but you have to constantly be aware of waffling too much. Getting in the habit of having overly lengthy explanations is also risky; if you include incorrect information, you will lose marks. Even if you’ve already fully answered the question prior to waffling.

So keep your responses short, sharp and succinct.


 3. Answer the question

This, too, may seem a superfluous point to make. Yet, people often misread questions. When you see a certain topic, you often subconsciously associate it with a certain question – and VCAA will try to surprise you with questions you don’t expect. Sometimes I’d see a question about natural selection, and instantly launch into my formulaic response explaining how it occurs, before I realised that wasn’t what the question was asking.

It’s so easy to get caught out. Just make sure you always re-read the question so you know exactly what it’s asking.


4. Know your question types

Before the exam last year, I spent a great deal of time categorising past VCAA questions into certain types. I was quite surprised to find that most questions fit into certain archetypes, like ‘explain’, ‘describe’, and so on. It’s important to be aware of these types when answering questions, as they require subtly different logical constructions.

Don’t spend too much time concerning yourself with the exact vocabulary used in VCAA questions. Simply observe and understand. In the end, the questions are still phrased fairly simply, but you still want to maximise understanding.


5. Use buzzwords

Whenever you think about answering a question, try to conjure up any biological terminology that could be useful in your response.

Often, assessors won’t give full marks if you don’t mention a specific word or phrase – so it’s essential you fulfil that requirement. For instance, if you see a question about enzymes, it’s probably going to be a good idea to mention active site or substrate.

An effective way to learn some vocabulary is to flick through the glossary of your textbook and copy down any interesting words you find with the definition.


6. Plan and structure your responses

Planning your answers is essential in order to structure them in a cohesive manner.

If you answer the question immediately after reading it, you may end up stuck in a hole. If you see a question that looks like a piece of cake – and there are certainly exam questions that look deceptively easy – it can be tempting to dive straight in. But you must resist the urge and think about what the examiners are looking for first.

The main message of this point is to avoid being rash, and to fully consider the direction of your answer before putting pen to paper.


7. Practise, and get feedback

Practice is the only way to perfect the method of answering questions in Biology. But practice is useless without feedback, so you need someone to help you. Whether it’s your teacher, family or friends, someone else needs to assess your work.

A good way to practise for upcoming SACs is to think of a few difficult potential questions, and write answers to them. Then, you can organise a time to see your teacher and go through your responses. Use their feedback to improve your expression.

Heaps of free Biology notes – just click here!