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Author Topic: Guide to VCE Biology (50)  (Read 5819 times)  Share 

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Guide to VCE Biology (50)
« on: January 01, 2021, 01:30:09 pm »
My guide to VCE biology

Hey all! I am very fortunate this year to have scored a raw 50 in biology (2020) as a year 11, so I would like to share all the tips that I have accumulated throughout the year 😊

How Biology is overall:

There are two main aspects to biology:

1)   Content:
There is quite a bit of content, but break the subject down by the main topics (eg cellular respiration) using a flow chart/other method and fill in the main details under each topic. In this way, you can logically organise all the content in your head and also make some critical connections between topics, helping you to remember everything overall. You should do the same for each topic itself, too.

2)   Answering questions:
This part of biology is severely neglected by a lot of students but is genuinely what makes or breaks your study score.

IMPORTANT: Write in DOT POINTS! Almost all of the previous students who scored 50 that I have spoken to used dot points. At the beginning of the year, it may seem a bit annoying to use dot points if you are not used to it, but I assure you, once you get through a large chunk of your practice exams later in the year, you’ll realise how useful dot points are. Generally, each mark available in the question corresponds to a single dot point in your answer (you can add one or two more dot points than the marks allocated if needed). For example, a two-mark question often means you would write two dot points, each saying a distinct piece of information.

USE KEY TERMS: This is very valuable; examiners often may remove a mark if you miss a key term. Often, these terms may simply be one of the main points in a topic- for example, it is precious to clearly state terms such as ‘self/non-self antigen’ ‘herd immunity’ ‘enzymatic reaction’ ‘enzyme-substrate complex’ etc in your answers rather than simply allude to them (i.e., writing what the concept (e.g. herd immunity) is and how it relates to the question, but failing to state the concept’s main name, and potentially losing a mark if the examiner was looking for that).

-   Also, with key terms, add in all necessary details. For example, when referring to competitive inhibition of an enzyme, clearly state the competitive inhibitor binds to the complementary and specific active site of the enzyme, blocking the substrate from binding, and preventing the enzyme from catalysing x reaction to produce y. Notice how all the steps and relevant details were included- it is better to put them all down then skip one and potentially lose a mark if the examiner is looking for that certain point.

Write broadly then hone in onto your answer: For certain answers, the first dot point you write can be broad and will not directly get you a mark. Instead, it acts as a base to which you can properly write the rest of your answer. For example, in a question that asks the effect of temperature on the rate of cellular respiration, it is useful to state that ‘cellular respiration is an enzyme-catalysed reaction’ as your first dot point, then in your next two dot points write the effects of low temperature ( lowers thermal and kinetic energy, reducing the chances of successful collisions and enzyme-substrate complexes from forming, lowering the rate of cellular respiration) and the effect of high temperatures (A temperature above the optimal range denatures the enzymes (due to disrupting r-group interactions of the tertiary/quaternary structure), altering the complementary shape of the active site, reducing the amount of enzyme-substrate complexes that form and consequently reducing the rate of cellular respiration). For this example, explaining the effects of both low and high temperature is centred around the effect temperature has on enzymes within cellular respiration. By making it explicit within the first dot point that enzymes catalyse cellular respiration, the rest of the answer (where you get your marks) can be written accordingly.

Show the logical connections between each step of a question: Often, when one action occurs (eg a mutation), there is a flow-on effect, and many other actions subsequently occur in a given order. It's important to make this clear in your answer.

Take question 6 dii from the 2019 exam:

‘If this twentieth nucleotide was deleted, how could this mutation alter the structure and function of the haemoglobin protein produced?’
-   A frameshift occurs: deletion may alter all codons and thus amino acids downstream the mutation
-   This severely alters the functional 3-dimensional shape of haemoglobin as the beta chain’s shape is severely altered, resulting in non-functional haemoglobin being produced and reducing the ability for haemoglobin to carry oxygen around the body.

(Notice here I clearly stated that a frameshift occurred, linking back to what I said about key terms, as the answer may be incomplete without mention of a frameshift in some examiner’s eyes. Here, you also see the connection I first made between codons changing (due to the frameshift mutation), how that changes the amino acids that are subsequently coded for and how the changes in amino acids affect the shape and thus the functioning of haemoglobin—also, since the question asked to discuss both the ‘structure and function’, it’s important that in your answers you make it very clear the effect on both of these specifically and the connection between structure and function).

                Note: Do not be afraid to write more than the allocated lines, as long as everything you write is relevant and necessary, it is fine- but do not simply write down everything you know to fill up space, examiners will notice you dragging it on and think you just don’t know the answer.

          Some common question types:
There are often questions about the effect of x molecule on the body (example a competitive inhibitor that affects an enzyme within the electron transport chain of cellular respiration). It is important to start zoomed in (effect at a molecular/cellular level) when this is relevant, (explain how the molecule may inhibit the electron transport chain and thus cellular respiration from occurring), then slowly expand the scope of your answer (without aerobic cellular respiration occurring, adequate amounts of ATP cannot be produced and used by the cells in the body), then finally expand to the overall effect on the person (potentially preventing necessary energy-demanding reactions from occurring within the body, leading to tiredness, fatigue and eventual death).

    (side note: with respiration questions, be very clear about aerobic or anaerobic cellular respiration. Here, I specifically wrote ‘aerobic cellular respiration… adequate amounts of ATP’ as anaerobic respiration would be induced in this situation and some ATP can still be produced).

Comparative statements: These are crucial and its easy to lose marks here. Essentially, this means when a question asks you to compare something, or explain why one thing is better than another, then you must use terms such as ‘whereas’ 'compared to' ‘more than’ ‘relatively’ etc.

-   [For example: question 11a from the 2019 exam:
-   ‘Analyse the data above and state the temperature at which the measurements are the most precise. Justify your response.’

-   Answer: - 35 degrees c- the measurements show the most concordance (two are the same, one is only 1 deg c off) compared to all other temperatures- so it is the most precise as there is least variation between the trials]

Formula questions: Questions including (but not limited to) PCR, Evolution, Allopatric speciation, fossilisation, artificial selection, steps in transcription/translation, steps in cellular respiration/photosynthesis, steps in the inflammatory response, steps in apoptosis, steps in signal transduction (both hydrophobic and hydrophilic signalling molecules), steps in the adaptive immune response, steps in vaccination and steps in producing monoclonal antibodies etc can all be written in a formulaic way.

NOTE: be careful, vcaa knows this and sometimes will add a trick or difference in the exam, so you need to adapt your perfect response accordingly to suit the question (take question 6c from the 2019 exam as an example). I have included the steps in PCR as an example.
Denaturation: temperature is raised to 95 deg c, breaking hydrogen bonds between complementary strands and separating them

Annealing: temperature is lowered to 55 deg c to allow primers to anneal to complementary 3’ ends on the opposite strands of DNA via complementary base pairing

Extension: Temperature is raised to 72 deg c to allow taq polymerase to optimally catalyse the synthesis of complementary DNA the template strand in a 5’-3’ direction]

Definitions: make sure you know your important definitions- for all key terms listed in the study design, you must have a solid definition that you can derive (you don’t need to memorise definitions as such, though it can help, but you should understand the logic and derive any definition from your head).

Experimental design:
Experimental design is becoming increasingly common recently (often there is a 10+ marker for the last question on the exam relating to it). Compile all limitations and errors from all recent exams (company and VCAA) and put them into a document before the final exam, it’ll help you remember a large amount.
 Also, when referring to control groups, always (when relevant) mention ‘acts as a valid comparison’, and subsequently ‘used to validly attribute changes in the dependent variable with changes in the independent variable (but make clear what these variables are and relate it to the question)’.

How to approach VCE Biology (at least, how I approached bio):

Step 1: Get ahead of the content
Use your holidays effectively to get far ahead content wise. Learn it like you have a test the first day back in school (ie, don’t skip the details here). In my opinion, before a term starts, have all the content that will be covered within that term completed. (Of course, this is not necessary and many people have done well by remaining just at or slightly above class pace, but I highly recommend getting far, far ahead).

Step 2: Resources
During the term, since you optimally will have completed the content for that term, spend your time going through GOOD resources in preparation for your sac/s. These include:

-   VCAA questions! This is your best resource, go through ALL relevant questions relating to the content you are learning throughout the term (from 2002-now, though leave the most recent exam untouched so you can do it in exam season without any previous exposure). Checkpoints organises a lot of vcaa questions, studyclix as well, you can ask your tutor and teacher to help you here, or you can go through all exams yourself and pick out the relevant questions
-        Company resources: these are your atarnotes topic tests/ exampro (now called decode I think) biology tests/ neap smart study questions/ checkpoints etc. (Of course, these are an investment and can be pricy, so if financially its not possible, do not fret, going through relevant VCAA questions and the resources your school gives you will for the most part be sufficient).
-   Resources provided by tutors and teachers. Really use this to its best potential and constantly ask for more resources.
-   If you get access to company trials early, go through these as well and pick out all relevant questions.
-   (side note: a knowledgeable tutor that can explain very well and truly cares about your success can be invaluable in both understanding the content and mastering how you answer questions)

Step 3: Exams
-   3a: during either your term 1 or term 2 holidays, go through VCAA 2002-2012 exam 1s, these exams are for the most part unit 3 biology, so once you finish the content either in term 1 or 2, on your closest school holidays go through these VCAA exams slowly but consistently. Doing this will really set you up well once you near the end of the year. Any question unrelated to the study design (such as pedigrees), just skip them. (I did these in my term 2 holiday, whilst simultaneously going ahead in unit 4 content in preparation for term 3).
-   3b: Throughout the term you go through unit 4, again slowly but consistently go through 2002-2012 exam 2s, these will help you immensely for your upcoming sac as well as provides a good base once you start full exams. (I did all of these before my sac during term 3)
-   3c: Start full exams as early as possible, do not leave it to the very end of term 3/start of term 4, start earlier. Depending on if you are in year 12 or year 11, the number of exams will change, but the earlier you start the more you can do properly.

Trial exams I did:
-   VCAA (These are your best bet, do not miss a single VCAA exam, including 1997-2001 which were thankfully uploaded onto atarnotes for us all to use!)
-   STAV (these are really good)
-   Insight (I found their short answer questions and answers to help me the most out of any exam)
-   Neap (Also really good)
-   Atarnotes (found this one quite useful)
-   QATs (Thought these were good)
-   Aced (a bit on the easier side, though I enjoyed them)
-   TSSM (Only did one of these, so cannot really comment)
-   TSFX (Same story as above)
-   Lisachem (same story again)
In terms of the number of exams, in total I completed around 60 (where an exam 1 and exam 2 from 1997-2012 counts as two full exams). You do not have to do this much, I do know people who did about 15-25 and scored a 50, and people who did 70 and did not score a 50. What is important is making each exam count- mark them like you are the strictest examiner possible, if you miss a key word, remove a mark immediately. Marking can be tedious and may take up to 3 hours depending on the exam, but its worth it. Try to get at least 15 full unit ¾ exams done, though. Also, for each exam, maintain full focus like it is the final exam- this is very taxing, so the only way to get many exams done and have each one count is to start your exams as early as possible. When you go to mark each exam, in a word document/google doc write out all the questions you got wrong and a model answer (I'll explain how to do this later on). Your aim is to not make the same mistakes again.

During exam season: I would wake up at around 7am (after my morning routine), at 7:30am I would immediately start a full biology trial examination in exam conditions. After completing it, I would eat breakfast and relax for a bit, until approximately 11am where I would smash through an exam 1 and exam 2 for further maths, taking me to about 1-2pm (and instantly mark them). Here, I would take a break until approximately 3-4pm (and eat some delicious fruits). Then I would do another exam 1 and exam 2 for further (note: I only did 4 further exams a day during the two-week holidays between term 3 and term 4, after/before that, I stopped after completing one further exam set). After quickly marking it, I would exercise for about an hour. This is the MOST important step, as exercising allowed me to clear my mind and physically release my stress; if I did not do this, I would have burnt out. Afterwards, I would eat dinner and relax, then mark the biology exam I did the day before. From about 9pm-11pm I would just revise biology content by converting my notes into questions (I’ll explain how I did this later on).

If you are curious, for most recent years, (given a high rank and good cohort), approximately an 80% is a 40-study score, and approximately 108-110+/120 will yield a 50 (though it depends on the year). Do note though, that 108-110+ range is based on the 2017-2019 exams from strong cohorts. For 2020, the A+ cut off was 107.5/120 (due to the exam being more accessible to students), which is approximately a 40 study score. So, scores above 115/120 and a high rank was required to score a 50 in 2020.

Other tips:
-   Create a wrong answer document: Do this from the beginning of the year- if you lose a mark on a practice resource/sac/trial exam, put the question in the document on one side, and the perfect answer that incorporates your answer with the necessary corrections (do not just copy the answer sheet as its hard to replicate writing that is not yours. Rather, bring your answer to a full mark standard and then use that as a model response).
-   EXAMINER’S REPORTS: these will be your best friends throughout biology. Always read these in full and refer back to them. Note: sometimes, their answers are not perfect, so do not rely on them. They tend to write very succinct answers that are hard to replicate, but include the terms that get you the marks. In terms of my writing style, my answers tended to be more in line with how the insight (specifically 2017-2020 insight) trial answers were like, though you should create your own writing style that works for you).
-   Question document: Near the end of the year (say 3 months before the exam), for revision, create a document where you compile your notes throughout the year and convert them into common question types with model answers attached. Try to make these questions as exam-styles as possible and then you can use it as a fantastic source of revision (both in making the questions and reviewing them). Do not forget to include the formula-type questions here too!
-   Trial exam conditions: For the most recent VCAA exams, do them not just in full exam conditions (do all your exams like this, barring the first couple if need be), but change the location too. Personally, I used to do nearly all my exams at my desk in my room; for these recent VCAA exams I did them at my kitchen table and actual hall where I completed my final exam. Doing a few exams like this will help reduce your stress on the final exam day, as well as prepare you for how the final exam will feel like (but don’t do this too often, you still want an element of pressure on the final exam to propel you).
-   Be curious: Finally, enjoy biology. It becomes very enjoyable the more you understand it, so do not stop asking questions!

What to watch out for on exam day:
-   Watch: Bring a watch with you and use this same watch for all trials (during my exam, there was no timer, so the watch was crucial)
-   Sleep: Sleep early for the 3 weeks leading up to the exam (to help with this, watch a 5-minute meditation video before you sleep)—you must be mentally clear during exam day, sleep is vital. The morning of my exam, I accidentally woke up at 4:30am (due to the stress I’m guessing), and could not fall back asleep, so I did some stretching to help me relax
-   Answer sheet: You will receive the actual exam booklet (with multi choices and short answers) as well as an individual answer sheet where you fill in your multiple-choice questions (VCAA marks this page). From my experience, it is best to do a page worth of multiple choice in the exam booklet, then shade in the questions you just did onto the answer page (often this will be around 3 questions). Do this for all multi choices, then check all your answers at the end—I found 4 multiple choice questions that I transcribed wrong when I double checked my answers, so its critical you double check always!
-   Time: Multiple choice took longer on the final exam day than any trial I did (taking me around 50 minutes!) and I finished the exam with only 4 minutes left (compared to my trials where I finished with approximately 10-12 minutes left). Expect this to happen to you as well, so ensure that you complete your trial exams with ample time to spare. (I cannot really give tips here, since I finished both my biology and further exams with 4 minutes left each).
-   Before the exam: mentally prepare yourself- on the way to school I listened to a motivational video and I also asked others who did biology last year what the exam room was like, so had a vision of what the day would be like. Do not have a conversation with anyone before the exam, keep to yourself (of course, say good luck and greet them, but not much more than that) so you don’t get stressed with them. Know that you worked hard enough for this, but also remember, as my brother told me the morning of, you are going into a war right now- bring out the best you have.
-   After the exam: Don’t talk to anyone, you can’t change your answers and it will only stress you! I had my further exam 1 in about two hours, so I relaxed for about an hour (watching YouTube in secret), and then mentally prepared for the exam in the 30 mins leading up to it.

Thanks for reading, good luck to all future students completing biology! I hope you have found this helpful 😊
« Last Edit: January 24, 2021, 01:45:38 pm by makram »


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Re: Guide to VCE Biology
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2021, 01:51:46 pm »
Congrats on the 50! This is such a great guide - I'd encourage future bio students to read this :D
Offering 50 raw English tutoring, PM for details


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Re: Guide to VCE Biology
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2021, 02:57:54 pm »
Thank you for the kind words :)


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Re: Guide to VCE Biology
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2021, 02:24:41 pm »
Hey Makram,

Amazing Bio guide 100% recommend future biologists to bookmark and refer to this page throughout the year! Best of luck :)
Advice to smash Biology ¾:

2021 VCE - 99.35

Tutoring Bio, Chem, English, Methods 1/2 & 3/4 for 2022. DM if interested

Want some advice for VCE? 👇



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Re: Guide to VCE Biology (50)
« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2021, 09:46:03 pm »

This is the most comprehensive guide I have seen with regards to scoring exceptionally in VCE Biology.

These gems you have dropped are to the highest standard - what a selfless person you are :)

As someone who received a Premiers' Award in English [50] and scored well in VCE Biology - I top this profound post. Had I used those tips, I would have scored so much better! :)


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Re: Guide to VCE Biology (50)
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2021, 04:28:20 pm »

This is the most comprehensive guide I have seen with regards to scoring exceptionally in VCE Biology.

These gems you have dropped are to the highest standard - what a selfless person you are :)

As someone who received a Premiers' Award in English [50] and scored well in VCE Biology - I top this profound post. Had I used those tips, I would have scored so much better! :)

I completely agree with you!


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Re: Guide to VCE Biology (50)
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2021, 08:35:58 pm »

This is the most comprehensive guide I have seen with regards to scoring exceptionally in VCE Biology.

These gems you have dropped are to the highest standard - what a selfless person you are :)

As someone who received a Premiers' Award in English [50] and scored well in VCE Biology - I top this profound post. Had I used those tips, I would have scored so much better! :)

Fully agreed. Makram has made an exceptional guide, which I would definitely recommend all students read. Personally, I read this guide countless times throughout the year and followed all the advice given to the tee - which ultimately helped me achieve a raw 50 in biology this year. Fantastic stuff.

Thanks for all the time and effort you put into this advice post Makram, and all the other guidance you have shared, I'm sure it has been invaluable to many! He is certainly a very selfless individual :)


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Re: Guide to VCE Biology (50)
« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2022, 01:47:33 am »
A really helpful guide! Congrats on the 50 and thank you so much!!
May I know what you exactly did during the holidays to prepare? I just have one chapter left (cellular respiration)and I will finish unit 3 content, I did do questions from the book (my school uses edrolo) on nucelic acid and proteins, enzymes, DNA manipulation, but I still need to do questions for photosynthesis and later cellular respiration. Would you recommend to not do book questions for now and just focus on covering unit 4 content or should I keep doing questions along with chapter notes? Also, did you do any tutoring for bio? if yes then can you please PM me the contact details of your bio tutor?