Revising for a Biology Exam


The exams are almost approaching, and if you haven’t started revision yet, don’t fret! But it’s a good time to get started. If you aren’t sure what to do, or how to revise effectively, hopefully this will help. Today, I will focus specifically on Biology exams, but the advice can probably apply to all subjects.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – just in case I don’t write another post this month (and la fin du monde actually happens.)


1. Know what’s expected of you.

Do you have a copy of the specification? If you don’t, go and get one now from your exam board website. For example,

Often in the specification they will have definitions that you will need to know, make sure you learn these e.g. Atheroma: fatty deposits within the walls of arteries.

During your revision, go through each bullet point in the specification, making sure that you have covered each point and made notes for them, then you can tick it off. Also, you can use the specification as a test and so with a blank piece of paper readily available, write everything you know about each statement and test yourself to see if you can complete the task e.g. State the risk factors associated with coronary heart disease. (diet, blood cholesterol, cigarette smoking and high blood pressure.)

The specification makes a nice revision check list for you, so invest in it.

2. Be specific.

When revising, and when answering exam questions, be specific and concise. The nature of exams (mark schemes) is that you have to use the correct terminology to be able to get the mark. It is important that you understand the material, but to get the marks you also need to be able to explain it using specific terms. For biology, that means learn the definitions and practice questions so that you get into the habit of being concise e.g. Define osmosis: the net movement of water from a solution of higher water potential to a solution of lower water potential through a partially permeable membrane. – there are other definitions for osmosis too e.g. a special case of diffusion of water from a dilute solution to a more concentrated solution across a selectively permeable membrane – just pick one of them and then learn that.

Tip: Also it’s good to know what you want to say before you put your pen onto paper, so during the exam, have a little think or plan of what you are going to write down before you do so, especially when answering the longer questions.

3. There’s still some time to ask questions.

The exam hasn’t happened yet, so you still have time to clarify the points in the syllabus that you don’t understand. In biology questions you might be asked to apply your biological knowledge and will probably face situations that you haven’t encountered before. Just remember to stick to the basic biological principles, that’s all they are really testing, but to do well you should understand the concepts first, so make sure you ask a teacher or someone to explain the things you aren’t sure about – before it’s too late. Have a look through the syllabus and highlight any parts of it that you are unsure of, do some further research of your own first e.g. by reading the text book or through your notes again, but if you’re really stuck go find a teacher or email them. Also, highlighting the parts of the specification that you aren’t quite sure about highlights the points that you need to spend most time on revising. In this way, you prioritise your revision, making it more effective.  🙂

4. Learn the processes.

Normally in biology exams, they’ll be that question at the end that is worth 5 or 6 marks and if you learn your stuff, you’ll be alright. Make sure that you have certain processes clear in your mind, write it out first on a piece of paper in bullet point form to help you. For example, the process of breathing in:

  • external intercostal muscles contract
  • diaphragm muscle contracts and flattens
  • rib cage goes up and out
  • volume of thorax increases
  • pressure decreases
  • air enters the lungs, down a pressure gradient

The above example is probably 3/4 marks, but there are other questions they could ask you that are worth more e.g. Compare the advantages and disadvantages of using TEM instead of light microscopy.

Hopefully that’s been helpful to you, let me know if it has! I wish you the best of luck with your exam preparation and your actual exams. (Do remember to enjoy the Christmas break though, and find some time to relax!)


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