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Why is it so hard to get a top grade in A level Biology?

(21 Posts)
Lottielo Thu 18-Aug-16 10:55:36

I realise that it's very difficult to get a top grade in any A level subject, but there are certain ones where it appears to me that A*/A grades are a rarity and Biology seems to be one of those subjects. Dd just picked up her AS results and only just scraped a B. She's disappointed because she felt that she knew the subject well and couldn't have put in any more effort. Her teacher said that it is important to use the key words and terminology in the exam and she believes that she did this. Is there anything more she could be doing or any way of improving her exam technique? I suggested she get a copy of her script (if that is possible) and ask her teacher to go through it with her to find out where she lost marks. Are there any good websites or books that could help? She asked me whether I could get her a private tutor, but I think her teacher is very good and I'm not sure whether this would help much.

Any advice would be much appreciated!

Secretus Thu 18-Aug-16 11:06:06

I think the teacher's advice is sound.
Both of my DC did well in Biology and the advice from college was consistent. Biology requires a lot of factual knowledge, but equally important is the answering technique and terminology. Do lots and lots of past papers and afterwards read and study carefully the examiners report.

SvalbardianPenguin Thu 18-Aug-16 11:13:26

DS did AS biology and he was told that terminology and technique was vital.

All of the sciences are super strict on terminology, but at least in chemistry and physics some of the questions are calculation based which might be why Biology seems harder.

It's so important to understand what the marks scheme is looks for and learn all those words and phrases.
I.e. If you have to write 'colourless' then 'clear' won't get a mark, etc.

Sadly it's not just about understanding the subject matter.

unlucky83 Thu 18-Aug-16 11:18:54

I got an A in my A level Biology but many years ago - I loved it though.
What I am wondering is your DD 'knows' the subject but do they 'understand' it?
Was there anything on the paper they couldn't answer? I seem to remember (but like I said a long time ago) needing to know lots of 'facts' but with the odd thing thrown in that you had to transfer your knowledge - to show you weren't just parroting facts back.
The other thing is maybe she isn't saying 'the obvious'...missing key points and therefore marks because they are too simple.
Struggling to explain but something like what is an enzyme? and going on about different reaction types, co-factors etc but never actually saying they are (usually -ribozymes!) proteins.

Mindgone Thu 18-Aug-16 11:38:37

First of all, don't worry! She can still get a top grade next year.
Definitely a good idea to get her papers back and go through them with the teacher, then she's not guessing where she lost marks. Get photocopies sent straight away, then you still have time to ask for a remark if the teacher thinks mistakes have been made.
Get your DD to find the exam specifications online, and study it hard.
Loads of past papers, and make a table of results, check for improvements the next time she does the same one.
DS did all these three years ago and went from BCC (chem, bio and maths) at AS to A*A*A ! Something clicked in Y13, and he studied his ass off! We did use private tutors too, and the 1-1 really helped.
Best of luck

Fourarmsv2 Thu 18-Aug-16 12:16:14

Remarks are different this year so perhaps not an option.

AS doesn't count towards A-Level now either so if she's continuing it makes no difference to her outcome next year.

This year is the first year of the new spec - teaching to it is always a challenge for the first time and I think weaker students will suffer for the loss of coursework.

It is hard to get an A* but many do (had lots of A-Level A*s in my classes this morning smile).

catslife Thu 18-Aug-16 12:55:12

The difficulty this year is that Biology (and other Sciences) have all changed to the new linear specification. This means that although going over old past papers will be useful, the style of question and some of the content will have changed. Grade B is a good result and many Science students do improve by at least one grade between the end of Y12 and Y13.
I would ask for a copy of the paper from the exam board, but as it won't count towards the final grade at the end of Y13, there's little point in a remark. in the new linear A level all the content is re-examined at the end of Y13 so asking for a copy of her marked paper will be very useful in showing where she lost marks and can improve for next year.

ShanghaiDiva Thu 18-Aug-16 13:17:33

My ds is taking Higher level Biology for the IB and this week his teacher told the class even if they memorised the entire textbook they would only get a 6 (7 is the highest grade). He said the key to a top grade is that you must be able to make connections across the topics.
Don't know if this is the same for A level, but thought it was worth mentioning.

Needmoresleep Thu 18-Aug-16 13:18:22

If she wants help, think about a Justin Criag revision course. DD did a few over the years. The big advantage is the strong focus on exam technique, and having another experienced teacher spend three days going through things, perhaps putting them a bit differently.

DD is dyslexic and found biology, as an exam rather than as a subject, very hard.

RainyDayBear Thu 18-Aug-16 15:52:28

I'm a Biology teacher and tutor. I find students tend to struggle with making links between topics (more of an issue at A2 than AS), and also with the application questions (ie where the question describes an experiment in detail - that will be usually unfamiliar to a student - and expects the student to apply their knowledge of photosynthesis or osmosis to it to explain the results, for example).

RainyDayBear Thu 18-Aug-16 15:55:56

I also agree with the advice above about getting the paper back. Doing lots of past paper practice is important. It can also be useful for students (after doing a past paper and marking it) to read the examiners report on the paper - they are more aimed at teachers but they are a really useful for highlighting common mistakes made by candidates!

Lottielo Thu 18-Aug-16 19:38:08

Thanks! Really useful advice. I'll definitely get a copy of the paper now and ask her teacher if he could go through it with her. The teacher didn't mention the importance of making links between the topics, so that is very helpful indeed. I'll also make sure that she reads the examiners reports.

Re Justin Craig revision courses, Dd has received some information about these in the past, but I didn't know whether they would be any good. Sounds as though a revision course could be worth looking into.

Are there any good websites or books for Edexcel Biology B?

brassbrass Thu 18-Aug-16 19:47:34

Never heard of Justin Craig. Off to do some research. Are they any good?

portico Fri 19-Aug-16 00:34:23

Can exam boards provide photocopies of exam s riots. Did not think they could?

portico Fri 19-Aug-16 00:35:42

Sorry. Meant to say:

Can exam boards provide photocopies of exam scripts. Did not think they could?

Lottielo Fri 19-Aug-16 08:32:01

I think they can provide photocopies. Dd was a given a form when she got her results and, if I'm reading it correctly, she can request either a photocopy or a remark. She is worried that I'm mistaken and will apply for a remark!

Needmoresleep Fri 19-Aug-16 08:49:21

brassbrass, they helped in a couple of subjects. DD is dyslexic with slow processing speeds and a tendency to misread questions. However she had no problem understanding the content.

A quick run through the content and coaching on exam technique for three days over Easter were perfect for her. They seem to use good experienced teachers. She had been well taught, better taught than some others on the course, so this added to her confidence. I think it would also work for kids whose teaching had been patchy. Not least it would highlight what was missing and where they might have to self study.

However I doubt a three day group class would work for someone struggling with some of the content. One to one might be better, but then you need to find the tutor.

brassbrass Fri 19-Aug-16 08:54:10

thanks for the info need

Lottielo Fri 19-Aug-16 13:26:01

That is really useful need. My Dd also has a problem with misreading questions which is really frustrating when she feels that she knows and understands the content. I will look into one of these courses for her.

GinandJag Fri 19-Aug-16 13:42:55

As others have said, Biology is very specific about wording. Chemistry and Physics are much more straightforward.

As this is the first year of reformed A-level sciences, schools have not fully known what to expect.

She can apply for access to her script by 4/10 and a remark by 20/9.

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