Biology is definitely not an easy subject, I don’t think anyone taking it thinks it is. I went into HL Biology thinking it was absolutely impossible to remember everything required – turns out I was mistaken. As long as you are excited to learn about the subject and put in the effort, you’ll do well! Hopefully, the following tips will help you out with feeling more confident studying Biology HL!
1. Organisation & notes
Throughout my first year studying biology, I found one main thing that separated those that got top grades (and enjoyed it) and those that struggled and dreaded the workload: organisation. Yes, I know, it sounds cliché. I’m sure I’m not the first person who tells you this, but the IB is extremely demanding and, especially for biology, requires top-notch organisation skills
I would recommend you have a folder (a large one) or a notebook or two for your notes – please handwrite them! It doesn’t really matter how neat or messy they are – you just have to understand them. Writing by hand makes it easier to understand what you’re actually writing about and you can remember the content much better. I personally could never keep up with my teacher in class and write the notes I could later use to revise. What I did instead is very rough notes in class and wrote clearer notes at home using what I wrote and a few other online resources I will mention later. However, I know many people (I’m convinced they have superpowers) who could both listen and take notes, so it’s definitely up to you!
2. Markschemes, markschemes, markschemes…
The grim truth is, even if you know EVERYTHING there is to know on a topic, you might not get full marks on a question. Shocking, I know. Markschemes are extremely specific, asking for certain phrasing and not giving you marks otherwise. At first, I shrugged this off, but it turns out it’s very important to know exactly what the markschemes want from you. Examine past paper questions and markschemes for all biology topics, try to understand the core of what the examiner would want you to write. You can find these here! There are usually certain ‘buzzwords’ in almost every topic that would give you pretty easy marks, so missing out on those would be quite a shame (whenever stuck on a question about water, remember – IT HAS HYDROGEN BONDS and you have at least one mark in the bag).
3. Check the syllabus CONSTANTLY
First off, teachers are amazing. They are great at helping you understand all the material with the necessary depth and breadth. But like everyone else, they are not perfect — at some point, they will deviate slightly from the IB. Not to panic, we have the syllabus, an absolute gift of gold! The syllabus has everything you need to know. The IB cannot ask you anything they didn’t put into the syllabus, so constantly having it next to you when studying is crucial to make sure you don’t leave anything out or don’t go too in-depth. Otherwise, you run the risk of learning things that won’t give you marks — it’s not very fun, trust me.
4. Unpopular opinion: textbooks are useless
This is something many people probably won’t tell you, but I found that IB biology textbooks are not very helpful. They have lots of information, but do you need to know all of it? Absolutely not. Just stick to the syllabus! Remember, they can’t ask you anything that is not on there. Sure, there is no harm in knowing more, but there’s also no benefit towards your grade, so choose wisely where you want to spend your time. I found that the textbooks just overwhelmed me and were not much help. I would rather recommend BioNinja (IB biology website – absolutely incredible) or some YouTube videos on the subtopics, like Alex Lee’s videos (lifesaver).
5. Constant revision
Right now, my room looks absolutely ridiculous. There are 1, 2… 19 mind maps of subtopics all over my bedroom walls, and I’m not exaggerating! There are a couple more in my kitchen and bathroom… Basically, there’s a mind map everywhere I could end up staring at walls. It might seem kind of silly, but it works. Biology requires constant revision because there is just SO MUCH to learn. And if you’re slightly lazy like I am, revising without actually revising could be a perfect solution for you too. In all seriousness, Biology HL is content-heavy; you can’t just sit down a week before the exam and get an easy 7. Consistent revision really takes the stress (as much as it can) out of exams.
If there is one thing you take away from this post, please let it be that everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – falls behind at some point and/or loses motivation. It’s completely normal. What defines you aren’t those times you fall down, but how you bounce back. Because as long as you take care of yourself, and put in the work, you will succeed. I might have made Biology HL sound tedious (I’ll admit it sometimes is), but the subject is absolutely fascinating. There is definitely something for anyone in it to fall in love with – hopefully you’ll find yours!