The Student Room Group

Why can I never interpret what the a-level biology exam questions are asking me?

I'm always getting the right idea with exam questions, but find in some cases I don't hit the points the markscheme wants (AQA)? I don't know whether I just need to do more exam questions to practice this but I really need a way to hit the mark points bang on every time- it just feels like no matter what I'm writing it's never hitting the points I need.
[adapted from a previous post of mine some yrs ago]

My advice to students of biology (esp. those doing AQA) is to read the Q carefully twice, think about the wording, and try to work out what the examiner is looking for - how do you do this?:

1. Look at the words used: "Describe" means "what can you see or observe directly?" - if it is a graph you are looking at:-
a) what is the overall trend
b) is the graph bottom left to top right or other way round i.e. do the dependent values (y axis) increase or decrease, respectively, as the independent values (x axis) increase?
c) how steep is this rise or fall?
d) What x value does it start at?
e) what x value does it end at?
f) does it level out at any point?
g) if yes, where?
h) is there any change in direction anywhere?
i) If so, which way?
g) where?
h) does the line go though the origin?

2. "Explain" means "Why?"
a) try and work out reasons for any/all of the points in part [1] or for the particular Q asked?
b) think what effect the values of x could have on the values of y. e.g. Why does a graph of enzyme action where product conc (y axis) is plotted against time (x axis) level out after a certain time and why is this time different if the initial substrate concentration is different? If the substrate is all used up, of course no more product can be formed - less substrate to start with = levels out at a lower y axis height = less product formed at equilibrium.
If a different curve is shown for a higher temperature e.g. at 40 degrees, why does it level out at the same height as the lower temp curve but earlier? Yes, because enzyme action is speeded up by faster collisions, so more substrate/active site interactions; reaches peak earlier but at same height as lower temp = same final amount of product.

c) On a table of data initially have a quick scan of the data (1/2 min) to quickly glasp what the variables are and the methods used to measure them from the description of the experiment.

Then take a glance at the Qs followed by a deeper look at the data with a view to working out the points mentioned in [1] and [2] a) and [2] b) above.

The last part is usually a suggest Q where the mark scheme has a wider scope, and if what you say is correctly using the data AND makes rational sense WITH relevance to the Q, you will get your mark(s).

3. The number of marks assigned to each part of the Q (always given these days) usually tells you how many different correct and relevant points/ideas/factors/reasons/observations you need to gain full marks (the mrk scheme will almost always have more than the assigned no. of marks).

Good luck!

M (Biology Tutor)

At A level in biology, you can get all the assigned marks by thinking of obvious basic facts: don't get carried away with complexities and irrelevant detail!


Once again best of luck to everyone in 8-9 weeks time!

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