Ocr A Level Biology Coursework 2013

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I recently put up these ten rules for passing A-level Biology at high grade on my teaching Facebook page.  It would be interesting to see if any of them ring any bells with my fellow tutors.

Rules for Passing A-level Biology at high grade (OR... 'Things that I wish I'd been told when I was 18')

No. 1. Stick to the specification, the whole specification and nothing but the specification. Remember that the textbooks 'endorsed' by the exam. boards are not written by the exam. boards and, like a lot of schools, tell you a lot of things that you don't need to know. Don't waste valuable memory space (that could be used for useful things) on facts that you don't need to know at this stage.

No. 2. Base your revision notes on the specification. Set yourself a distance target and not a time target when making revision notes ("I'm not leaving here until I've made notes up to the end of section 5"). This will give you a major incentive to finish the notes quickly and concisely so that you can push off to see your friends feeling virtuous - and coincidentally get you into a lifelong habit of good study practices and effective time-management. If someone tells you that you have to work x-number of hours to achieve your target they are confusing hard work with effective work. Three prescribed hours of tossing a squash ball up in the air (my own favoured 'revision activity' at age 18) is nowhere near as effective as finishing a revision task quickly, concisely and effectively (how I got a 'distinction' in my Master's degree)...

No. 3. Do ALL of the past papers specific to that board. This is actually the best 'revision' activity of all - the person who does the most papers gets the best grade, in my experience. Make sure that you compare your answers to the published mark schemes and make sure that you remember the key words and phrases that the examiners are looking for. Remember that the examiners are largely looking for people who can go through the hoops effectively, not for any latent genius.

No. 4. In the exam itself DON'T check over your manuscript when you've finished (other than to fill-in any gaps). Just walk out. In my experience ninety-nine times out of a hundred students who check over their scripts tend to panic, rub out a correct answer and replace it with an incorrect one. I know that this goes against all the advice that you are given at school but if you think about it logically it makes sense. You all know you've done it!

No. 5. Remember that education is a process of learning ever-more-sophisticated lies. There is 'The Truth' and there is what the examiners want that is appropriate to that exam at that time. Make sure that you give the examiners the latter and not the former. If the AQA A-level biology examiners want to you to state that one of the differences between Eukaryotes and Prokaryotes is that the latter have a Flagellum then who are you to deny that countless millions of (eukaryotic) spermatozoa have Flagella as well? Remember that this is a hurdle to move onto the next hurdle, that A-level examiners are totally fallible and learn to play the game. Oh, and remember that sometimes the examiners wake up and discover The Truth and that different lies may suddenly be needed. A bit like real life, in fact...

No. 6. Remember that you do NOT need '80 out of a hundred' on a paper to secure a grade 'A'. That 80 barrier is a UMS mark, conjured by abstruse maths. from your raw mark on the paper. I have rarely known any A-level in Biology to require more than about 63% to 66% raw marks to secure a grade 'A'. More than about 85% Raw marks will often get you full UMS marks. It's a crazy system but not an insurmountable one. [I have revisited this 'advice' on analyzing recent AQA grade boundaries where up to 82% raw has been needed for a grade A in unit 1 after years of it hovering around 62% to 66%...when will political interference in such matters stop and normative marking be restored?  But that is another story..]

No. 7. If your AS results were not brilliant, don't panic - and, above all, don't crash out of biology convinced that you are stupid or have no aptitude. AS-levels are poor exams, thrown together rapidly by politically-driven committees and apparently designed solely to demoralise people moving into the Upper Sixth (another perspective on this is to regard them as a 'wake-up call' with respect to doing more work). Let's be blunt about it - there's more interesting things to do in the lower sixth than study and it's a bit much expecting a 17-year-old to take an A-level standard exam after just one year or even one term of study. I have had PLENTY of students get terrible marks in AS who have gone on to get As and Bs in the 'real thing'.

No. 8. Remember that, in essay questions particularly, a simple story told well will always beat a mangled version of some half-understood advanced facts designed to 'impress the examiner' (they don't!). Look for sparrows rather than albatrosses in your answers. If talking about carbohydrates, for example, a simple opening statement that they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen will beat launching into a discourse on alpha-one-four and alpha-one-six bonds every time.

No. 9. Don't worry about 'reading around the subject' (yet more advice contrary to the received wisdom often peddled by schools). I find that reading books tends to confuse more often than it illuminates the average 18-year-old, as 90% plus of all textbooks are not very clear. Just stick to the task in hand, i.e. mastering the specification to get the grade to move on to the next hurdle. One minor exception to this rule may be the general area of ecology, which is so woolly at A-level that reading up various case-studies might be of use in unfamiliar questions. But I wouldn't bank on it - going over all of the past papers is probably a better bet.

No. 10. If all else fails break open your piggy bank and come along to me (or another decent tutor in your area) for a bit of guidance...I don't necessarily ask to be paid for everything that I do and every student who bucks the system and gets a high grade in the face of a lot of nonsense and illogicality from the exam boards is another little victory!

Казалось, старик испытал сильнейшее разочарование. Он медленно откинулся на гору подушек. Лицо его было несчастным. - Я думал, вы из городского… хотите заставить меня… - Он замолчал и как-то странно посмотрел на Беккера.


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