Becoming A Wise Learner In Biology

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A-level Biology By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Biology » A-level Biology
Last updated: 28/08/2017
Tags: a level biology, exam technique

In most classes, there's usually one particular student who seems to have time for everything. Not only do they get high marks in tests, but they also have time to be in a band, play a sport, have a part-time job, and have time leftover for socialising. How do they do it, when the rest of us feel overwhelmed by all our commitments? Some people like this are just unusually clever, but for others, it's because they've learnt to study wisely.

When I was doing my A levels, I certainly didn't have any idea how to study wisely. My revision consisted of reading the textbook and copying it out, almost word-for-word, on huge rolls of wallpaper lining paper. This revision method takes ages, and isn't a very good way of committing information to memory.    

Becoming a wise learner is about minimising any time you spend on tasks that don't commit information to memory, and maximising the time you spend on activities which help you to memorise content. Some activities lend themselves to certain types of content more than others. Have a look at your specification for the 'Biological Molecules' topic (which all specifications cover in one form or other) – which of the following activities do you think would be most useful in memorising each point?

- Completing a table
- Drawing flow diagrams
- Sorting cards into piles with different headings
- Labelling diagrams
- Putting statements in the correct sequence
- Working it out from first principles  

If you pause to think about how to learn something, and use activities like those above, you'll find that by the summer term, you'll be one of those students out enjoying the sunshine whilst everyone else is in the library biting their nails.  Try it – it's fun!

Good Habits

When you're asked to describe a long sequence of events, like protein synthesis, it often helps if you can imagine a labelled diagram of the parts of the cell involved: the nuclear envelope, the nuclear pores, the DNA double helix, the transfer RNA, the amino acids etc.  Once you can close your eyes and imagine this, use the prompts below over and over again to write a description of the process:   

  1. what is it?
  2. where is it?
  3. what does it do?
  4. how?
  5. why?

e.g. if you were describing protein synthesis, you could start by saying:

  1. the DNA double helix
  2. which is in the nucleus 
  3. unwinds and unzips 
  4. by breaking the hydrogen bonds between the bases using DNA helicase enzymes 
  5. to reveal a sequence of bases (a gene) which is going to be used to synthesize a polypeptide 


  1. RNA nucleotides
  2. which come into the nucleus from the cytoplasm
  3. pair up with their complementary bases on the DNA template strand 
  4. via hydrogen bonds 
  5. to make a molecule of messenger RNA with a base code that is the same as the DNA's coding strand 


  1. a phosphate group
  2. on one nucleotide 
  3. reacts with the ribose sugar of an adjacent RNA nucleotide 
  4. in a condensation reaction 
  5. to form a phosphodiester bond - this process repeats to create the sugar-phosphate backbone of the mRNA molecule 

etc. etc. etc.

Once you get used to using mental prompts like this, it becomes a habit and you'll find you're writing logical, clear descriptions of Biological processes with none of the details missing.

Emily de Villiers A-level Biology Tutor (Southampton)

About The Author

I am a fully qualified Biology teacher with several years experience teaching A level Biology. Please read the feedback below from my most recent tutees. I am a full time tutor and thus able to dedicate 100% of my time and energy to tutoring you.

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