5 Most Common Mistakes Made in H2 Biology

May 31, 2024

In our previous articles, Zenith has given you tips on how to secure a distinction for your A Level Biology Examinations and how to tackle H2 Biology open-ended questions. Today, at the top JC Biology tuition centre, we have compiled 5 of the most common mistakes made during H2 Biology examinations, just for you. A Level Biology is a huge jump from O Level Biology. Not only in terms of content, but also in terms of question requirements. Candidates are tested heavily on real-life application questions and answers are expected to be extremely specific and technically accurate. In order to score for your A Level Biology, here are some mistakes you need to avoid making.

#1: Blind memorising

There are 4 core ideas in H2 Biology (Fig 1.), and 16 chapters in total. Each chapter is very content-heavy, comprising many different systems and processes that you will need to know.

Fig 1. H2 Biology syllabus framework from SEAB

The easiest and most straightforward method of studying would be memorising said content. However, while memory work may have gotten you a distinction at the O Level Biology Examinations, it will not work again at the A Level Biology Examinations. The A Level Biology assessment requirements are split into two sections:

  1. Knowledge with understanding: This is where you will be tested on scientific concepts, theories, and definitions.
  2. Handling, evaluating, and applying information: This is where you will be required to digest new information and relate it well to your knowledge.

You’re taking on Biology at an “advanced level”, meaning that examiners will have higher and significantly more stringent requirements. Questions are not as straightforward and will longer only require regurgitation (Fig 2.). In Fig 2, both questions involve the idea of homologous chromosomes, however, as you can see, the O Level question is much more direct; it is a simple “definition” question. On the other hand, the A Level question is much more in-depth and calls on your analytical skills. It requires you to relate how the formation of spindle fibers during prophase I is inhibited due to the action of GTPase Ran, preventing bivalents from forming.

Fig 2. Comparison between O Level and A Level questions

In order for you to apply your biological knowledge correctly and to know exactly what the question is asking for, you’ll need to first understand and internalise concepts. Internalising concepts is crucial as you’ll be thoroughly assimilating your new knowledge with your old knowledge; rote memorization will not aid you, especially for questions that require in-depth analysis or evaluation. Questions at the H2 A Level Biology examinations will require deep critical thinking, and you’ll need to comprehend both the content and questions well to be able to do just that. At Zenith, we advise you to first go through your notes before putting them aside and attempting to write out the processes on your own without referencing at any point. This is not only an excellent way to test your memory, but a useful way to structure and organise your thoughts, making it easier for you to understand and not simply memorise.

#2: Having the “catch-up later” mindset

As we all know, the A Level Examination is a two-year-long journey, not a year, or 3 months long stint, which is why it is extremely crucial to always ensure that you are not lagging behind in class and snowballing your work. It is indeed a two-year-long marathon and it’s important to pace yourself throughout the entire journey. That last-minute rush to pass won’t work anymore.

It is no secret that lectures or tutorials can get boring and repetitive, with the idea of doing homework after a long school day sounding extraordinarily draining. However, it is important that you make the extra effort to always stay on task! A small effort every day goes a long way. Watch your recorded lectures beforehand and aim to finish your tutorials before going to class. Procrastinating work will inevitably lead to a domino effect, and you will soon find your work piling up higher and higher as your to-do list gets longer and longer. As the school term whizzes by, you will find yourself swamped with work from other subjects and school commitments as well, making it difficult for you to find the time to “catch up” on your work. Many students adopt this “catch up later” mindset, and unfortunately, many of them struggle to do so and are not able to finish revising their content before the actual A Level Biology Examinations. H2 Biology is a subject of practice, and application skills do not develop overnight. In order to hone your thinking skills, you will need a lot of practice, which is why cramming content last minute in a desperate attempt to “catch up” is often unsuccessful.

Lost in a pile of lectures and school notes? Or simply do not know where to start your revision for the A Level Biology examinations? This is why Zenith is here to help you! Here at the top A Level Biology tuition program in Singapore, we boast a 66% distinction rate across all subjects. You can expect well-structured lessons, revision plans, and effective advice from our experienced tutors. In addition, you can also look forward to succinct notes compiled meticulously for you every week by our dedicated tutors. At Zenith, we understand that content can be overwhelming, especially in H2 Biology where there are a total of 16 chapters to cover, which is why we put together concise summary sheets for all our students. Like its name suggests, our summary “cheat sheets” are summarised versions of key ideas. They provide students with a clear overview of each and every topic, doubling up as an extremely handy tool for last-minute recaps as well (before you step into the examination hall)!

#3: Neglecting paper 1 (MCQ)

Multiple choice questions make up 15% of your A Level Biology grade. Even though it is much smaller in weightage than the other papers, it is still a significant portion (Fig 3.) that can thoroughly influence your grade. It can most certainly pull up a B standard paper to a paper worthy of an A grade.

Fig 3. H2 Biology syllabus on SEAB website

Paper 1 of the A Level Biology examinations is usually held at the end of the A Level Examination season, being the very last paper for many students. More often than not, there is also a week-long break between the last written paper and this MCQ paper. At this point in time, students are usually burnt out, exhausted, and have generally started to cool off from the intensive period of the exams. However, paper 1 is equally as important as the rest, and could even be pivotal in helping you score that distinction, so remember to give your maximum effort!

Remember to attempt paper 1 in one sitting. Look for a conducive environment to study and spend 1 hour, no more or no less, on every paper 1 mock exam that you attempt. Do not break up practice papers and complete them over a few sessions. This is because it is important to condition yourself to stay focused for one hour during the actual A Level examinations itself. If you want to focus your efforts on certain topics, do topical practices instead! Those are much more effective if you’re looking to sharpen your content and skills for specific topics like “the cell cycle”.

Pro tip: Do not internalise phrasing styles from the questions in paper 1 and use them in your open-ended questions. As mentioned in our previous article, the phrasing of open-ended answers are very specific, and paper 1 phrasing styles are often not accepted. In paper 1, the way answer options are phrased can also be confusing and/or misleading. Many times, all four options seem to be saying the exact same thing. This is when you need to break down each and every answer. Scrutinise every word and select the best option out of the four available. When faced with questions on genetics, draw out genetic diagrams to help yourself visualise things better. There is no shortcut after all!

If you are looking for conducive study areas, look no further. Zenith has got you covered! At Zenith, we strongly believe in student welfare. We understand that it may be hard for you to find good study spots, this is why we have designated study spots in all our centres just for our students. You can expect a quiet and conducive studying environment with air-conditioning, snacks, power plugs, and most importantly, internet access! As long as we are open, our study spots will always be available for all our students.

#4: Mistakes made in paper 4

Paper 4 is a killer for many students. Compared to papers 1, 2, and 3, students have significantly less practice for paper 4. This is because lab sessions in school are limited, and nearing the A Level Biology practical examination, the school labs close for preparation. Here are some key mistakes that you should not be making during practical tests:

1. Not allocating your time properly

  • Many practical papers consist of 2 to 3 questions, with one question on microscopy and one on planning every year. In order to score full marks for your microscopy section, you may be tempted to perfect your cell drawing until the lines are effortlessly clean or until the cell looks like it is shaped perfectly. However, spending too much time on microscopy will render you with very little time left for your other questions, and you may find yourself rushing to complete the paper, only to end up with a myriad of careless errors. Cell drawings are about 4 marks, and when you weigh that against a total of 55 marks, it is simply not worth it to spend too much time on it. Spend no more than 10 minutes on drawing and move on!
  • In the case that there is a full planning question (around 10 marks), leave 20 minutes for it and complete other components of the paper first.

2. Not reading through the entire procedure before starting your experiment

  • Due to the adrenaline, many students quickly start their experimental process after reading a few lines, only to conduct the experiment wrongly. To avoid wasting time and resources to restart your experiment, read through the entire procedure, make sure you understand the steps, and highlight key ideas to take note of!

3. Precision mistakes

  • Many students often leave their answers in the wrong s.f.and end up having marks deducted for inaccuracies.
  1. All non-zero digits are significant
  2. Zero between 2 non-zero digits are significant (e.g. 101.1234 – 7 s.f.)
  3. Trailing zeros in a number containing decimal points are significant (e.g. 12.2300 – 6 s.f.)
  4. Leading zeros are not significant (e.g. 0.000052 – 2 s.f.)
  • Values obtained by addition or subtraction = precision follows raw data with the fewest number of decimal points. For example, 0.019 + 0.21 = 0.229 = 0.23 (2 d.p.)
  • Values obtained by multiplication or division = precision follows raw data with fewest number of s.f. The exception: average precision follows raw data’s decimal points.

4. Drawing the wrong graph

  • Trend = best fit graph (straight line or curve)
  • No clear trend = point to point
  • Parameter is discontinuous; clear distinction = bar graph
  • Frequency in a continuous data set = histogram

Here at Zenith, our tutors know how challenging paper 4 can be, which is why they dedicate a few sessions just to cover paper 4 before your A Level examinations. You can not only expect a comprehensive guide in tackling science practicals but also look forward to practical papers to stimulate the paper 4 examinations. At Zenith, our friendly tutors are always happy to clear any doubts you have! Our tutors are also contactable round-the-clock and will strive to answer your questions as quickly as they can. In addition to consultations, the Zenith experience also comprises a dynamic relationship between student and tutor to facilitate a better learning process!

#5: Misconceptions on “infectious diseases”

The chapter on “infectious diseases” is often within the last few chapters to be taught, and it is also one of the most confusing chapters where students commonly mix processes up.

The immune system

There are two types of immunity: innate (nonspecific) and acquired/adaptive (specific). Here are the brief differences between the two.

Innate immunity

  • Rapid response
  • Non-specific response to all types of pathogens
  • No difference in response when infections reoccur
  • No memory cells: no immunological memory
  • Composed of physical and chemicals barriers and phagocytes

Adaptive/Acquired immunity

  • Consists of cell-mediated + humoral mediated response
  • Slow response
  • Specific response
  • Response, when infections reoccur, is more rapid and efficient
  • Memory cells that maintain immunological memory
  • Composed of B cells and T cells
  • B cells: mature in the bone marrow; they contribute to antibodies that bind directly with specific antigens. B cells also contribute to antibody-mediated immunity
  • T cells: mature in the thymus; they express T cell receptors and CD4 or CD8, not both. T cells contribute to cell-mediated immunity. T cell receptors only recognise antigens bound to certain receptor molecules. For example, class I or II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) CD4 and CD8 contribute to T cell recognition and activation by binding to either MHC I or MHC II
  • Occurs only in vertebrates

In this brief article, we have covered some of the 5 most common mistakes that students make in H2 Biology. If you would like to know more on the subject and make sure you secure that distinction, join our JC tuition Singapore program today! Slots are limited so sign up now!