How to use these tips
These tips are based on some common mistakes made by students. They are collected under
various subheadings to help you when you prepare for your examinations.
Make sure you read all the general tips. These can be important in any of the papers you do.
Make sure you know which examination papers you are taking before you look at the tips for the
All of you will take paper 1, which is all multiple choice questions.
You may be taking paper 2, which is Foundation OR you may be taking paper 3, which is
You may be taking paper 5, which is a practical examination in a laboratory OR you may be
taking paper 6 which is a written paper about practical work.
Keep you answer in the lines on the question paper. If you write in the margin, at the bottom
of a page, or on blank pages, part of your answer might be missed.
If you have to cross out something, put a line through, but do not scribble all over it.
If you have to use a different space to write another answer to one you have crossed out,
then put a note to say where it is, e.g. answer on page 5
Written papers are now marked on computer screen so your written paper will be scanned.
If you write on the margin the scanner may not be able to copy this.
Try to be precise, in other word be accurate in what you say. Using biological terms
correctly can help.
Do not use word like “it”, “they”, “effect”, “affect” without any more explanation. A sentence like “It has an effect on the body” or “They affect the process” does not say anything: – If you use the word “it” or “they “– think WHAT? – If you use the word “affect” or “effect” – think HOW?
Sample Question 1: Stating Key Terms
Q: State why magnesium ions are important for healthy plant development. 
A: “it are needed by the plant” is true but too vague.
“They are needed by the leaves” is still too vague
“Magnesium is part of a chlorophyll molecule.” Good answer!
Key Biology Terms
Terms are the names used in biology. These will be used in questions. You will get
more marks if you can use them correctly in you examination. Ask your teacher if you are
unsure of the different meanings between biological terms.
Try to use the correct spelling. The person marking your answer will try to recognise what
word you mean, but if the spelling is too wrong, then they cannot allow you a mark.
Some biological terms have very similar spelling. One example is “ureter”, urethra” and
“uterus”. If your mis-spelling is “uretus”, it could be “ureters” or “uterus”. Other common
examples are ovum, ova, ovary and ovule, testes and testa; sucrose and sucrase.
Do not try to mix the spellings of two words when you are not sure which of them is the
correct answer, e.g. meitosis, when you are not sure whether the answer is mitosis or
meiosis, or urether, when you are not sure if the answer is ureter or urethra.
You need to check carefully that you have used the right word when similar terms are used
in the same topic , e.g. urea and urine, ureter and urethra., semen and sperm
Writing in your own words. You sometimes have to write two or more sentences to answer a
Use short sentences. If you write long sentences you can get mixed up. It is hard to find
correct statements in a muddled answer.
You are often asked to write down something you have learned. Make sure you have learnt
the meanings of the common terms used in biology, e.g. photosynthesis, osmosis,
You also need be able to write down the meaning of more complicated ideas, e.g. level of
organisation, natural selection, global warming, eutrophication.
How To Ace Biology Questions
There are a few factors to understanding an IGCSE Biology Paper:
1) The number of marks.
• In multiple choice questions there is only one mark for a correct answer.
• Other sorts of question show how many marks at the end of each part like this . The number
of marks helps you decide how much to write.
• The number of marks is a guide to how long to spend on each question or parts of a question.
If you allow about 1 minute per mark then you should finish in time to check your answers.
• Do not waste time and write long answer for a question which has . You will only get one
mark even if the rest of the answer has correct statements.
• If there are two or more marks do not write the same thing in two different ways, e.g. The leaf is
very large. The leaf has a large surface area.
2) The instructions.
These are called command words and tell you what to do.
• If a question says “Show your working” when you have to do a calculation, then write down the
stages of your calculation to show how you got your answer. Even if you get the final answer
wrong, you may be given a mark for knowing what to do.
• If a question asks you to “Name” or “State” two things only the first two will be marked. Use the
numbered lines for your answers if they on the question paper. If you write more than two and
the first is correct but the second one is wrong, you will only get the mark for the first one. Even
if the third answer is correct, it will not be marked.
• Some questions have two commands in the question, for example “Predict” AND “Explain” ….”
This means you have to say what you think will happen AND then say why you think it will
3) What the question is about.
Make sure you know which part of your biology is being tested.
• Read the whole of a question carefully before you begin to answer it. Some of the parts have
similar answers so you need to work out the difference between them. If you write exactly the
same thing in different parts of the same question, then only one of them might be a correct
• It helps to highlight the main features of a question. e.g. “Name the tissue that transports the sugars made by photosynthesis to other parts of the
• This tells you that you want a one word answer, about plant transport of sugars.
• Do not be put off the question is about something you have not studied. There will be enough
information in the question for you to work out an answer.
• Look carefully at any diagrams, graphs or tables and make sure you understand what they are
about. You may have to use information from them to answer the questions.
• Answer each question as far as you can. Do not spend a long time staring at a question
• If you have forgotten something, go on to the next question or part of a question. Come back
to the ones you found difficult when you have finished all of the paper.
• Try not to leave blanks. When you come back to a question you often remember an answer
you left out.
• Do not waste time by writing about things unrelated to the question.
Paper 1 Tips
Each question tests just one thing. You have about 1 minute to read and answer each
Some questions test what you know and understand. For example “What part of the eye
Some questions test if you can use what you have learned to understand new data. These
questions will often have a diagram, graph or table to use.
Try to decide what the question is testing as you are reading it.
Sample Question 1: Content Question
Q: What is a characteristic feature of all living things? 
A: You need to know the characteristic features of living things. If you know a quick way of
remembering all seven then you can jot it down on the question paper. e.g. MRS GREN
for Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion and Nutrition, or
the first letters of Real Elephants Grow Massive Red Feet Slowly,
Sample Question 2: Content and Inference
Q: “In which vessel will absorbed alcohol first be found?” 
A: You need to think about what the question is asking you.
– Is it about digestion?
– Is it about excretion (of alcohol)?
– Is it about the circulation?
The question is asking about something absorbed from the gut to be transported, so it is
– Which vessel carries substances absorbed by the gut?
– Answer “The Hepatic Portal Vein”.
So you have to choose the letter which labels the hepatic portal vein.
Multiple Choice Tips
Do not try to find a pattern in the letter order of correct answers.
The same letter could be the correct for several answers in a row.
Letter A might be the correct answers for more questions than are B, C or D. Or there could
be fewer correct answers shown by letter D than any of the others.
Do not let what you have chosen for the previous questions influence what letter you
Written Paper Tips
You should read all of a question before you begin to answer it. Different questions will ask you
to do different tasks to test how well you know and understand biology.
The topic is usually the same for all different parts of the question. Remember that underlining important words will help you to be clear about what you are being asked to do.
Look for clues in the words of the question. If you see “mammal” you know that the animals
are warm blooded and have biological systems like ours.
If you are only given a Latin name or a name you do not recognise, e.g. “dik-dik”, look to
see if you are told anything about it. If you are told it is a herbivore, then you know it eats
Sample Question 3: Labeling Diagrams
Q: Label on Fig.5.1 using labelling lines, a petal, a sepal and a stamen. 
A: You have to know the structure of a flower. You also have to be able to find the structures on a diagram of a flower you may never have studied. You then have to draw a label line to the structure and write the name next to the labelling line. If you do not draw a label line, or use and arrow, you may not get any marks even if you have found the correct structures.
Sample Question 4: Food Web
Q: Name an organism from this food web that is a primary consumer, a tertiary consumers and a producer” 
A: To answer this question you have to know definitions of producers, primary consumers, tertiary consumers.Then you have to show that you understand how these terms apply to the food web shown in the diagram. If you put examples from other food webs you have learned, you will not get any marks.
Sample Question 5: Data Inference
Q: Describe and explain the advantage of the distribution of chloroplasts shown in Fig.8.1 
A: To answer this question you have to observe the diagram and describe which cells have the most chloroplasts. Then you have to work out why this arrangement might help photosynthesis. If you write answer about what chloroplasts do you will not get any marks.
If you are asked to draw a graph:
a. Choose a scale which uses most of the grid. Choose a simple scale, e.g. one small square is equal to 1 or 2 or 10 units in the data. Do not give make it hard for by having to multiply each item in the data by 2/3!
b. Write the name of the axes and their units, e.g. rate of water loss/ g per h , temperature/oC, time/s
c. Plot the points exactly using a sharp pencil. Draw the points lightly so that you can rub
them out if you need to. Make them more definite when you are sure they are right.
d. Use a cross (x) or a dot in a circle (~) for your plot points.
e. Join the points with a “line of best fit or a zig -zag line.
f. Remember that all curves do not have to pass through the point where the two axes meet.
g. Do not extend you graph beyond the plotted points.
i. If you are asked to read figures from a graph
Make sure you work out the scale.
- Make sure you read from the correct axis and put in the units.
- If you are asked for a trend or pattern, describe the overall change, e.g. the line increases
and then levels. off.
- Do not describe each point of the graph.
Use a ruler and a pencil to draw the table. Write headings for each column or row of the table.
Write in units if they are needed, e.g. volume of water/cm3, mass of seed/g. Do not put units in the table spaces where you write numbers.
You may have to find the figures from a table or graph. Make sure that you show the units in the calculation and how you working.
If you use a calculator, round up the figures to the same as in the question – do not copy all
the figures after the decimal point, e.g. If the question figures are 5.6, 4.6, then your answer
should only have one number after the decimal point.
Show or complete equations. You do not have to know chemical symbols for equations of
the processes in biology. But it will help you to understand them if you do.
If you are asked to give either a word or a symbol equation, do not combine symbols and
words in the same answer.
Sample Question 6: Word v. Chemical Equations
Q: What is the word equation for anerobic respiration by yeast?
A: Glucose → carbon dioxide +ethanol + energy
Q: What is the chemical equation for anaerobic respiration by yeast?
A: C6H12O6 → 2C2 H5 OH + 2CO2+ energy
Do not write something like glucose → CO2 + ethanol and energy.
Make comparisons. If you are asked to compare two things make sure you make it clear which
you are talking about.
Sample Question 7 – Data Inference
A question may give to table of data and then ask you about it. Make sure you only use
information from the table.
Q: In a table of the composition of normal breast milk and colostrum, you can see which milk contains more fat, protein and sugar.
A: Your answers should start with “colostrum has more …….. than breast milk” or “breast milk has more …… than colostrum”. Do not put “it has more protein.” The person marking cannot guess which you thought had more protein.
Sample Question 8 – Content Comparison
The question may ask you to make a comparison about concepts you have learned.
Q: What is the differences between arteries and veins?
A: The clearest way of answering is to make your own table.
Make sure the headings are clear. Keep the comparisons of the same feature together.
|has thick wall||has thin wall|
|thick muscle layer||very thin muscle|
A table like the one below will not get any marks as there are no comparisons of the same
|thick wall||elastic layer|
|no valves||small amount of muscle|
The mark scheme used for a question like this will have a list of points that the person
marking your answer will use.
There will be more points than there are marks, so you do not need to put them all in your
Sample Question 9 – Essay Response
Q: Suggest what happens if excess nitrogen fertiliser is washed into a stream or pond 
A: Algae and aquatic plants grow faster using the fertiliser. Algae cover the water surface. Light cannot pass to aquatic plants lower down. These plants die. Bacteria of decay feed on the dead plants. Bacteria increase in numbers. These bacteria are aerobic. They use up more oxygen.There is not enough oxygen for other organisms which live in the water. These organisms die. The process is called eutrophication.
If your answer is something like “The fertiliser causes low oxygen and it affects animals in the
water.” you will not get any marks. The answer is much too vague, in other words it is not precise.
I your answer is something like “The animals do not have enough oxygen for their respiration and
they die.” you will get some marks.