5 Tips for Smashing the GCSE Biology Exams

Although the GCSE Biology exams can be a daunting prospect for many students, there are some useful and effective things to make sure you do, as well as some things not to do during your exam to ensure you get the best mark and the highest grade possible.

Whether you are taking your Biology GCSE with OCR, AQA, or Edexcel, there are some common themes that many students simply don’t know that could make a huge difference.

This article isn’t written by some ‘online AI chatbot’, I am an experienced Qualified Biology Teacher, Head of Science and Biology GCSE Exam Marker in the UK.

Exam Technique is Key.

My track record shows that students who simply follow the advice below get more marks and a better grade. I also won’t be providing you with generic ‘make a revision timetable’ and ‘read the question’ type advice but will provide you with exam technique guidance that is specific to the Biology GCSE papers.


Biology GCSE is a huge subject; probably the most knowledge content heavy of all the sciences and dwarfs most other subjects so hats off to you for taking it on! Therefore when you come to the exam, you need to come with a huge knowledge bank. Hopefully you are well on your way there.


However, this does not mean hundreds of revision cards or pages of notes. In fact, if you look at the Biology GCSE mark scheme you will see that many of the answers require one or two keyword(s). Even the longer answers only have a handful of keywords or phrases that will get you all the available marks. So that leads us to the first tip...

Tip 1: 

Learn the key scientific vocabulary and phrases from past questions!

(Do not try to learn lengthy answers or waste time writing too much in the exam)


Don’t write pages and pages but do make those biology notes concise… very concise!


You should be taking the questions directly from past papers as similar questions come up year after year and keep your answers between 1-2 words for 1-mark questions and around 10 words for a 4-mark question. The examples below show you how simple this is to do.


E.g. Question: What is the function of chloroplasts? (1 mark)

Answer: Photosynthesis. 

E.g. Question: Describe how mitosis produces genetically identical cells? (4 marks) 

Answer: DNA is replicated, chromosomes move apart, cytoplasm divides in two, and chromosomes are identical in each. (This gives you the full four marks in about a line of an answer.)

That brings me to the 6-mark questions. It repeatedly amazes me how many students panic about the biology GCSE 6 mark question. It also surprises me how many students do not get the full marks when they have the potential to do so.

The marks they miss are always the easy points; the things they probably knew or could do from Year 7 and Year 8 but didn't think would count in a GCSE paper…. they do!

Tip 2:

Do think back to the basics! (with the 6 mark questions)

There are two types of 6-mark questions.

Let’s first look at the ‘apply knowledge’ question. E.g.: 

Question: Explain why a tree might die if its roots are damaged. (6 marks) 

Often students correctly comment on the more challenging aspects of the question E.g mentioning the xylem and phloem or the lack of nitrates for protein growth. But, it is the simple points that they miss out on. 

Sometimes it is those students who feel their plant knowledge is less strong but forget that it is possible to get quite a few marks by writing things like ‘less water absorbed’, ‘less water transported to cells’, and ‘less photosynthesis/glucose produced’.


I know this seems like something you will have learned in Year 7 or Year 8 but all of these points are mark-worthy - you’ll be amazed when you start looking at markschemes!

It is important to mention here that in the 6 mark questions in the Biology GCSE, marks can also be gained when ‘Points are identified, given in detail and logically linked to form a clear account’.


All this essentially means is, to write in full sentences and be clear. However, do not overcomplicate it as it will be less ‘logically linked’ and you could lose marks.


Ignore the amount of space you are given which is often far too much! If you have used Hint 1 and have written the keywords in a sentence then you should not be writing much to gain the full number of marks. Not only will you save yourself a huge amount of time but I promise you will get a better mark.

Tip 3:

Just say what you see! (when evaluating the data for 6 marks)


The second type of 6-mark question is the ‘Evaluate the data’ question. This is usually a graph or table. These questions are a win-win!


Read off the table and tell the marker pretty much anything you notice. For example; Which has more? Which has less? Go through each category in the table and comment on what the data is telling you for each column.


Tip 4: 

Give a balanced judgement backed up with evidence when asked to evaluate!

Coming to a judgement is the part some students forget.


You decide which option is best and provide a reason. Often either option is valid as long as they are backed up with some evidence. Evidence is using some of the data from the table to support your answer. However, do not get wrapped up in your thoughts on the subject matter.


When you are evaluating data, you are not expressing your own opinion or knowledge. You are just commenting on what you think based on the information provided. 

Tip 5: 

Learn and use pre-prepared sentence structures when analysing a graph. 

It is so easy to end up in a knot when presented with a graph in your biology GCSE exam. You can end up either saying the wrong thing or not really doing any analysis at all.


Markers, such as myself, look out for phrases such as, ‘As the ‘name of the x axis’ goes up/down so too does the ‘name of the y axis’.

Using the name of the axis in this way is specific and indicates a trend. This is a sentence structure worth learning for all your science exams and it will guarantee you the marks you deserve.


Remember when looking at a graph to look out for any changes such as does the ‘rate increase/decrease’ (does the line get steeper?) or does it ‘flatten out and stop increasing/decreasing’. All of these things are worth commenting on in your answer.

As we head towards exam season in May and June these hints, tips, tricks are going to be vital in getting the marks you deserve. Revising is one thing but succeeding in the actual exam is another. I have put the five things to do below.

Do these things and you will do well:

  • Tip 1: Do just learn the key scientific vocabulary and phrases for questions in the test! (Do not try to learn lengthy answers or write them in the test.) 
  • Tip 2: Do think back to the basics! (with the 6 mark questions)
  • Tip 3: Do just say what you see! (when evaluating the data for 6 marks) 
  • Tip 4: Do give a balanced judgement backed up with evidence when asked to evaluate!
  • Tip 5: Do learn and use pre-prepared sentence structures when analysing a graph!

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Qualified Teacher Secondary and Primary Maths, Science. SATs to GCSE

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