How to Revise for GCSE Biology
Learn our top tips for GCSE biology revision.
Knowing the different chambers of the heart, what osmosis is and how plants make food may not seem very relevant.
However, biology is the study of life and living organisms and teaches you all about humans and the environment. The skills you learn in this subject are transferable and can be applied to everyday working life, especially when it comes to the practical element of the course.
With so many difficult concepts to learn and retain, figuring out how to revise for GCSE biology in a way that’s effective for you is so important.
Preparation is Key
1. What Do You Need to Know?
The biology GCSE is broken up into several distinct topic categories which you will have covered in class. You should already have a note of them, but if not, ask your teacher or get clarification from your school’s chosen exam board.
You can find the specifications for the major exam boards below:
- AQA biology specification
- Edexcel Level 1/Level 2 biology specification
- OCR biology A (9-1) specification
- OCR biology B (9-1) specification
2. Create a Revision Timetable
Once you’ve got a grasp of the specification, you can use it to fuel your revision timetable. Remember, you’ll need to leave time to study for your other GCSEs while still making sure you cover all of the biology syllabus.
Start by listing out the topic segments, like cell biology, infection and response and homeostasis. Break these into sections and plot them in your schedule. Don’t try and cram too much into one revision session; instead, stick to one topic at a time to make sure you really understand it.
Half an hour at a time on each biology topic should do the trick. It’s long enough that you can dig deep during the session, but short enough that you won’t get bored and start daydreaming.
Here are some top tips for creating an effective revision timetable and learning how to revise for GCSE biology:
- Use the exam board specification as a checklist and tick off each learning outcome as you do it
- Start your revision sessions with an easier topic to build your confidence and then move onto a more difficult topic
- Break topics down into smaller sections and sprinkle them throughout your schedule
- Make sure you leave plenty of time for breaks. Time away from revision can help information sink in, especially for heavy subjects like biology
3. Don’t Forget Practical Skills
A lot of your GCSE biology lessons will be spent in the lab conducting experiments - dissecting an animal heart is a memorable one for a lot of students. This information might crop up in your exams even if it simply means writing about the process (just to clarify, you won’t be asked to dissect an animal heart live in your GCSE exam!).
As a result, you should spend some time learning the names of all the scientific equipment you used in each experiment, as well as the formula and any unit of measurements required.
This set of flashcards on practical biology skills will help you improve your knowledge of key scientific terminology.
There’s a lot of information to learn for your biology GCSE, which means it’s important you have a good understanding of the topics, formulas and theories before you start revising.
Here are some key learning techniques you can use to make sure you fully understand the subject matter.
1. Create a Revision Guide and Summarise
There are eight main subject areas covered in a biology GCSE exam. Split these up into different sections in your revision guide and pull out notes from each class that relate to each section.
It helps to have a “factsheet” at the front of each section that highlights key formulas, units of measurement and any other key terms that relate to the topic.
After the factsheet, try and summarise each topic in a paragraph or two. This ensures you fully understand it and aren’t just copying your class notes without taking the information in.
2. Spaced Repetition
Spaced repetition is the act of going over something again and again over a certain period of time. While this isn’t just limited to revising for biology GCSE, it can certainly help complicated formulas and processes to sink in.
Set aside some time after each class to go over your notes. Re-reading the content you learned will help cement it in your brain. You can also review your notes at regular intervals throughout the year. Every time you go over them, they’ll ingrain themselves a little bit deeper, so by the time your exam comes around they’ll be well assigned to memory.
3. Make Difficult Topics Fun
While biology can be one of the more interesting sciences because it relates to everyday life, it can also be difficult, particularly when you start to get bogged down in complicated terms and processes.
As a result, you’ll need to dedicate a little more time to the harder topics. Even if you have extensive class notes on the topic, it can help to switch up your learning methods to add an extra layer of knowledge to your repertoire.
Watching YouTube videos is a great way to do this.
If you learn better by writing rather than watching or listening, you can write notes as you watch these videos.
4. Create Accompanying Visuals
The complex topics and formulas in biology lend themselves perfectly to visual representations. We’re talking about things like diagrams, mind maps, graphs, and tables.
Visual aids can help you remember what you revised when you’re sat in your exam with no notes. You don’t have to be the most creative person in the world; you can simply add colour to your revision guide and even use bullet points to differentiate topics.
You can watch animated YouTube videos like those from The Amoeba Sisters to get some visual inspiration for your notes.
5. Practice Past Papers
Biology exams are different from other GCSE exams. They require you to provide a mixture of answers, from short essays and explanations, to calculations and practical information.
Getting familiarised with what an exam paper looks like will help you stay calm and focused during your actual exams. Past papers are key for this. They allow you to experience an exam-like situation on your own terms.
For best results, work on practice papers in a faux exam environment.
- Giving yourself a time limit
- Turning off your phone and getting rid of distractions
- Not looking at your notes
- Marking your answers and identifying key areas for improvement
The Revision World website is a great resource for past papers, but you can also ask your teacher or go onto your school’s exam board website:
6. Leverage Study Groups
Two minds are better than one, and multiple minds are better than two. Buddy up with classmates and create a study group where you can share ideas, test each other, and make studying fun.
Try and meet at least once a week for an hour to go over your notes and share your knowledge. This also makes studying more enjoyable, because you can play games and quiz each other.
Consider doing activities such as:
- Designing a slideshow presentation about a specific process or formula
- Creating a group revision guide
- Quizzing each other on key topics
- Discussing ideas and hosting biology-related conversations
If you’re unable to meet your study group in person, there are other ways you can get that collaborative study group feeling:
Virtual Study Groups
Virtually meet with your study group on a tool like Microsoft Teams or Skype. You can carry out a normal revision session from the comfort of your home while still getting to share knowledge with your classmates.
You can also create a private Facebook group, Slack channel, or WhatsApp group for your study group where you can ask questions and communicate with each other regularly.
Study With Me Videos
If you concentrate better when studying alongside others but can’t meet your study group in person, fire up a “study with me” video like this one on YouTube while you study. It’ll feel like you’re in a group and will make sure you focus for half an hour or so.
7. Create and Use Flashcards
Biology is a content-heavy subject, so it’s important to summarise your notes if you want to make it easier to study. Supplement your notes with Quizlet’s GCSE biology revision sets which let you play games to test your knowledge, practice spelling, and help you learn as you go through each section.
At the end of each revision session, create a set of flashcards (or use one of the many Quizlet sets, like the ones below) and go through them at the beginning of your next session.
You can make flashcards interactive, too. FaceTime a friend and get them to test you, or print the flashcards out and stick them around your house so you have to test yourself each time you walk into a room.
8. Revision and Memory Games
A key part of revising is to ensure information is lodged in your brain. Memory games are a great way to do this while adding a dose of fun to your revision schedule.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Post-It Note Challenges
Write out some sample questions on post-it notes (you can also print and use flashcards for this). Get a family member to stick them around the house in hidden places. When you find a post-it note, you have to answer the question as quickly as possible.
This game will help you think on your feet as well as help you remember information.
Student Becomes the Teacher
To be able to teach, you have to know a topic really well, and this can be a great way to test your knowledge and make sure you have a full understanding of key biology topics.
Start by choosing a topic from your revision notes to teach to a friend or family member.
Then, teach them everything you know about this topic.
You can use diagrams and visual cues to help, and you can even create a slideshow presentation. The best part is, the person you choose to teach doesn’t have to know about biology at all - you’re the teacher, remember.
This activity is perfect for visual learners and creative types. It basically involves making mind maps as a visual representation of your revision material. You can create a mind map for each of the eight topics in the syllabus and have it spread out to the different subsections.
Download an App
There are plenty of fun revision apps out there that help turn studying into a game. Not only will this make revising more enjoyable, but it will help you remember and store information in new ways.
Here are some apps to get you started:
Ready to Revise Biology?
These tips and tricks will help you mix up your revision sessions and learn material quickly. Start by getting a list of the eight topics on the syllabus and creating a realistic study schedule. Then, buddy up with fellow biologists, play games and retain the information in a way that’s effective for you.