HKDSE 2019: For biology, the best exam topics to revise include how vaccinations work, cell structure and the scientific method

HKDSE 2019: For biology, the best exam topics to revise include how vaccinations work, cell structure and the scientific method

Top tutors from Beacon College and Modern Education tell us what to expect from this year’s paper


Key topics to revise before the HKDSE biology exam include health and disease topics such as vaccinations and infectious diseases.
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As the HKDSE Biology exam approaches, Young Post asked two tutors – Andy Tse from Beacon College and Hugo Kam from Modern Education – what you need to know.

Hot topics

The biology syllabus is made up of four modules, and there will be at least one question from each in Paper 1, says Tse. The first topic you should revise is health and disease.

“There have been a lot of news stories about vaccinations,” Tse notes. “Students should familiarise themselves with how vaccinations work, as well as related topics like infectious diseases.”

It’s likely that you’ll be given daily-life scenarios to which you’ll need to apply your knowledge, he adds. Meanwhile, you’ll need a thorough understanding of sex-linked disorders – including haemophilia, colour blindness, and G6PD deficiency – for the genetics questions, says Tse.

As for the ecosystem, “Students might be given data analysis questions on energy flow, pyramids of number and biomass, as well as competition between species,” says Tse. Students don’t always perform well in analytical questions, so try to get plenty of practice.

When it comes to questions related to cells, enzymes and osmosis are the two concepts which appear most often.

“Some of the harder questions might test students’ knowledge of cell model and structure,” adds Tse.

Finally, if you have time, try to revise the transport systems in humans and plants. “There’s a fair chance the circulatory, digestive, and coordination systems in humans, as well as the support system and transpiration in plants, will be tested,” says Tse.

Question types

Among the types of questions you’ll see on the paper, those related to scientific investigations appear every year, says Kam.

“Students might be asked to sketch an experimental set-up, identify assumptions and the dependent and independent variables of an experiment, list the experimental precautions, or draw conclusions from an experiment,” he adds.

Try to approach experiment-based questions as you would a classroom assessment, using your lab knowledge and analysis skills.

Kam says to expect questions on the nature of science itself.

“Students are usually given an unfamiliar scenario, story, or theory, and they have to explain how it supports or contradicts the biology concepts they’ve learned.”

As for questions which involve drawing diagrams, make sure you know the difference between a high power and low power diagram. According to past exam reports, students tend to slip up here.

“Rather than outlining the layers and distribution of different tissues, a lot of students sketched individual cells showing details of their content. This shows the candidates’ inability to distinguish low power diagrams from the high power ones,” says Tse, adding that a similar question might appear in this year’s exam. “Students should study the requirements for both diagrams thoroughly.”

Essay questions

If you’re worried about the 11-point essay question – which is the last question – in Paper 1B, Kam suggests making sure you know how to attempt a “compare and contrast” question.

“There’s a fair chance that students will be asked to point out the similarities and differences between the human circulatory system and the plant transport system this year,” he says. Tse also points out that you won’t get any points for simply listing all the characteristics of the things you’re asked to compare.

“Points will only be given when students can show how the corresponding features of two things are similar to and different from one another.”

He adds that when students observe that something is present in one process or system but absent in another, they often forget to mention the absence. “Remember that you need to point out both, otherwise there is no comparison.”

While you may be tempted to show off all your knowledge in this essay, it’s better to stick to the facts that are most relevant to your argument.

“Students should avoid overwriting and redundancies, and present their arguments concisely and precisely,” says Kam. “Otherwise, marks will be deducted for communication skills, which is worth three points.”

Finally, don’t rush your essay. “Take five minutes to plan it using thinking tools like mind maps and tables first,” advises Kam. “It will help you organise your thoughts.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

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This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
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