As students prepare for their exams, questions that only assessors can answer often pop into mind. Unfortunately, most students don’t have access to assessors in most of their subjects, so we took your questions and presented them to a senior VCAA assessor who has extensive experience in marking the VCE exams that you will soon sit. Here are his/her answers.

We hope that your exam preparations are going well.

TSFX.

Why is Biology 1 & 2 different to that of 3 & 4?

Biology is a very detailed study so it has always been separated. U1/2 give a general Biological understanding of cells, organisms and their interactions and reproduction and genetic inheritance. It is a general introduction for U3/4 but is a stand alone course. U3/4 goes into the more specific levels of detail of Biology and is similar to that in lower tertiary studies.

How can I ensure I’m getting the most marks for my answers?

Try to put all required information into your answers – look at the assessors reports to see what key points were expected to be included.

How should I revise for exams?

Do as many past VCAA papers as possible – especially ones for the current study design.

How can I work through past exams most effectively? Should I be focussing on completing the exam as a whole or questions on certain topics?

 This is very individual. If there is a particular area you find more difficult then work on that first looking for these questions from past papers. It is important to also do full exam papers to be used to changing your focus between the different topics. The past current study design VCAA papers 2018, 2017, 2016 should be done this way.

How can I use the assessment report to maximize my marks?

Read the suggestions given in the reports as they focus on the main responses expected and also point out any specific ideas needed as well as common errors found in student responses.

I have looked though a few past exams on the vcaa website and I was wondering if definition questions will be asked? My teacher said it is important to memorise definitions, but I dont see it as worthwhile, considering as it will not be explicitly asked.

While definitions may not be asked explicitly there are questions asked where the response requires those good full definitions as the response. These may start with “ What is meant by …”, “Compare ….and ….”, . it is useful to learn full definitions especially for the terminology in U4 AOS1 so you can include this in responses eg gene flow, gene pool, population, species.

This is something my teacher was unsure of for the exam. When we are referring to B and T cells, does it matter if we say ‘helper T cells’ or ‘T helper cells’ or is it fine to say either? This is similar to ‘Plasma B cells’ or ‘B plasma cells’.

It is fine to say either in both cases.

Is light an input of photosynthesis or is it just a factor for photosynthesis to occur? Does light and chlorophyll need to be put in the photosynthesis equation?

The inputs are expected to be the molecular inputs – water and carbon dioxide. These are the main ones to write. If you include light it will not be marked as incorrect but it should be put as the t3rd input not your first one! Yes both light and chlorophyll are required above and below the arrow in both eh worded and balanced chemical equations.

Is writing in dot points alright for short answer?

It is preferred to have answers in full sentences to give the flow of the response but dot points will be fine and marked fully – these are useful particularly for process questions responses eg Natural selection, protein synthesis.

What is the best advice for remembering all the content of biology because of how content heavy the subject is?

Hopefully you have made summary dot points of the content over the year – if not use the Key knowledge dot points in the Study design. Looking at these repeatedly will help you remember the key ideas. Doing past exam papers will help imprint the main content ideas too.

I have seen many different numbers everywhere, ranging from 26 to 38 so I was wondering how many molecules of ATP are produced from the electron transport chain?

The expected values for ATP production in aerobic cellular respiration in the biology course is: 2ATP in glycolysis, 2ATP in Krebs cycle, 32 ATP in ETC – this gives the 36ATP total that applies to all cells undergoing this process.

I have noticed on the assessor’s reports that the responses given are not supposed to be exemplary or complete responses. If I gave those responses in an exam, would I get full marks? Should I give responses like them?

The assessor report responses indicate the expected panel’s responses and other acceptable common responses. They are written in a concise manner to give the key ideas. Writing answers like this are suitable however they are just indicating the key ideas applied to the marking scheme. Being able to expand on these points is useful.

I have been averaging around the 60s this year for my sacs. If I work hard now and manage to get good on the exam can I get in the high 30s or low 40s?

SAC scores sent to VCAA are an indication of your ranking – performing as best you can in the exams will enable you to maximize you study score and may allow your ranking to improve.

What are the best possible ways to understand all the concepts and prepare for the exam?

Use the Key knowledge dot points in the Study design and doing past exam papers will help imprint the main content ideas and assist your understanding too.

I am doing early commencement biology and every time I do a practice exam, I always lose few marks on multiple choice questions. What is the best way to prepare for the exam so I can lose minimal marks?

Multiple choice questions can be tricky so it is important that you read them accurately – underline the key words – and then look at responses closely. Your should be able to eliminates 1 or 2 responses based on their wording being incorrect. Then carefully re-read the responses you are choosing between to look for that point of difference. Doing lots of practice questions will help with this.

For the full balanced equation of aerobic cellular respiration, is 30-32 or 36-38 ATP produced?

For all cells the overall aerobic cellular respiration final ATP production is 36ATP – this is the expected number.

38ATP are produced in specific animal cells so this is why 36-38ATP is acceptable too – however 38ATP by itself is not!

32ATP is only referring to the Electron transport chain ATP production.

Do you prefer students to answer in full sentences or in dot points? Will you lose marks if answers remain in dot points?

It is preferred to have answers in full sentences to give the flow of the response but dot points will be fine and marked fully – these are useful particularly for process questions responses eg Natural selection, protein synthesis.

For the evolution unit, what names of all the developmental stage of human evolution are we to know? For example Homo Habilis, Australopithecus etc. As all textbooks differ is there a set order we must know for exams and also their dates?

You are expected to know the main “players” in the hominin evolution with regard to structural comparisons and cultural evolution. Eg ~ 7mya hominin speciation, ~4mya Australopithecus afarensis, ~2mya Homo habilis (tools), ~1mya Homo ergaster/erectus (fire), ~130,000 Homo sapiens

Also know the relationship between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis and Denisovan evidence.

When studying for Earth’s Geological History, which periods do we need to know exactly for exams? Many textbooks vary with some mentioning the Precambrian eon but others not. So is there a list of eras we are meant to have an understanding of in terms of years for the exam?

Just have a general idea that the 4 eras are developed based on major changes to biodiversity / complexity and appearance of a new dominant group.

You should be able to recognise the names of the eras and the order they occurred in: Precambrian, paleozoic, Mesozoic, cenozoic. You do not need to know the actual dates.

When a question asks list or describe, do I have to explain or go into detail about the topic, or can I dot point the information?

If asked to describe then you usually have data to refer to as evidence, to describe what has happened or is happening. You must include this evidence in your description. You can dot point the information but full sentences are better but you do not lose marks for dot points – points are allocated to including the required ideas in your response. If asked to describe a full explanation of the theory is not required but you need to “explain” your response by referring to data or evidence.

In how much detail do we need to know about the complement system, apoptosis (the two pathways/Caspases)?

You need to know the role of complement proteins as a chemicals involved in the second line of defence – coating the Ag/Ab complex and flagging phagocytes to the area, able to lyse bacteria.

You should know examples of stimuli for both intrinsic and extrinsic pathways. Also extrinsic involved death receptors on the external cell membrane whereas intrinsic involves mitochondrial destruction. As far as the apoptotic steps after stimulation you are expected to mention caspases released/activated, breakdown of organelles, cell shrinking and blebbing, apoptotic bodies/cell breaks apart. See 2016 VCAA assessor report Short Answer Q3.

In how much detail do we need to know the the geological history (do we need to know all the mass extinctions? All the dates when the different hominins were around?)

Just have a general idea that the 4 eras are developed based on major changes to biodiversity / complexity and appearance of a new dominant group.

You should be able to recognise the names of the eras and the order they occurred in: Precambrian, paleozoic, Mesozoic, cenozoic. You do not need to know the actual dates. You are expected to know the main “players” in the hominin evolution with regard to structural comparisons and cultural evolution. Eg ~ 7mya hominin speciation, ~4mya Australopithecus afarensis, ~2mya Homo habilis (tools), ~1mya Homo ergaster/erectus (fire), ~130,000 Homo sapiens. Also know the relationship between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis and Denisovan evidence.

What exactly do we need to know for the molecular clock? Do we need to know any calculations for it?

You need to understand how it is used to determine relatedness.

Knowing the mutation rate of specific genes it can be use to determine how long it would have been for the two species being compared today to have become genetically different – this relates to the time of speciation form the common ancestor.

You do not have to do any calculations.

What is the difference between design and outline an experiment?

There is no difference – they both are asking for a plan for a controlled experiment to test a hypothesis. You need to mention 2 groups set up, IV, DV, controlled variables, repeat of expt.

When stating iv do we say both options? For e.g. presence or absence of drug … OR JUST… presence of the drug.

The IV is what is being changes so if the drug is being given then the IV it the presence of the drug or the amount of drug present. You do not need to mention both.

Do we need to know about specific plant hormones?

You do not need to know the detail of each plant hormone group. However you do need to know the action of the hormones at a cellular level – signal transduction – based on lipid or water soluble properties of the hormone. It is handy to know the name of each group.

Is it alright to write on the side and under the lines given, will that writing be assessed?

You need to write inside the boundary area of the exam paper as this is the area being scanned. If you do not have enough space in the lines section given for the response you can write in a blank area but you must indicate it is continues below. Do not write response on another page. If you need to re-write a response call the supervisor over to give you a new booklet to write in that response in and indicate on the main booklet question this is what has happened. This ensures your response is scanned correctly.

For PCR, can we write a temperature range for e.g. for annealing 50-60C?

It is fine to write this range as long as it is not beyond the range. Generally Denaturing is 94-96C, Annealing 50-60C, Extension 72C.

When writing the full equation for photosynthesis and cellular respiration, do coenzymes such as NAD+/NADH need to be included?

You do not include the coenzymes in the overall reactions as they are not part of the reactants and products of the chemical reaction. They are acceptable as inputs and outputs of the process or steps involved.