Where do we come from? How have we changed? Why are dogs so cute? Biology is a fascinating and diverse subject that aims to make sense of the physical world around us. By studying a variety of biological processes such as tracing our genetic information from our ancestors, and how DNA informs a single cell to multiply until it becomes a living organism, we are slowly piecing together the knowledge of how the world around us works. Through the contexts of evolution, genetics, and ecology, you will use your skill to analyse, describe, and integrate your knowledge of biology. Scholarship is an amazing opportunity to test your knowledge, skills, and critical thinking abilities. If you are considering studying biology at university, scholarship is a great place to challenge yourself. If you are unsure about what is required for the NCEA scholarship biology exam, have a read through our guide.
Here is a complete guide to NCEA Biology
Do I just sign up the day before?
No. There is a good reason for that, the scholarship exam is designed to test you on level 8 of the New Zealand Curriculum. While the knowledge and work you have done throughout the year will definitely be needed, extra preparation is required. If you have decided you want to sit a scholarship exam, speak to your biology teacher. The conversation around the scholarship exam often comes up around the middle of the year. Usually, NCEA scholarship exams are attempted by level 3 NCEA students, as you build your knowledge and skills upon the foundations from previous years. HOWEVER NCEA level 2 students can also attempt scholarship, speak to your subject teacher about this.
Something to note is that if you pass 3 scholarship exams, but not all in the same year (for example you did 1 exam at level 2, and 2 at level 3), you are not entitled to the Scholarship Award of $2000 for each of three years of qualifying tertiary study. Just something to keep in mind if you are considering sitting scholarship at level 2. Think about it like a plant, you have to have water and seeds before you can have the flowers. If you pass this exam there is a financial reward to compensate for the extra work you have done and to honour your achievement. The financial compensation gets a bit technical, so click the link for more detailed information. The Scholarship exams are free for all domestic students (New Zealand residents or citizens). If you are an international student, there is a fee per exam.
Find out revision tips on how to tackle biology questions here.
The NCEA biology scholarship exam requires extra preparation ( Source: Unsplash)
Is the NCEA biology scholarship exam hard?
Well, it isn’t easy is another way to frame it. As mentioned, it is to challenge those at the highest standard levels of the New Zealand Curriculum. To get a good idea if it is something you would like to do, have a chat with someone who has done the exam, it is especially helpful if they sat it the year before. They can give you a run down from a student's perspective of the demands of the preparation, revision, and the actual exam. If that is not available to you, speak to your teacher and have a look at some of the NCEA biology scholarship exam exemplars. The one from the previous year is a good place to start. You can read through the work of an actual student, and the markers of the exam explain how the student received that grade and what they could do better next time. These can be helpful to gauge the level of knowledge and skill needed. It can feel a little overwhelming but you have time to prepare. If you look at the 2020 outstanding biology scholarship exam exemplar, at the beginning you will notice the student has used the planning section. This is an important detail.
Search for NCEA Biology past papers here.
Why do I need to practice planning for the exam?
“Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
While you are not going to war as such, you are fighting time. The exam is only 3 hours, which is not a lot of time considering the level of detail you need to answer the questions. Planning your response helps to reduce the pressure on your brain to remember, order, and write. It is easy to repeat yourself, muddle two points into one, or present underdeveloped key points when you have put a lot of stress on yourself. Once you have written down your knowledge, you can organise them so that your writing is coherent and your ideas follow a logical structure.
Brain dumps or mind maps are a good idea if you want to put all of the relevant information you have remembered in one place and then start to organise. Alternatively, there is the humble bullet point. A tried and true classic of writing down information; direct, short, and no-nonsense with this organising tool. By practising before the exam, you are planning for what is difficult. You have time to edit, revise, correct, search for the proper term, and link evidence to the key point. The more you practice, the better you get at it. Ideally, you want to spend 10 minutes on the planning but this can vary depending on your needs and time constraints. When looking at the 2020 NCEA biology outstanding scholarship exam exemplar, pay attention to how they planned their response and the feedback from the markers.
Breaking down the NCEA biology scholarship questions
When revising, understanding what the main focus or key points are that you need to do in order to meet the marking criteria, is crucial. These keywords will be found in the marking schedule. They can be quite technical so check out the marking schedule before you do the exam and find out what they mean if you are unsure. For example, analysis and critical thinking pops up a lot, but what does it actually mean? It means as you read through the information provided, you need to think about the biological evidence being presented to you. Using your knowledge and the resource material provided, you make judgments that are explained to the reader in detail and connect to your main idea or point you were making. Remember to keep linking back to the question you were asked. For example question 1 from the 2020 biology scholarship exam:
Analyse the information provided in the resource material and integrate it with your biological knowledge to discuss how the biology of the Hochstetter’s frog:
- affects the survival of the individual and the survival of the species
- might impact the future evolution of the populations in the different locations.
When you read through the question, look for the keywords that you should add to your writing. Such as survival, individuals, species, future evolution, etc. The question has stated the main ideas to discuss and made it clear that you are expected to integrate relevant biological concepts you have learned throughout the year. The concepts or theories you decide to use need to be relevant to this context. There is no point in talking about the decomposing process if it doesn’t really help their survival. Keep an eye on the question as a whole, they are complex and ask for multiple things. Not only do you need to use your knowledge, but the information provided from the resource material also needs to be integrated into your response as well. A good way to help you proofread your writing is to ask yourself a few questions such as; how do the ideas and concepts affect the survival of individual frogs? How do I know that? What evidence supports what I am writing?
You can read about NCEA biology study guide here.
Study groups can really help in preparing for the scholarship exam.
Interested, and need a bit more support?
Scholarship is a great opportunity to test yourself in a subject you feel comfortable in. The exams are during the standard exam time frame, so you may even sit it before your Level 2 or Level 3 NCEA biology exam! If this is something you want to do, it is time to start getting your ducks, or should I say frogs in a row. The first thing to do is speak to your teacher and then register. Attend any scholarship meetings and preparation classes offered by your school, and create a study group with other students sitting the same biology scholarship exam as you. If you are after a bit more support or wanting to extend your skillset, let Superprof help you find the right tutor with you. With a wide range of tutors at a click of a button, you can find the right person for you, today.
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