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It’s going to get pretty quiet around here…

…find out why after the page break.


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First off, my students’ and my thoughts are with all those affected by the recent disasters in both New Zealand and Japan. We are following all stories closely and wish everyone the best possible outcome, despite such horrible circumstances.

We should also consider those in Egypt, Libya and other regions of instability. We must think ourselves fortunate compared to those whose access to education, especially the quality of education you get in international schools, is limited.

It may look like doom and gloom in the world right now, but you guys – IB students – can be the change that needs to happen. When you graduate, do something useful. Science can help build a sustainable and stable future.


With exams looming, it is time for some real, self-directed review and study. Search the internet and you’ll find loads of ideas, but here are some specific tips for my students and others involved in IB Biology.


1. Practice. Get the QuestionBank CDRom, past papers and practice questions from the textbooks and use them extensively.

2. Get used to writing for extended periods of time, and under timed conditions. Think ‘a mark a minute’ and you’ll be fine. If your handwriting’s rubbish, get working on it ASAP.

3. Audit your knowledge using the subject guide. Remove all the pages for topics you do not need to cover (e.g. Options that are not yours, AHL content if you are in SL), and you will find it more manageable. Then work through each one – do you feel like you could answer an exam question for each?

4. Understand the Command Terms.

5. Pay attention to the number of marks available. For the 6-8 mark questions, write at least that much, and take care of structure and logic in your answers. Lay it out clearly and don’t waffle.

Writing about exam stress

6. Practice the data questions. Can you make your own from graphs and charts in works that you have read?

7. Write about your exam stress. Ed Yong tells us why.

8. Use whiteboarding to practice diagrams, annotations, explanations and so on. Teaching others clarifies the ideas and explanations in your own mind.

9. Know your way around the calculator and practice means, standard deviations, percentage changes and calculating sizes and magnifications.

10 Sleep, eat well and keep fit. All night cramming is no good for you – if it’s not in your brain by the day before, it won’t be, so stop stressing and get to sleep. Decaffeinate yourself, get some exercise and stay healthy so that you don’t risk getting sick in the exam session. Find out more about Brain Compatible Education at Derek Pugh’s website (Derek was my predecessor at BIS).

Some more techniques my students have used:

You could also record podcasts or vodcasts (like at Click4Biology).

Always think about how effective your use of time is when you are carrying out a task. Some students may spend hours copying out their notes, but to what extent does it have a positive impact on exam grades?

Good luck,


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Good Luck, November-Session Students!

Exams, from FlickrCC

November-session IB exams start today. Good luck to all students taking part, and here are some exam tips to help you out.

1. Pay attention to the Command Terms! Answer the actual question, not what you think the question might be.

2. Make good use of your five-minutes reading time to pace yourself and settle down. Think about which optional questions you will score most highly in.

3. Write clearly and concisely – it is not a Creative Writing exam. Get to the point, get the points (check how many points the answer is worth).

4. Use the correct biological terms. Markschemes are very prescriptive, so tighten up on your explanations. If you’re having a last-minute cram session, explain to others.

5. Most importantly – SLEEP (and sleep) and stay healthy. I know it’s easier said than done, but all-nighters will not do you much good.

Finally, once you’ve finished the exam, obey the IBO’s 24-hour rule. Do not discuss the paper with anyone else, and especially do not go online to facebook or tweet your stress.

Image: ‘Exams_by_Majeed

Good Luck Grade 12!

Good luck Grade 12!

We’ve had our final lesson

Of Awesome Millionaire

I hope the work that you’ve put in

Is going to to get you where

You need to be for the exam

So you can feel prepared.

When you sit down to the paper

Remember this advice

Don’t rush into the answers

Read the question twice.

What is the command term?

Stick to it, don’t digress.

How many points is the question worth?

Be clear, don’t make a mess.

Sleep well and smile,

Think for a while

Before you use that pen

And if you’re feeling really stuck,

Read the question again.

Practice, practice, practice,

Use correct terminology

And you will surely experience success

In the one true subject:


Good luck!

Here are some review quizzes to play with:

Awesome Random Review: Standard Level

Awesome Random Review: Higher Level

And for when you’re gone, here are 97 Ways to Save Money in College.

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