IB Biology Overview

By Luke Palmer

(Head of Math and Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science and ESS tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

With the start of the new year, many students are taking IB mock tests in preparation for their IB diploma exams this May. A student must take six different subjects across a range of disciplines, the group four topics are the sciences, one of which is Biology. The IB Biology syllabus has a large range of topic areas with each taken into sufficient depth to gain a comprehensive understanding. The topics covered go over areas such as cell biology, molecular biology, genetics, ecology, evolution and human physiology all of build a solid foundation in biological knowledge. There are two levels of IB Biology, standard level (SL) and higher level (HL); both levels cover the first six topics as mentioned previously, but the HL will go it greater depth with additional topics on nucleic acids, metabolism, cell respiration, photosynthesis, plant biology, genetics and evolution and animal biology. The final component of the content is the option topic, every student needs to study one of four choices (this is assessed only in paper three). The four choices are, (A) Neurobiology and Behaviour, (B) Biotechnology and Informatics, (C) Ecology and Conservation, and (D) Human Physiology. All focus into different areas and the interest of the student is important to get the most of these topics.

The paper structures

The ways in which IB assesses Biology is via three papers and an internal assessment. The internal assessment would have been carried out already, being a project based on a “wet” or “dry” practical, it would account for 20% of the final grade. The three papers breakdown as follows; Paper 1 multiple choice questions (MCQs), Paper 2 short answer questions (SAQs) with extended response (ERQs) and Paper 3 Lab/data based section and option topic SAQs.

Paper 1 MCQ

Paper one for SL is 45 minutes with 30 MCQs (20% of grade) and HL is 60 minutes with 40 MCQs (20% of grade). This paper will cover the core topics with a standard frequency of questions, starting with topic one through to topic six for SL and up to topic eleven for HL. This is a non-calculator paper so the math in the questions will be simple and likely be simple ratios of genetic frequencies. With over a minute a question this should give you enough time to cover the easier questions and review back over those that you find harder.

Paper 2 SAQ

Paper two for SL is 1 hour 15 minutes with several SAQs and a choice of one extended response from two possible (40% of grade) and HL is 2 hours and 15 minutes with SAQs and a choice of two extended responses from three possible (36% of grade). This paper is much harder than paper one as it requires you to be able to construct answers that hit the required knowledge from content covered and any data provided. These questions will cover multiple topic concepts and so displays that topics interrelated nature. This time calculators are allowed, and there will be several points that data will be used to get answers. The best advice for these questions is to make sure you show all working, even with slight mistake sometimes an error can be carried forward and get you more marks. The extended responses are worth a lot of marks and will be broken down into three parts, for both SL and HL there is possible extra mark for quality of constructed answer. Knowledge of diagrams can help to score points; a well annotated diagram can be useful.

Paper 3 Practical and Option Topic

Paper three for SL is 1 hour with section A data-based question and SAQs, then section B with SAQs on the option topic (20% of grade). HL is 1 hour 15 minutes with section A data-based question and SAQs, then section B with SAQs on the option topic (24% of the grade). The answer style again must be well-constructed answers that give the concept points clearly and answer aspects of the question. Section A will be using familiar experiments that would have been carried out or discussed during the two years of IB Biology, and so should not pose many problems. The option questions are where you could get tripped up, the content in these topics is rather large and to a good depth. This makes it important that you work hard on understanding the content, as the only small amount can be covered in four to five questions.

Ways The Edge Can help

How The Edge can help you get ready for these mocks or the final exams, we have an option from regular courses or intensive courses covering all the core topics for both SL and HL. We also have option workshop that can help you get your head around the in-depth content within the tricky option topics. Also, there is the possibility of taking a diagnostic assessment test, this will see which topics you are weak in and make a tailor-made set of lessons to boost your ability to handle the various types of papers. Final option and one of the most useful is power series, a set of mock papers under timed conditions with review session with one of our experienced Biology tutor. If you are planning to take mocks or final exams in may just contact our team and see how we can help you out.

Related Blog: IB Chemistry Overview


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The Edge Learning Center is Hong Kong’s premier Test Preparation, Academic Tutoring, and Admissions Consulting services provider. Founded in 2008, The Edge has helped thousands of students improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as their IB and AP grades. The AC team has just finished off another successful EA/ED period in which student gained early acceptance to schools such as Stanford, University of Chicago, Brown, and more! Check out the rest of our 2018 EA/ED Admissions Results!