Hi there! My name is Daniela and I am a VCE Biology and Math Methods tutor on Learnmate. I graduated from John Monash Science School with an ATAR of 98.85 and scaled study scores of 49 for Biology and Math Methods, also achieving 45+ in Chemistry and Physics. I’ve been a passionate tutor for the past 3 years and I’m here to provide you insight into how to set yourself up for success in VCE!
Are you gearing up for the challenges of VCE Biology and want to ensure success in your upcoming SACs (School-Assessed Coursework)? I understand that this can be a daunting task, but fear not – with the right approach and preparation, you can excel in VCE Biology SACs and leave them in the dust!
Your New Best Friend - The VCE Biology Study Design
Many students can go the entire year without having looked at the VCE Biology study design once, but you are not going to be one of those students! The study design outlines everything VCAA (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority) or your school can assess you on in VCE Biology. It's your roadmap to success, detailing every topic, learning outcome, and essential knowledge. Here's the link to the study design page. Print it, highlight and annotate key points to understand what you need to know and identify any gaps in your knowledge. Just as importantly, it can help you identify any gaps in what you may have been taught in class. Furthermore, it allows you to know to what level of detail you need to know the content.
Using Class Time Effectively
Your preparation actually begins before class starts! Before class starts, you should ideally have already read up on the topic from your textbook. Although you may not understand everything just yet, familiarising yourself with the terms and general concepts makes a world of difference for when you encounter the topic again during class. Simply spending 30 minutes reading through the chapter will save you hours of catching up! During this pre-reading, note down any and all questions you have about the content.
Your time during class should be spent understanding the topic and making clear notes. So many students waste this valuable time and spend hours after class trying to understand the basics and re-writing notes. Your goal should be to completely finish your notes DURING class so that the rest of your time can be spent doing practice questions and genuinely effective study. Furthermore, class is also when your teacher is available to clarify anything, don’t waste that opportunity. After class has finished, look back on the questions you noted down from your pre-reading, check-off everything that was answered during the class and then approach your teacher to clarify anything that was not answered.
Hopefully after class you feel like you understand the general concept of the topic, if you don’t, this is your first priority. Most of your time outside of class should ideally be filled with practice questions. Start with your textbook questions and then move to previous exam questions. It is vital that you are practicing how to answer VCE Biology questions, especially in an exam-style.
REPEAT! Repeat this process for each class and this will without a doubt set you up for success. This structure also ensures that you are using your time in the most effective manner.
Not convinced? Learnmate's research has showed that 79% of students who achieve an ATAR of 90+ and 88% of students who achieved an ATAR of 99 or higher have one thing in common: they all complete practice exams as part of their study routine.
How to Write Notes
“How do I write notes?” is a question I get frequently when tutoring VCE Biology students. Although there are endless different methods for note taking, in reality, it does not make an enormous difference. My recommendations for notes are more so surrounding how you structure yourself to take notes.
- Have a separate notebook for notes and practice questions: Having separate notebooks ensures that you have more than enough space to do both notes and practice questions. It also makes it easier for you to find content you’ve written and overall creates a more organised space.
- Use different colours for different topics: Colour theory and association is well known to improve memory recall. Use a different colour to highlight and make headings for different topics. This will also help you to easily find what you’re looking for when you are flicking through your book. (I recommend getting the 20 pack Crayola SuperTip markers!)
- Leave space between topics: After you’ve finished writing notes for a class, leave at least a full blank page before you start your next set of notes. This blank page is for you to add clarifications, examples and practice questions. Furthermore, ensure that you have a space in your notes to jot down any questions you have!
- Organise and write in a clear and logical manner: Ensure that while you are making your notes, there is a logical flow. Some of these notes you may be reviewing many months after you made them, so make sure that ‘future you’ can understand what you’ve written! If you find yourself saying “I’ll know what I meant”... chances are you won’t, put in the extra effort now to save yourself later.
Keep a Record of Mistakes
Do you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again? This is a common issue for many students and the best way to combat this is to put effort into learning what your mistakes are! Most students will get a question wrong and then move on without any reflection or record. What you should be doing instead is that when you are correcting your practice questions, whenever you get a question wrong (or got lucky on a question), make a record of it! This record would include what the general concept is, the specific question, the answer and what you got wrong. This reflection will make it far less likely that you get the same questions wrong, it will help you identify patterns and struggle areas, and it will be an amazing revision tool for your SACs and the exam!
My VCE Biology SAC is Coming Up… What Now??
Doing your first few SACs can be super daunting and you are often thrown into the deep end, without any knowledge on how to properly prepare. The timeline I’m providing below is only a rough guide and will change depending on how your teachers have structured classes and SACs.
Two Weeks Before the SAC
Two weeks before the SAC, you want to be finalizing all your notes and reviewing past topics. The goal of this week is to ensure that you understand everything you need to know and thus theoretically know all of the content that is going to be covered in the SAC. Refer to your annotated study design during this process to make sure you have covered all bases!
One Week Before the SAC
The week before your SAC, you want to be doing only practice questions! The previous week was spent looking at your notes and understanding all the content, now you need to practice applying it under time pressure. Start with your textbook, but then move to past exam questions and practice SACs if your school provides them! The more questions you can do, the better. Make sure that you are also marking these questions and keeping a record of mistakes. This process will also bring to light any gaps and weaknesses you have.
During the SAC
I know that it is easier said than done, but keep calm! If you have done the above steps to the best of your ability, you should be walking into that SAC with confidence, and confidence in often the difference between above average students and those that absolutely excel! If you feel the panic start to set-in, take a minute to drink some water, breathe and move on to the next question. Furthermore, while you are waiting to enter the SAC room, don’t stress out with your peers. It will only put you in a bad headspace or even worse, someone could accidentally tell you incorrect information! Remember, you’ve practiced and studied, be confident!
After the SAC
Phew! You’ve just finished your SAC, congratulations! Now all you can do is wait a few weeks for your results. During this waiting period, avoid discussing the SAC with your peers, there is nothing you can do to change your answers, so just skip all the unnecessary stress! When you finally get those results, I want you to document, annotate and discuss with your teacher/tutor all the questions you got wrong, found difficult or got lucky on. This is going to be super useful for when you’re studying for the exam!
By adopting these strategies, you'll be well on your way to mastering VCE Biology and excelling in your SACs. Remember, consistency and dedication are key to achieving success in this challenging but beautiful subject. Good luck!
This blog is the first in a series dedicated to uncovering the essential skills and strategies necessary to succeed this year in VCE Biology. Stay tuned for future blogs in this series as we continue to dive deeper into this subject, aiming to equip you with a comprehensive toolkit for success.
Need a little extra support or a confidence boost in VCE Biology? Explore more expert tips and resources and connect with former top-performing student tutors and qualified teachers at Learnmate to start working towards achieving your potential. Share this guide with your peers to ensure you all succeed today!
This blog was written by Daniela L, a VCE Biology and VCE Maths Methods Tutor on Learnmate. Daniela is tutoring while studying a Bachelor of Advanced Science Research at Monash University. She graduated with a 98.85 ATAR, 45+ study scores in 4 subjects and has been supporting other students achieve their goals through tutoring for over 3 years.
You can view her profile and, subject to her availability, request Daniela as your tutor here.