IGCSE Biology Structured Questions Exam Tips

Papers 3 (Core) and 4 (Extended) are composed of questions that require short answers and extended writing. It is expected that there is more to read in these papers as the whole question often includes stimulus materials and parts. This tests the candidates’ ability to demonstrate their knowledge and to apply the concepts in their response. Through this article, candidates will be guided on how to draft their answers properly.

Basic guidelines

  1. Don’t waste time by writing out the question before answering. Answer directly and don’t write things that are unrelated to the question.
  2. Look for clues in the keywords of the question to help you identify which part of biology is being tested.
  3. The whole stimulus material is relevant. You must read all the information given carefully. This is often different from what you’ve studied but there’s enough information in the question to work out an answer. For example, if the question includes a food web as its stimulus material, you must apply your response to the food web shown in the diagram and not from other food webs you’ve learned.  
  4. The number of marks helps you decide how much to write and guides you how long to spend on each question or parts of a question.
  5. Only give the number of answers that are asked. Use the numbered lines and give one answer per line.
  6. If there are two or more marks don’t write the same thing in two different ways, e.g. ‘The leaf is very large. The leaf has a large surface area’. The second sentence is more accurate and is preferable to the first one.

Read the question carefully and use the information given

The question set usually includes all the stimulus material and parts (a), (b), (c) (i) and (c) (ii), etc.  Read them carefully before answering them. All the information applies to the question. The question will tell you what material will be used or where you will take the information from. You will not earn marks if you take the irrelevant information.

The stimulus material may be in the form of diagrams, graphs and tables. Study diagrams, such as a food web, a set of apparatus or a biological structure. Analyse graphs which could be a line graph, a bar chart or a histogram. Read tables and always check for the heading and units. You might be unfamiliar with the new information but do not hesitate. This tests  your ability to apply knowledge to new information. Follow the same advice as before. There will always be enough information in the question to answer it. Look for clues that will help you identify which part of the syllabus the question is about.

Be wary of command words

Command words are used to guide the candidates on what is being asked as it provides the context on what must be included in the answer.  You must review all the command words to have an idea of what to answer. The table below lists the terms used in biology papers and how to respond to each command word. These can be found at ‘Glossary of terms used in science papers’ towards the end of the syllabus.

Write the biological terms accurately

There are specific biological concepts and terms that you must understand and use correctly in your response. Most of the terms are defined in the syllabus and that is a good place to learn all the definitions. It may be best to make a list of the terms using the glossary found in the syllabus to familiarise the meaning of these words.

It is also important to use the correct spelling of the terms. No marks will be given if your spelling is too far out but there are cases where examiners will try to discern your wrong spelling. You must also keep an eye on biological terms that have similar spelling. One example is ‘ureter’, ‘urethra’ and ‘uterus’. If the answer is ureter, and it was misspelled to ‘uretus’, it is not clear enough as it could have thought the answer is ‘uterus’. Also, don’t try to mix the spellings of two words when there’s uncertainty on which one of them is the correct answer. For example, writing ‘urether’ as an answer when indecisive on which is the correct answer between ureter or urethra.

Communicate your response properly

The papers often ask to write common and complicated terms in biology and it is not only understanding the concepts that are significant but also how it will be conveyed in the response.  Make sure the answers are clear and easy to read to avoid confusion. Aim to write in short sentences rather than long sentences. Writing lengthy response is prone to contradictory statements and muddled answers.  

You must write a clear explanation if you are using the words ‘it’, ‘they’, ‘effect’, ‘affect’. A sentence like ‘It has an effect on the body’ or ‘They affect the process’ does not say anything. If you would be using the word ‘it’ or ‘they’, you must specifically state what you are referring to. On the other hand, if ‘affect’ or ‘effect’ would be used, write the impact or the outcome that they would have caused.

How an A* answer looks like?

Find out in our A* Model Answers. Copy the style and score A*!

* Note: Some relevant info taken from CAIE

2 Replies to “IGCSE Biology Structured Questions Exam Tips”

  1. Hello IGCSE Centre! My name is Varshith and I’m from India. My boards are in February and March 2020. I’m pretty weak in Maths(0580) Paper 4, Chemistry(620) Paper 4, English(0500) Paper 2[Compostions] and French Paper 3 and 4(0520). Can you give some tips for improving in these subjects, where I feel I lose most of the marks in those areas. Please can you give any tips and advice?

    • Hello there,

      We suggest that you start your revision as early as possible. Highlight the important facts that you think could be on the test (you should refer to the latest syllabus on what is expected during exams here: https://www.igcsecentre.com/cambridge-igcse-subjects-syllabuses/). You can then use the past exam papers (https://www.igcsecentre.com/cambridge-igcse-past-exam-papers/) as your revision. Start with the latest papers as they have the newest syllabus format and continue with the older ones date back from 5 to 10 years. Then, revise on the most common mistakes that you always seem to make. Pay attention to the most common mistakes you always seem to make. Make notes and revise them, so you can avoid making the same mistakes in your actual exam.

      Along the way of studying, our A* exam model answers might help in learning how to write A* answers. Many students scored A* by copying the style of the answers. Please check them out here: https://www.igcsecentre.com/igcse-exam-resources/.

      Hope this helps.

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