How to Tackle Your Biology Practical Assessment Component

Biology tutors in Singapore all agree that if you are keen to do well in O-level Biology, scoring as close to full marks as possible in your Science Practical Assessment (SPA) is a must. Known as Paper 3, the SPA for pure Biology is 1 hour 50 minutes long and takes up 20% of your final grade. For combined sciences, the Biology SPA is 1 hour 30 minutes long and takes up 15% of your final grade.

The practical component gauges your ability to carry out the observation techniques you have learned in class within the given time frame, following given instructions and determining the best procedure to use. Students are expected to make their own deductions from their observations and data recorded. The key thing that sets the SPA apart from any ordinary textbook question is that you will also have to set up the experiment environment yourself – think assembling apparatus, taking readings, mixing substances, and so on.

If this sounds like a lot to take in, don’t give up hope just yet. It is normal for students to feel less confident with the practical assessment than with their other written papers. After all, you can practice answering written questions anywhere or at your Biology tuition for O-levels, but the only chance most students have to familiarise themselves with lab equipment is during their classroom lab sessions. Rest assured, it is certainly possible to score full marks on your SPA and secure that 15% of your final grade.

Revise Your Lab Work From School

Since most Biology tuition for O-levels covers only the written component, probably the only time you get to be in the lab is during your school curriculum. It is likely that your teacher has covered the practical topics that can possibly come out in the exam, so you would want to start revising the lab work you have done in school. Go through your worksheets and recorded observations, taking note of how the teacher has marked your answers. Identify your mistakes in each worksheet and find out how you can avoid making the same mistakes again.

However, it is worth noting that the practical assessment is unlike your other written papers. While you may be able to revise for a written paper the way any Biology tutor in Singapore does, the practical exam requires you to construct your own procedures and apply the concepts you have learned in class. As such, you should not memorise the “model” answers verbatim since the actual assessment is unlikely to be exactly the same as your practice worksheets. Instead, focus more on the concepts and answering techniques.

Two parts that will always appear in the practical paper are the planning procedure and sources of error. You will be expected to plan your own experiment, listing down the apparatus you need, steps you will take, possible risks, and your hypothesis. Fortunately, the planning section is standard for most experiments and you can memorise the format. This will save you plenty of time to conduct your experiment and also prevent you from leaving out key information. You should also make a list of all the possible sources of error for each type of experiment – again, the sources of error are quite standard for each experiment type. This is one of the “giveaway” questions that you can and should score full marks on.

Revise Relevant Theories

Although each topic has a possibility to be tested, some are more likely than others to appear. For example, it is more unlikely for the practical to be about the human heart than testing for presence of starch, since it is not quite feasible to procure a heart for every student taking that year’s practical assessment. As such, you can skip chapters that are probably not going to be tested, and focus on the practical topics that you have done in class.

Read the Question Carefully

Even if the question looks similar to something you have already done in class, do not assume the objective without reading through the question thoroughly first. One careless mistake could cause you to interpret the question differently and come up with a completely different experiment than intended. If it helps, circle your keywords and highlight any important notes that you need to take note of, to ensure that your planning is on point.

Be Precise

The practical assesses your ability to make accurate observations and draw conclusions from your results. As such, it is important to be precise in your measurements and detail your observations according to the keywords you have identified. The question may require you to round your readings to a certain significant digit or decimal place, so be sure to follow the instructions.