BlogStudyHow to Ace Your QCAA Biology External Exam

How to Ace Your QCAA Biology External Exam

qcaa biology external exam

Two 90-minute sprints. 1 year’s worth of content. 50 percent of your total grade. This is the QCAA Biology external exam in a single snapshot!

Now, I know just how daunting these externals can seem — trust me, I’ve been there, done that. But what if I told you that they don’t need to be as anxiety-inducing as they have the potential to be?

While this exam is a big one, worth half of your total grade for the year, there are a few things that you can do right from the very get-go to help ensure that you ace it. 

Let’s dive in!

The Lead Up to the Exam
During the Exam

The Lead Up to the QCAA Biology External Exam

This exam will cover content from the entirety of Units 3 and 4, so it is imperative that you are on top of it as you are learning throughout the year. 

Contrary to popular belief, acing your QCAA Biology EA requires more than simply rote learning. It requires you to properly understand the content so that you can apply the theory you have learnt in a meaningful and appropriate manner.

Set your Biology External Exam goal now using our QCE Cohort Comparison Tool!

In order to achieve the goal of truly understanding the content, there are 6 things you should keep in mind: 

qcaa Biology External Assessment - Before the Exam

#1: Find Connections

Across both Units 3 and 4 of Biology there is a grand total of 73 syllabus points that you need to familiarise yourself with. This is quite the feat to achieve.

However, this challenge can be made much less daunting by finding the connections between all of the content covered. It can help to lay all of the syllabus points in front of you and create a road map connecting them all.

It is possible to connect every single one of the 73 points in one big mind map. By doing this it becomes much easier to recall the content as you begin making association cues between all of the different topics.

Here is a potential snippet of a mind-map: 

QCE Biology External exam - Mindmap

#2: Create Dialogue

Simply creating dialogue about the content can be extremely helpful! You should try to talk about Biology any chance you get because the more you talk about it the better you will remember it.

You can create this dialogue by joining academic forums to discuss the subject/ask questions, talk to your teacher about the content during class and ask any questions you may have, and teach the content to others.

That last tip, teach the content to others, is incredibly underrated. By explaining the content to another person, you force yourself to simplify the concepts until they are easily understood — allowing for you to get a better understanding of the topic at the most fundamental level!

#3: Effective Notes

While rote learning shouldn’t be the way to go with regard to exam preparation, having a good set of notes can still be incredibly helpful for when you need to touch up on certain aspects of the content. In order to make sure you are taking notes effectively and efficiently, it can help to use the syllabus as a guide.

Copy the syllabus points onto a word document and fill your notes in beneath each point. This way you know that you are ticking all the boxes whilst also ensuring that you aren’t including any information that isn’t relevant for your studies.

It would be good to set yourself the goal of finishing your notes 1 month before the exam at the very latest! Learn how to take effective science study notes!

It’s also important that you actively engage with your notes. The last thing you want to be doing during your preparation for the QCAA Biology external exam is passively reading your notes. To avoid this, try highlighting and annotating!

Write down any questions that you come up with while reading and aim to answer them as soon as possible. It’s also helpful to draw any diagrams that may help you remember the content.

An example of a diagram you could include would be one comparing the growth curves for r- and k-selective species:

qcaa Biology External Assessment - Effective Notes

Image sourced from

#4: Make It Fun

When it comes to preparing for any exam, exposure to the content is key. You want to expose yourself to the content in any way possible — who said studying had to be boring?

Find an interesting podcast or watch a documentary that delves into what you are learning. Personally, I read Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species for fun during Grade 12 and that helped me remember some of the content (and it was much more interesting that reading my textbook!).

Try to make studying as fun as possible — the chances are, you won’t do as much study as you would like to if you aren’t enjoying the process. Some ways you can make studying more enjoyable is by: 

  • Forming study groups
  • Utilising flash cards
  • Doing Kahoots

#5: Practice Papers

At least one month before the exam, you want to start doing practice papers. By sitting down and completing papers you are giving yourself the best chance at success.

Not only does doing so expose you to the level of question difficulty that you can expect to encounter during the real deal, but it also provides you with an indication of the content you need to touch up on.

It’s also important that you complete these practice papers in exam conditions. If you also study Psychology, you will be familiar with the concept of context-dependent memories.

If you don’t study Psychology, what this concept essentially means is that you will best recall information if you are doing so in an environment that is comparable to that in which you encoded the information. Put more simply, if you practise in exam conditions you will be able to recall the information better in exam conditions. 

Struggling to fit practice papers into your study routine? This guide to organising your time and focus leading up to externals should help!

#6: Self-Care 

It is important that you take care of your health throughout the year — this should be your number one priority. Doing so will reap many benefits, including allowing you to perform at your best!

To take care of yourself, here are some things to keep in mind:

Learn how to study consistently across 4 weeks for your external exams here!

During the QCAA Biology External Exam

There are a few things you can do during reading time and throughout the actual exam to maximise your performance. 

Reading Time

If needed, you should take some time during this period to calm yourself and make sure you are in the right mindset to complete the exam. Once you are calm and ready to go here is how you can utilise this time wisely:

During reading time, you want to work backwards through the exam.

Instead of going through the multiple choice questions first (which you may find yourself instinctively wanting to do), read the longer response questions at the back of the paper. By doing so you are giving yourself more time to contemplate and produce an answer.

You don’t need to actively engage with the questions just yet, but you should at least get some exposure to the questions. After reading all of the short-answer questions, you should then read through the multiple choice questions.

As you read over these questions, your mind will be subconsciously trying to solve the short-answer questions you just reviewed — meaning it will take you less time to answer them when you attempt to do so. 

Working Time

During the working time, you want to work front to back. Complete the multiple choice questions first and then move to the short-response.

If, at any point, you find yourself stuck on a question for a few minutes, move on and come back to it later with a fresh mind. 

It may be helpful to underline the key parts of each question to make sure you properly answer it. Also take note of the cognitive verbs to ensure your response is appropriate!

Stressed about how you went? Get some ATAR insight based off your internal assessments by using our QCE Cohort Comparison Tool!

There you have it!

With all these tips about how to prepare for the QCAA Biology external assessment, you can feel confident in your approach to the exam!

If you’re looking for other QCAA Biology resources, check out the ones below:

Are you looking for some extra help with the QCAA Biology External Assessment?

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To find out more and get started with an inspirational QLD tutor and mentor, get in touch today or give us a ring on 1300 267 888!

Katelyn Smith was a pioneer in the Queensland ATAR system. After graduating in 2020 with an ATAR of 98.40, she now studies a Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours) at The University of Queensland — majoring in Physics. Through her studies, she hopes to develop a greater appreciation for how the wonders of the universe work. When she isn’t slaving away behind her unnecessarily large textbooks, she enjoys catching up with friends, scrolling mindlessly through TikTok, and sleeping.

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