Are your HSC Biology Trials looming? Then it’s time to knuckle down and make sure you have all the tools you need to put an effective Trials study plan into action!

Biology is one of the most content-heavy subjects you can study in the HSC, so it’s important that you leave adequate time to revise the syllabus content!

Spend a few days working out which areas need revision and then the next two or so weeks reviewing the content.

In the article below, we’ve included a comprehensive step-by-step plan to help you do this, as well as some tips to ace your HSC Biology Trials exam and what you can expect!

If you’ve come across this article with only a week left, don’t lose hope! We have a Comprehensive 7 Day HSC Biology Study Plan outlining effective study tips to ace your Biology exam in a week!

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in!

What to Expect in Your HSC Biology Trials Exam
HSC Biology Trials Exam Breakdown
How to Study for HSC Biology Trials
Tips to Ace Your HSC Biology Trials Exam

What to Expect in Your HSC Biology Trials Exam

So first of all, what content do we actually need to know to study for our Trials?

Trials form part of your internal assessment mark and the questions and exam itself will be set by your school. 

HSC Trials exams will cover everything that you have been taught so far (in the HSC syllabus). That means all the content from Term 4 of last year to now (essentially the entire syllabus).

In addition to understanding the syllabus, you’ll also be expected to recall and apply knowledge from any practical investigations you conducted in class. 

E.g. recalling the structure and how to draw transverse and longitudinal sections of a plant cell (xylem \ phloem)

Image sourced from BioNinja

HSC Biology Trials Exam Breakdown

You will be given 5 minutes reading time and 3 hours writing time during your exam.

All responses should be recorded using a blue or black pen. All diagrams should be drawn using pencil.

The exam will consist of 100 marks split across 1 to 32~34 questions.

HSC Biology Trials Exam Sections

The first 20 questions will be multiple choice (Section I) and the remainder will be short answer or extended response questions (Section II). 

In a typical HSC Biology Trial exam, you can expect to see at least 1 extended response question worth 6 or more marks.

How to Study for HSC Biology Trials

Step 1: Make sure your notes are up to date! 

You don’t want to start studying and then realise that you’ve missed half a module of content because you forgot to update your notes. 

Check out our article on writing effective HSC Biology Notes here!

What should my notes look like?

Tips for your notes:
  • Keep your points short and succinct
  • Avoid chunky paragraphs of text
  • Use diagrams where possible
  • Use tables in syllabus points with key terms like ‘distinguish’, ‘compare’, ‘similarities / differences’.

Step 2: Turn your syllabus into exam questions

Yep that’s right, your syllabus dot points are exam questions in disguise! This is a great way to identify weak spots and practice exam style responses, specific to each syllabus point. 

If you can turn aspects of the syllabus dot point into questions and you can answer those questions then you’re good to go! 

Let’s take the inquiry question from Module 6: Genetic Change, ‘distinguish between somatic mutations and germ-line mutations and their effect on an organism’ as an example.

You could turn this inquiry question into the following exam questions:

What is a somatic mutation?

What is its effect on organisms?


What is a germ-line mutation?

What is its effect on organisms?


What are the similarities and differences between somatic and germ-line mutations?

Do they have different or similar effects on organisms? What might these be?

Turning your syllabus into exam style questions really is a great way for revision, especially if you’ve run out of practice questions!

Step 3: Rate your knowledge

The next step after making sure your notes are in line with what you’re currently learning is to go back and highlight the syllabus points that you find difficult or have knowledge gaps in.

You can implement a knowledge assessment scale to find the weak points you need to work on. This is a scale between 1 to 5 with 1 being ‘I have no idea’ to a 5 being ‘I can teach this to someone else.’

It looks like this:

knowledge rating scale

Now, have a look at your syllabus and rate your confidence of each dot point on a scale from 1 to 5 like below:

HSC Biology Syllabus Rating

Anything that scored lower than a 3 is content you need to prioritise for revision!

Step 4: Revision of weak areas

From your knowledge assessment in step 3, you’ll be able to prioritise your study. 

Revise the points you rated lowest first. When you’re confident in your ability (4 – 5), change your rating and move on. Rinse and repeat!

Check out our tips for revision below!

Review your notes for that section

Bring your notes up to scratch if they aren’t satisfactory. 

Utilise textbooks, school resources or ask your teacher / tutor to go over that section with you again. 

HSC Together is a fantastic resource for HSC Biology that provides video resources specific to every single syllabus dot point! Check it out here!

Check out our module guides

Have a look at these comprehensive guides for each module of the HSC Biology syllabus to give you a refresher on the module and inquiry questions below!

Use diagrams

Many biological processes are much easier understood using diagrams. Find an image off Google or even better, find an animation off YouTube!

Use practice papers

Practice papers are one of the most practical and effective ways for studying for your HSC and trial exams.

You want to be replicating exam conditions as closely as possible. That means adhering to all the rules that would be in place in your actual exam.

Try out these tips while utilising practice papers:

  • Sit by yourself in a quiet space with no distractions
  • Have only your necessities with you (water, pens, pencils, rulers, calculators, etc.)
  • Time yourself
  • Put away your notes and electronic devices during your practice exam
  • Avoid checking the solutions until you have made a solid attempt at all the questions and have used all available time
  • Mark your work or have your teacher / tutor mark it for you
  • Note down the questions which you struggled with. Review the content for those questions and reattempt them

Looking for practice papers? We’ve created a master list of HSC Biology Past Papers you can find right here!

You can also check out our HSC Biology module-specific practice questions below:

Step 5: Revise technical skills

Now it’s all fine and dandy to have all your notes memorised to a tee, but you need to remember that there are always a few questions in your exam which will ask you to apply some of the practical skills you’ve learnt in the course.

This means we need to revise how to draw graphs, diagrams and tables!

Drawing graphs, diagrams and tables

Below are some things to remember when drawing up your graphs, diagrams and table:

  • All diagrams need to be drawn in pencil and have features labelled
  • All diagrams need a title
  • All graphs need axes labelled and a legend if necessary
  • Use a ruler for straight lines

Drawing scaled diagrams

Below are some things to remember when drawing up your scaled diagram:

  • While drawing scaled diagrams will most likely not be a question itself, it is a useful skill to remember if you are asked to illustrate a scaled diagram of a red blood cell for example
  • Don’t forget to actually include the scale!
  • Have a look at these video explanations for Drawing Scaled Diagrams

Note: You can also be asked to design an investigation similar to those you have done in your practicals in class. You may also be asked to draw a diagram of the equipment. Ensure you are able to illustrate and label scientific apparatuses like below:

Labelling Diagrams

Image sourced from Good Science

Tips to Ace Your HSC Biology Trials Exam

Tip #1: Read the question carefully

It can be very easy to get caught in a panic during the exam and skim read the question or even only read half the question, only to later on realise you haven’t answered the whole questions!

Make sure you take a deep breath and read the question twice over and take notes / highlight / underline the key terms.

Tip #2: Understand the key terms

Which brings us to tip #2, it’s pivotal you understand the key terms in a questions so you know exactly what the question is asking!

Hint: Usually the first word of the question (key term) will tell you what you need to do to answer the question. E.g. assess, describe, define 

You can have a look at this list of key terms that will appear in your exam and their definitions here!

You can also check out this list of key Biology terms and definitions here!

Tip #3: Take note of mark allocations

The amount of marks a question is worth should give you a rough indication as to how much to write and how much to spend on a question.

For example, there’s no need to spend 10 minutes writing 1 page on a 3 mark question – you want to give just enough information so that it fulfills the 3 marks needed.

If you write less than that, you’ll lose marks for missing information. If you write more than that, you’ll risk waffling and making your answer confusing for the marker!

Tip #4: Make use of your reading time

5 minutes of reading is not a long time, and you’ll be spending a good 1-2 minutes flipping through your exam booklet, making sure no pages are missing.

For the rest of your reading time, you should be quickly scanning through the questions, identifying any areas of concern and having a look at that nasty extended response question. 

Tip #5: Attack the exam in order

This brings us to tip #5 – I know that different people say different things. Some like doing the short answer first and others like doing the extended responses first.

However, this means you’ll miss out on one crucial advantage. Oftentimes, the multiple choice section can serve as a refresher for your brain or occasionally give you a hint towards an answer for your extended response or short answers further down the line.

You don’t want to be caught up doing your extended responses before your multiple choice, then realising that the MCQ you’re working on right now has some good points you didn’t have in your extended answer!

And that wraps up our tips to ace your HSC Biology exam, as well as how to create the ultimate study guide for your HSC Biology Trials Exam – good luck!

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Alex Gao is an Art of Smart mentor and blogger who is passionate about teaching students the skills and know-how of high school. Alex has a great interest in the field of Biology, avidly blogging about the topic whilst also aspiring to become a Biomedical Engineer. Alex graduated in 2018 and was listed on the Distinguished Achievers list for Advanced English, Extension 1 English and Biology.