How to Study IB Biology HL in 2 Weeks: Crash Course 🤯
Study 2 years of IB Biology in 2 weeks! Use these biology-specific active recall frameworks in your last minute revision & follow my pre-made calender to secure a top grade!
If you're here, then you're probably one of the thousands of people that feel unprepared for the IB Biology exams. You've missed some HL classes, you're really behind or you just neglected the subject for half the year. And now you think you've run out of time. Trust me, I've been there too.
But don't worry you aren't screwed. You can still realistically score a 6-7. A month or even two weeks is PLENTY of time if you study effectively using the right frameworks, resources and mindset 😇
Disclaimer: This isn't easy though. Your learning needs to be effortful, quality filled. No matter what, focus on actively recalling throughout. I've studied with active recall only 5 days before a university exam and ranked in the top percentile. It works, trust me.
Table of Contents
A comprehensive 2-week google calendar schedule
Scope the entire subject
Attempt and analyse a timed past paper
Create the Recall Spreadsheet (central to all revision sessions)
The Spreadsheet Recall Method
Understand with Andrew Allott's Revision Guide + Alex Lee's Youtube
Actively recalling post-understanding
Tips and advice for realistically following the two-week crash course
2-Week Crash Course Calendar:
The one thing I wish I was given during the exams was a revision calendar. I hated making them and got confused with what I should be studying frequently. Here is a ready-made time-table! It condenses the ENTIRE IB Biology course into two weeks. No excuses for not getting on with the studying now.
The crash course includes:
Prep work: scoping the subject & creating the recall spreadsheet.
Six full paper 1 and paper 2 timed exams + review sessions.
Study sessions for ALL units: follow the session framework outlined previously.
A lot of the spreadsheet question practising.
x 7 weak topic study sessions (of your choice).
x 6 database questions practise sessions.
How Do You Start Revising?
1. Scope the entire subject
Scope the whole subject using the official IB Biology guide.
On a blank piece of paper, list out every single unit, sub-unit and key concepts in IB Biology using the syllabus in the guide. This gives you a birds-eye overview of everything you need to know for the exams. It seems basic but the benefits are invaluable.
In order to understand and learn effectively, we need to find out where new knowledge fits in the bigger picture. When I started doing this, it forced me to categorise all the topics I needed to study into specific units. Categorising forces us to fit this new knowledge into our existing mental frameworks. It is vital when starting with any subject, not just biology.
All of your studying just becomes more manageable when you see it on an A4 page.
2. Attempt and analyse a full timed P1 and P2 past paper.
Don't overthink. I know you feel unprepared. It doesn't matter whether you know 19% or 90% of the IB Biology course. Just sit yourself down, do the 1hr paper 1 and the 2hr 15m paper 2 exams. The three reasons I want you to do this without any prior preparation are:
You immediately discover exactly what you know and how you would attempt each question type in a real exam situation.
It'll help you get familiar with the types of questions, their structure, and the keywords used. The IB is very specific about this stuff, especially in paper 2.
You can analyse your performance afterwards. Specifically, observe the parts of the course that you were confident with and the types of questions you struggled with.
Do not be disheartened if you wanted to do better, this is only the start of the two-week hardcore practising and work that you will have to get through. The analysis at the end of the paper is the most important part of this process. Spend 1-2 hours on specifically checking why and where you went wrong. You can use this to specifically plan your revision.
3. Create the Recall Spreadsheet
Create a google spreadsheet with all the paper 2 extended response questions from the last 5-7 years. All questions, organised by topic, need to be listed out in one column and their corresponding answers from the mark-scheme need to be pasted in the second column.
You MUST create this for yourself asap. It will be one of the key resources for your study sessions in the following two weeks. This is what mine looked like:
The Perfect Study Session Framework
So far you have scoped the subject, done a full past paper + analysed it and created the p2 questions google spreadsheet. What's next in this 2-week crash course? 😎
Now, obviously, the time you put in your everyday study sessions will be relative to your current level of understanding. But what you do in study sessions is the real game-changer.
This is the step-by-step strategy for your study session that changed the way I approached revision. For every session, regardless of the biology unit/topic, do the following:
1. The Spreadsheet Recall Method
Actively recall everything you know about a topic using essay questions and then correct your understanding using mark scheme answers.
Start every study session by doing all the p2 spreadsheet questions from the topics you are revising today. Before you even look at the topic, DO THESE QUESTIONS. Actively recall before you even start learning or revising. Always try your hardest to put effort and work through each question. This is how I used it:
[When you go through and practise with the spreadsheet, you can't see any answers and therefore you are actively retrieving knowledge from your brain. Way more effective!]
2. Understand with #1 Revision Guide & Alex Lee's Youtube
A more detailed review of this section is done in my IB Biology Ultimate Guide.
After trying your very best to actively recall, you will either not know anything or not know parts of the course. So to solidify and actually understand the questions and topics you are confused about:
1) Read through topics using Andrew Allott's Revision Guide
It condenses the whole two-year course into 150 pages. Very easy to understand. Skips unnecessary information and focuses on the big picture + details in the exams.
2) Watch videos on Alex Lee's Youtube Channel for consolidation
These videos are perfect for the more conceptually difficult topics as they simplify them through creative and entertaining analogies.
Controversial tip: do not use the Oxford Textbook as your primary resource
Even though this book is highly detailed, it contains so much unnecessary information about each unit. People always get lost in simple topics when they use this book religiously. Only use it unless it is absolutely necessary and you cannot understand the topic at all.
This is a two-week crash course so less of your time should be going into reading and more should be going into testing yourself on the exam content. All in all, the revision guide and the youtube channel are both excellent resources for understanding as they stick to effectively explaining things that will come up in exams.
3. Actively recalling post-understanding
So now you have a better understanding of the topics you were confused about at the start of the revision session. This is where most people would stop, but I need you to:
Do the spreadsheet recall method again. Extremely important 😮
Hide those mark scheme answers and do the p2 long questions associated with the topics you just learnt. The only way you'll truly know if you understand something is if you are tested on it again. By repeating the spreadsheet questions, you can now actively test your knowledge on the topic again and again. Eventually, the repetition of these questions will lead all your red questions to green ones.
Practise paper 1 MCQs for the unit you are revising using question banks.
Additional to the p2 long answer questions, practising MCQs in the paper 1 exams is key. Learning multiple-choice question tactics is also vital for the paper 1 exam ie. using the process of elimination and making educated guesses.
Quizzing and asking yourself questions DURING learning is essential. Do this throughout your study session. It increases your retention in a shorter time, which is ideal for this crash course.
Advice on the 2-week crash course:
Personalise the revision time-table to your own level of understanding.
Obviously, if your understanding of certain topics is weaker then you need to add on more hours to their study sessions. However, if you are in a better position, then intense revision in the calendar wouldn't serve you well.
It doesn't need to be two weeks of continuous biology
You are going to be doing 6 different subjects so ONLY doing biology is not ideal. The point of this guide is to show you how you can productively finish the entire biology course in 14 days. The 14 days can be dispersed within a month or even two months.
Learn THROUGH practising and recalling
This is a big takeaway. Always make the focus of your revision about practising and attempting to recall answers to questions. Always hide the answers and take a shot at answering the question yourself. If you can't get to an answer then review the topic, fix your understanding and attempt it again.
Ultimately working on the subject from scratch is challenging but very doable if you're willing to put it the consistent work for the two weeks. Now, go do the work and get the grade.