if you’re thinking of taking Scholarship biology…

… you might find the following post helpful. I wrote it a couple of years back but the points I was making then are just as relevant now.

By now some of you may be thinking about entering for the Scholarship exam at the end of the year. I thought it might be helpful to look at some of the material related to this exam, so that you can get a feel for the qualities that the examiner is looking for. (And in places I’ve linked to things I’ve posted previously on this topic.) 


One document that gives a pointer is what is known as the ‘assessment specification’. For the Bio exam this is pretty brief (can be longer & more detailed for other subjects & levels of assessment: you’re told that this is a three-hour written exam, & that in terms of content it’ll relate to what you’re covering for assessment the L3 Achievement Standards. (In other words, you won’t be expected to have any ‘extra’ knowledge.)

But the assessment spec also says, The questions will require analysis of biological situations and the use of ecological and evolutionary principles to integrate biological knowledge and skills into an extended answer. Resource or stimulus material may be provided. What does this mean? The ‘performance standard‘ goes into a bit more detail. (Both these links are to documents on the NZQA website.) It notes that in order to gain ‘outstanding performance’ in a question, a candidate would 

·      use biological knowledge and skills to analyse biological situations and integrate ideas into a coherent response.
·      demonstrate perception and insight in the analysis and integration.

 And at the next level, you’d demonstrate your ability to use biological knowledge and skills to analyse biological situations and integrate ideas into a coherent response.

So… the examiner is looking for several things here. First, of course, there’s a good solid knowledge of the subject! Not just content, in the sense of knowing a whole bunch of facts, but also knowing how to apply them. But there’s more to it than this: they’re looking for a whole range of higher-order critical thinking skills: analysis of a situation (provided in the resource/stimulus material that accompanies a question); the ability to integrate a number of ideas/concepts/facts into a coherent whole (& that word ‘coherent’ is important – your answer needs to hang together properly & make sense when read as a whole); and, for that ‘outstanding answer, evidence of perception & insight – you might come up with a novel or unexpected explanation, or see a relationship that’s not necessarily obvious at first sight. Plus – good literacy & communication skills: this might well be Biology, not English, but you still have to communicate your knowledge & understanding with style & clarity.

All this might look a bit daunting, but don’t let it put you off 🙂 The skills required are the sort of thing that your teachers will be working on with you already (even if you don’t realise it!). And as I said a few paragraphs back, you won’t be expected to demonstrate ‘extra’ knowledge. By the end of the year, you’ll have covered all the content material & skills that you’ll need – the trick will be to apply all that to a novel context (the resource material that accompanies the question). And there are many things you can do yourselves, to help to develop those skills – there’s a fairly short list here to get you started.

Of course, all of this also requires that you read the question properly to begin with!



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