Human Biology is an ATAR subject you can only find in Western Australia—something that shocks many upon finding out, as it prepares you for a variety of careers in health.
Why is this significant?
Since Human Biology isn’t offered interstate, students hoping to gain some skills and knowledge in biology prior to university must take ATAR Biology, where study of humans only takes up a portion of the syllabus. We are so lucky as WACE students to be offered a more specific syllabus—one that is particularly advantageous for prospective medical students.
So, you’ve decided to take WACE Human Biology…now what? Here’s some specific advice from someone who has actually taken the course (me!):
1. Know your definitions
Human biology is notorious for being a ‘memorisation heavy’ subject. An easy way to take the load off your brain is to be smart about what you memorise. Don’t jump straight into reciting complex processes—peel the words back to their simplest definitions before you apply them to concepts. If you understand the words that make up your responses, not only will your explanations be more accurate and get you marks for using the relevant key words, but they will also be quicker to write, easier for the marker to understand, and you’ll be able to see similarities and differences between concepts that use the same or similar terms.
2. Practice everything
Look, I know that in lower school you can get away with using common sense to answer some questions, and I’m not going to tell you not to prioritise your study. What I am going to tell you is that marking keys for ATAR, especially Human Bio, are very specific. A lot of the processes you’re expected to know seem very simple—everybody breathes, right? Theoretically, you should be able to explain the thing your lungs do every day. Cut to the exam, where you have to spend an extra 10 minutes figuring out if your explanation of air moving in and out matches the 5 marks they’re looking for (hint: it probably doesn’t). It might seem like a farfetched example, but I speak from personal experience when I say even the simple stuff is easy to forget. Make sure you’re comfortable with your explanations of all the syllabus dot points, and don’t neglect the ones you think are easy.
3. Use the resources provided by SCSA
Since Human Bio is WACE specific, there are limited materials online that perfectly reflect the level of understanding expected from WA high school students. There are 3 types of materials provided on the SCSA website that are extremely useful:
- The syllabus
Your teachers (and examiners) are only allowed to test you on the dot points listed in the syllabus, and it’s what your teachers must use to structure their lesson plans. It doesn’t matter if your textbook has a 2-page rant about a specific disease—if it’s not name-dropped in the syllabus, odds are you can leave it out of your notes.
If you learn to structure your notes around the syllabus dot points, you’ll notice that your notes will start to read like answers to extended response questions. This will help enormously come exam time, as you will have technically been practicing your exam responses all along! Start this habit in Year 11 and by Year 12, you’ll be a pro.
- Past exams
The number one tip for every ATAR subject is to utilise the past exams offered uploaded by SCSA, as these are the only fully accurate exam-style questions you’ll find (and they’re free!). Become familiar with the ways questions are asked and how they should be answered by checking the supplied marking keys. Actually test yourself with the exams—it’s tempting, but don’t just look at the answers and call it ‘studying’. Active recall is the only way you’ll improve your memory!
- Support materials
Unfortunately, SCSA only provides past exams for Year 12. However, the support materials are an underrated category that actually have questions for Year 11!!! The questions are limited in terms of topics, but they’re way more useful than looking at the Year 12 exam and not understanding half the words in the questions. Try to mimic the questions for other topics—the Year 11 Sample Assessment Tasks document has an excellent test on the reproductive system that you can reproduce (pun intended) for any of the other systems you need to study. They ask you to label a diagram? Find an unlabelled diagram of the heart online and try it out. They ask you to compare the changes in the ovarian cycle to changes in the uterus at the same time? Compare the lymphatic and circulatory system instead.
4. Link the processes together
It’s so easy to get stuck in the microscopic but remember that everything happening in your body is working together to keep you alive! Keep in mind how processes interact, similarities and differences between them, and what the small stuff contributes to in the big picture. Examiners love to ask questions that combine the heart and lungs, the nervous system and hormones, and even response to infection and evolution. These are the questions that really test your understanding about interactions within the body and are worth practicing before the exam.
5. Don’t regurgitate information
The most frustrating part of Human Bio is learning that you won’t be rewarded for telling the marker everything you know about a topic. The sooner you learn how to answer a question within the parameters you’re given, the better your marks will be. Parameters include the scope of the question, number of marks assigned, and the topic itself; don’t define “hormone” for a 4-mark question asking about the effects of testosterone on the body—you won’t get a single mark for it. You can practice this skill by looking at a topic and asking yourself a specific question, like “Describe respiration, but only at the cell level”. You’ve created your very own parameter by specifying the scope of the question!
WACE Human Biology is truly a gift: it’s a uniquely beneficial ATAR subject for prospective health students only offered in Western Australia. Chemistry may be a prerequisite for Medicine, but Human Biology is the hidden treasure.
Written by KIS Academics Tutor for WACE Human Biology, Maddison Ayton. Maddison is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Philosophy, majoring in Medical Sciences and Japanese at the University of Western Australia with direct entry to Medicine in 2022. You can view Maddison’s profile here and request her as a tutor. Alternatively, you can find other WACE tutors here.