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High School Biology: What You Need to Know

By Danica, published on 02/09/2019 Blog > Academia > Biology > Exploring The High School Biology Curriculum

High school can be a trying time for a multitude of reasons, one of the most important ones being what you will do after you receive your diploma. With changes looming on the horizon, it’s important to keep track of what tasks you need to accomplish or classes you need to take in order to graduate.

With biology being one of the classes most students are required to take, but also one that is one of the most difficult, you should start improving your grade by first understanding what the curriculum looks like.

plant form and function One of the three main branches in biology focuses on plants! (Photo credit: Chuttersnap via Unplash)

Types of High School Biology

Whether you’re already in a biology class or are simply interested in biological science, understanding the layout of a general biology, high school experience can get a bit confusing. Between subjects like botany, immunology, genomics and cell biology, the biological sciences are as riveting as they are diverse.

In order to understand what types of biology courses you’re likely to encounter in high school, taking a quick look at the evolution of the field can be a great starting point.

While specializations like molecular biology, biochemistry and biotechnology can lend a modern air to the field itself, biology is actually one of the oldest subject areas on earth.

In fact, some of the earliest biological records have been found in cultures such as the Assyrians and Babylonians. Some examples of what these early biologists studied revolves around the medicinal properties and harvesting techniques of plants, with evidence of this tracing back to 3500 BCE.

The role of the biologist has evolved throughout history from these early farmers and their rudimentary carvings to Egyptian scholars creating the earliest known medical texts in the 16th century BCE. From ancient China and India, the Middle Ages, and to the present – organismal and physical biology has expanded beyond the point of simply trying to understand the structure and function of plants.

A high school biology department, however, typically won’t go into the details of the historical evolution of biology. Instead, they will focus on teaching you the fundamental concepts of the three branches of biology: zoology, botany, and microbiology.

While there are numerous specializations within the field, you won’t have to worry about understanding all of them in-depth unless you’re interested in pursuing a biology major. For many, however, taking a biology course is simply part of many of the prerequisites to graduating. So, here’s a quick summary of what kinds of concepts you’ll encounter based on these three branches of biology.

Zoology

While biology, in general, can be defined as the study of living organisms, living systems and living things, zoology focuses on animal physiology and behavior specifically. This can include anything from animal development to their interaction with their environment. Some examples of the subjects you’re likely to encounter include:

  • Cellular biology of humans and animals
  • Ecology and evolution
  • Classification of animals using classes like vertebrate, reptilia and more

Botany

Botany, on the other hand, is the study of all plants. While more advanced botany can include tasks like building forecasts and creating testing systems to help improve crops, the kind of botany you will find in the classroom will involve things like:

  • Conservation biology for the environment
  • Developmental biology of plants
  • Plant genetics

Microbiology

The third branch of biology tends to be what most people think of when they talk about the subject. This branch, however, is the youngest of the three due to the simple fact that many life forms were not visible until technology like the microscope was invented. Here are some of the concepts you’ll encounter at this level:

research biology lab Here’s some of the common instrumentation of a biology lab (Photo credit: Hans Reniers via Unplash)

High School Biology Experiments and Papers

Whether you’re participating in a biology lab or need a refresher to come up with an idea that will stand out amongst all the biology undergraduates at your university, here are some examples of general experiments and topics for a research paper.

In high school, biology experiments are often coupled with write-ups in the form of lab sheets, term papers or research papers. While the experiments you perform will most likely be simple, due to a lack of resources, it doesn’t necessarily have to be limited in terms of the topics you’d like to broach. This can include topics in:

  • Neurobiology
  • Biophysics
  • Environmental biology
  • Human physiology or human biology

In fact, one very common experiment you can perform – whether you’re in an introduction to biology course or in AP biology – is Mohl’s half leaf experiment. This experiment, which proves that carbon dioxide is essential to the process of photosynthesis, can be conducted with simple and inexpensive materials. Here are some, but not all, of the materials involved:

  • Plants with leaves
  • Glass bottle
  • Cork
  • Beaker
  • Alcohol
  • Iodine solution
  • Potassium hydroxide (caustic potash)

On the other hand, if you’re taking a higher level biology course, you might want to think of a topic that’s more original and exciting for you to perform and write about.

If your experiment is coupled with the task of writing a research paper, start by thinking about what types of biological systems or processes interest you the most. This can range from anything including anatomy and physiology, cellular respiration, cell division and more.

If you’re writing a purely research-based paper, you can turn to subjects where you won’t have to perform your own experiments but, rather, compile those done by others. This can include the biological processes of the plague, HIV/AIDS, weight gain or loss – the list goes on and on.

On the other hand, if you need to perform your own experiment, you can stick to simpler ideas. One example can be what types of beverages corrode teeth the most, selecting these beverages according to preliminary research.

studying microorganisms in class Applying what you learn in labs can help improve your grade on standardized tests! (Photo credit: Feliphe Schiarolli via Unplash)

All Types of High School Biology Exams

While concepts like homeostasis, organ systems, eukaryotic cells, and microbes are likely to keep you plenty occupied in high school biology courses, taking critical exams is also an integral part of departmental curricula. Depending on what your objective is for taking a biology class, you’re likely to encounter different types of exams.

While the best way to study for these exams is to go over class material and textbooks, you can also take advantage of student tutors at your school.

AP

If you’re taking advanced placement biology, the stakes will be a bit higher: to pass the test, you will need to score at least a three on the exam. Some of the kinds of biology you will see on the AP test are evolutionary biology and diversity of life and biological systems. The concepts you will see, however, will include:

  • heritable information
  • genetic expression

SAT/ACT

The SAT and ACT are different with regards to biology exams. Whereas the SAT can test on specific subjects like biology, the ACT has a general science test that includes questions regarding biology. Practicing either of these can be done in a multitude of ways, from buying study guides or finding a tutor online.

IB

International Baccalaureate is a program geared towards awarding a high schooler with both a rigorous education and a diploma recognized throughout the world. Attaining an IB diploma entails taking higher level and standard level exams, where either of these levels can be taken for biology. Like the AP biology test, this IB biology test will include everything from recombinant DNA and nucleic acids.

How to Pick the Right Biology Tutor

Whether you’re having difficulty choosing what courses will prepare you for a biology degree or many of the minors related to the biological sciences, like bioinformatics, or simply want to learn more about interesting concepts – a tutor can help you get through difficult concepts and improve your grades.

While this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive guide to finding the right resources for biology help, here are a couple of ideas for getting homework aid and test prep. Start by turning to your high school and local library for help that is often free or at a lower price than most tutoring institutions.

If you prefer or thrive in situations with one-on-one tutoring, try some of the most widespread solutions in the country: tutoring companies. These include companies like Superprof, who has a community of about 36,650 biology tutors spread throughout the country.

Biology is a dynamic and ever-evolving field that also crosses many other disciplines – from economics to literature. If you find yourself struggling in high school biology or if you’re passionate about the field, finding news related to the innovations of biology can be a big help when it comes to finding or keeping the motivation to study hard!

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