Whether you're stressing out about your upcoming class or want to know more about how you can improve your grade, getting to know how your class will be graded can help you get through the school year. Here are some tips on the most important takeaways from biology as well what you will be graded on.

diversity of living things
Understanding biology and scoring good grades can mean knowing the true diversity of life and the environment! (Photo credit: Adrien Converse via Unplash)

What is Biology Class and Why do You Need It?

Biology is a field that enters our daily lives through a variety of mediums: whether that be through pop culture or by the Advil one occasionally needs to get through a Monday morning.

Whether it’s the biochemistry and molecular biology shown in hospital-room dramas, or the conservation biology and environmental biology involved on the front lines of climate change activism – biology is present in almost everything.

This fact, however, can often get lost in the technicalities of cell biology, biotechnology and other concepts you might learn in your biology courses. From wanting to pursue a biology major to simply having to take the biological sciences as one of the prerequisites for graduating high school, taking a general biology course can sometimes be confusing and overwhelming.

If you’re having trouble keeping the grades you want, one thing that can be helpful is to start by understanding what the field of biology means before diving into how exams and papers are generally graded in high school.

While your introduction to biology course may teach you about aspects of biology like genomics or cell structure and function, it can be even more enlightening to put hose concepts into the context of the history of biological science.

While the tasks of a biologist can seem fairly modern, from working on immunology to understanding organismal cellular biology, the field is actually one of the oldest in the world. In fact, biology is so old that evidence of scientific practices in the field have been found as far back as 3500 BCE.

From ancient China and India to modern-day Antarctica, biology has been and is simply the study of living systems and structures of organisms.

The biology department at your school knows this and will have done a great job of setting up your curriculum to give you an understanding of the three branches of biology: microbiology, botany, and zoology.

While botany and zoology are the study of plants and animals, respectively, microbiology concerns itself with living organisms on a microscopic scale.

If you don’t inherently have a passion for everything from vertebrate animals to neurobiology, a biology course will probably just seem like another prerequisite course you won’t be using later in life.

However, students looking for departmental biophysics honors aren’t the only ones who should be concerned with attaining a foundation in biology. In fact, biology courses can give you a great insight into how the world, and your own body, works with concepts including:

If you need any more convincing biology is essential to your life, you can look at it on the grade side. Attaining a passing grade in the sciences is often one of the keys to graduating from high school, which means that even though you might not understand why you’re learning it now, you’ll still need to retain some information in order to gain a general education and a high school diploma.

history of biology
Most biology programs will give you an insight into the history of all living things (Photo credit: Monica Obando Molina via Unplash)

How are Biology Exams and Papers Graded?

Biology courses in high school are generally split into two different tracks: normal and honor’s level. Luckily, for the sake of examining the structure of a typical biology class, the format of both are generally the same.

In a biology course, the semesters or trimesters will generally be ordered in chronological order following either your textbook or your teacher’s lessons. These lectures will form only one component of the course, where the second one will be to participate in a biology lab.

While this, of course, will vary from school to school, your final grade will most likely be composed of the four following channels:

  • Quizzes
  • Homework
  • Labs
  • Final exams and/or final projects

As mentioned before, while every teacher creates their own individual grading scale, you can expect homework to have the least impact on your grade.

This homework can take the form of defining vocabulary terms such as photosynthesis or homeostasis, responding to short answer questions about microorganisms or developmental biology from your textbook, or answering questions about genetics or cell structure proposed by your teacher in class. In general, homework for biology courses makes up 10 to 20 percent of your total grade.

Quizzes and labs, on the other hand, will hold a bit more sway over your final grade. While some teachers like to give quizzes every week, testing the knowledge you’ve learned so far, others will prefer to dole them out with less frequency. Performing labs, on the other hand, can depend on which school you attend.

Final exams or term papers will make up the majority, if not all, of your final grade.

While it may seem unfair that your final grade can hinge on one single test or paper, understanding how heavily these weigh on your grade ahead of time can give you plenty of time to prepare.

Final exams can be structured in a multitude of ways, the most common one being in the form of a multiple-choice exam testing your knowledge for the semester or trimester.

These can include a diverse range of topics such as the definitions for eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells, different types of organelles, types of nucleic acids or even what DNA stands for. Final papers, on the other hand, will probably involve writing a research-based paper on either an original experiment or one performed by someone else.

While finding examples of biology papers can be difficult, understanding the types of topics that are simple and interesting to perform experiments on can be a great way to start brainstorming. Whether it be a final exam, paper or both, these aspects of a biology class typically have a weight of about 30 to 60 percent of your grade.

biology student learning
From the microscopic to the giant, biology touches all aspects of life (Photo credit: Adrien Converse via Unplash)

Types of Biology Exams at the High School Level

Organismal biology, respirations, bioinformatics and more – tests on animal and human biology can be difficult and stressful no matter what level you’re currently studying. Here are some of the different kinds of tests you can expect at the high school level and how they’re graded upon.

AP Biology

The biology exam for advanced placement is split into two sections. The first section includes 60 questions that have to be completed in 1 hour and 30 minutes involving basic concepts.

The second section is a free-response section with six questions broken into 6 short answer and 2 long answer questions. These also have to be completed in 1 hour and 30 minutes. Each section is worth 50% of the final exam score.

IB Biology

The biology exam for the IB program can be taken either at the standard level (SL) or higher level (HL), where each test involves a structure that is a bit more complex than that of the AP exam.

Each test is composed of three parts, where the first is multiple choice and the last two are short and long answers. Whereas the SL Biology exam lasts about 3 hours, the HL Biology exam lasts 4 hours and 30 minutes.


Whereas the ACT is split into three sections, one which is made up of a general science section that includes general biology concepts, the SAT has subjects tests taken in specific disciplines – one of which can be taken for biology.

The ACT, which lasts about 3 hours, will test your knowledge in the principles of biology, such as evolutionary biology, nucleic acids and microbes. The SAT biology subject test, on the other hand, lasts for 1 hour and is split into two sections that test either on Ecology or Molecular Biology. The subjects here range from the diversity of life and cellular respiration to nucleic material, anatomy and physiology.

Raise Your Grades with a Biology Tutor

Subjects like taxonomy, biological systems and recombinant DNA can get confusing. Which is why, whether you want to pursue a biology degree or not, getting some help in biology can help boost your understanding of difficult concepts. Here are some of the ways you can find a tutor:

  • Local library or school tutors
  • Online help or test prep courses
  • Test prep guidebooks and material

Another option you can look into is Superprof. With a community of about 36,650 biology tutors, finding help can be easy!

Need a Biology teacher?

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