The New IB Science Syllabus: Biology



If you’re reading this, I assume you’re already taking Biology or considering it as an option. Either way, you’re on the right track because Biology is an extremely fun subject! My batch (Class of 2016) was the first to take on the new syllabus for Biology, which has undergone several major changes. I’ll be sharing about these changes as well as some tips on how to handle the new syllabus below:


What’s new in the syllabus

With regards to the actual course content, there’s only a slight difference and you will still be studying further human physiology for the option part of Paper 3. Nature of Science questions are also new in this syllabus. These questions are quite hard to predict and usually revolve around how scientific theories are formed, for example. As for the exam format, less weightage (2 questions instead of the previous 3) will be given to the free response questions in Paper 2. In Paper 3, Section A (data based questions) will cover now cover content from Paper 2, while Section B only covers the option.

The biggest difference lies in the Group 4 IAs. Instead of submitting a portfolio of separate reports like in the previous years, IBO now requires you submit one full report as a single assessment. The new grading criteria assesses you on 5 aspects: personal engagement, exploration, analysis, evaluation and communication. It’s like a mini EE, except that there’s a 12 page limit (no word limit). Unfortunately, this new format makes it more difficult to score, not to mention risky as well since you only get one chance to get it right. You are only given a maximum of 10 hours to carry out your experiment and to collect all your data. This will be spread out over 3 lab sessions, although you can always go to the lab during your free time (but bear in mind the lab’s opening hours). You will only be allowed to send your teacher one draft, which you will then get written comments on. Since the IA forms a substantial 20% of your overall grade, it is crucial to do your best for it.


Some guidelines on how to tackle your IA

1. Plan early

Planning is very important and I can’t stress this enough! You need sufficient time to come up with a good research question; one which has enough rigour befitting of the IB HL Bio syllabus, but also cannot be too complex at the same time. Just remember: you’re only doing an IA, not an EE. If the scope of your investigation is too wide, you’ll either run out of time to finish your experiment and data collection, or you won’t be able to squeeze all the information within 12 pages. Sorting out your methodology early will also give you additional time to buy materials and tweak any steps in case your experiment doesn’t work out during the preliminary trials. In the midst of your other EE, IA and CCA commitments, you certainly do not want to get bogged down by a poorly planned experiment during this crunch time. Hence, it’s best to get this out of the way as soon as possible.


2. Ensure your IA flows well

My Bio teacher always stressed that your IA should be YOUR personal story – that is, your motivation should be the underlying core of your whole IA, giving your report a clear direction. You will also need to learn the art of presenting your data nicely in the most convincing way possible. The tables, graphs, and statistics tests should all serve to support your main story such that there is a coherent flow from start to end. This makes for a solid IA!


3. Have a strong personal motivation

This is the differentiating factor for most IAs. How is your investigation different from other investigations? Has this investigation been carried out somewhere else before? In your introduction, you will need state the purpose of your investigation. Your topic should ideally be something that interests you, and makes a significant contribution to society or world at large. This could be a solution to water pollution for example. Having a strong personal motivation will also give you added incentive in your IA journey, which will then be a more fulfilling one.


4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I consulted my teacher and my classmates multiple times for a variety of opinions on my research question, analysis and conclusion. Based on their feedback, I edited my IA accordingly. If you’re unsure about which stats test to use, don’t hesitate to clarify this with someone. Your teachers are an invaluable resource made available to you, so approach them for any help (just don’t be too annoying and you’ll be fine).


General tips for Biology

1. Bio is very content heavy, so be prepared to spend a good number of hours revising for this subject. This means prioritising your time well and setting aside enough time to prepare for the Bio exam. DO NOT attempt 1/2/3 day Bio challenges. It never ends well (from experience).

2. Since there’s so much content, I find that making notes are extremely useful in consolidating my knowledge for Bio. Personally, I don’t use the textbook to revise as it’s not concise enough. Instead, I rely on my teacher’s slides, and make mind maps for every topic. These are all subjective to each individual, so I encourage you to find your own learning style in revising for Biology.


If you put in the effort, Biology is actually a pretty manageable subject. Your teacher will prepare you thoroughly for the IA (with one IA a week in Year 5), so there’s no need to worry too much when you get down to doing the real thing in Year 6. Last but not least, try to enjoy your lab practicals! Despite the crazy workload, I genuinely had fun carrying out the experiments and collecting data during the practical lessons.

IB Bio may be a rigorous journey, but it’s fulfilling one. You will get through it just fine!! All the best for IB and God bless!

Joanna Low (6.04) is from the graduating batch of 2016.

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