The new A Level science courses now require students to complete a practical element which doesn’t influence your final grade but you do receive a pass or a fail. Many universities require you to have a pass in this practical element for science-based courses so it is important to make sure that you get it right. Don’t worry though because this guide will tell you everything that you need to know about nailing those core practicals in biology!
1. Read the instructions
The most obvious thing is read the instructions; you’ll be tested on how safe you’re being and so the easiest way to do this is to look at the instructions because they’re obviously going to be the most sensible method you can follow. If your teachers do not give you a copy then always try and write up some of your own beforehand so that you are not wasting time once you are in the lesson.
2. Understand why you do things
Similarly, you should try and think about why you do things. Whilst it is important to remember the steps to your practical, it’s even more important to consider why you do things. Practical based exam questions will often ask things like “why did you use a cold and isotonic buffer when using the centrifuge?” so you need to understand why. We like to annotate our method with notes for things like this so that we can relate it back to the specific thing that we did and why it was important.
3. Don't forget about the specification
We would also suggest that you look at the specification for completing the core practicals. Often it will say what the aim of the practical is and the specific skills you’re supposed to develop during it. This will guide you on what the teachers will be focusing on when grading you and also it will show you the key skills that you will need to use, such as preparing a microscope slide. These are the questions that will show up because they are common practical techniques that you will be expected to be able to do, so knowing the steps that you would complete is very important.
4. With organization comes empowerment
Finally, you need to stay organised. Your school may force you to keep your practicals in a separate book or folder because the examiner will need to check it over, but if they don’t then you should try and do that yourself. Not only will it make it easier when the examiner needs it, it will also make it easier for you to revise the practicals because you have them all in one place and they’re easily accessible.
Core practicals are definitely not supposed to be the most difficult part of the course, however you do still need to treat them as important. For biology, the key thing to ask yourself is ‘why’ as that is what examiners like to ask about (as well as the actual procedure you completed). If possible, you can read up on the practical in your textbook beforehand and this should help to give you some idea of that or even ask your teacher if you’re stuck. For us, we’d say that this is one of the more fun aspects of the course because you get to use new equipment and try out new reactions, so just have fun and enjoy it!