I tell my students that the first point of call is the definitions for the topic. Before you can understand a question and answer one you need to know these. Key word lists are the start and these can be found at the top of most Pass Biology pages or on From these you need to rely on rote learning, use memory cards, games or any form or repetition to learn these. Make sure you understand them as you need to be able to link them to a question later. You can use your teacher’s notes, textbooks or videos to do this but you must understand each memorised definition.

As a teacher I like using the SOLO model to show the stages I am at with my thinking and it works well with Biology. The first stage is the point you are before the topic. You may not know many or any definitions or anything about the topic. This is called the pre-structural stage. Your key word list will help here.

Stage 2 is what learning the definitions gets you to. It is called the unistructural and it’s where you can describe key words and use these to describe an idea in a question. At this stage you should be able to look at a question and list all the key words associated with the question. You will find it hard to link these together as you haven’t yet got the full understanding of the words, this takes time. You should be able to describe a single concept based on the question. An example of this stage is describing what territorial behaviour is and describes an example of an adaptive advantage of this.
In NCEA this often will get you to al low-medium achieved.

Stage 3 is called multistructural. For this stage you need to know the definitions well and be able to describe each of them well and in the correct context (meaning understanding what question goes with what definitions. At this level you won’t be linking them together and will get a high Achieved.
Normally in Biology this means you will have more descriptions of examples of the key word. So as above you will add some more adaptive advantages.

The big step is Merit and Excellence. For a Biologist you have a good understanding of the key terms of the topic and can explain them for merit level.  An example is linking the idea protection from predators TO greater survival or Territoriality leading to more protection and greater survival.

In Biology this stage may also need you to give reasons or explain why the definition occurs. An example of this is with territory and why it is smaller than the home range because it is just too great an area to defend or it is just too large an area to overcrowd.

For Excellence in biology there is usually more detail of the how or the why and the linking of these explanations. Often you have to compare and contrast positive and negatives or different things. You start to do some simple comparison and contrasting in your answers. In SOLO this is called the Relational stage.  Both these levels come under Relational in SOLO.  At this level your ideas are linked together such as; Territorial behaviour ensures greater reproductive success due to better mating success (attraction or reconnecting with mates) and greater focus on parental care, resulting in greater fitness of the young. An awesome Solo tool is making hexagons to help link ideas together. The link can be found here .  To use this you think about the language you would use to link the hexagons together.

High Excellence and Scholarship. At this level you know and understand the key words to a high level. You can link them together even across topics when required and you can compare and contrast ideas in the question. You can make predictions based on key concepts and you can even imagine what may happen based on what you know. You start to become critical with your answers and bring evidence from a wide range of areas. This is what Scholarship is testing you for and the level in SOLO is called extended abstract. Sometimes a high Excellence especially in some internals can be at this level.