Biology is a popular and fascinating subject that you can study for your Leaving Cert at Secondary School. The subject covers a wide range of topics, from DNA and genetics to the structure of plants.
Throughout the programme, you will not only be encouraged to develop your knowledge and skills in Biology, but also expand your appreciation of the nature and diversity of the organisms you study.
In this guide, we will introduce what the Biology exam paper involves at Leaving Cert level and what you can expect to see on the paper. We’ll also provide some tips for revising this subject and highlight some useful resources for preparing for the exam.
The Leaving Cert Biology exam
Leaving Cert Biology is studied at the Higher and Ordinary levels. The syllabus is split into three units: Unit 1 (The Study of Life, incorporating topics such as nutrition and ecology); Unit 2 (The Cell, incorporating cell structure and genetics); and Unit 3 (The Organism, incorporating topics such as the breathing system and reproduction).
The Leaving Certificate Biology exam is set and marked by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). A new layout for the 2022 paper was announced in 2021. The total marks now available on this paper is 290, reduced from 400 marks in previous years.
The new exam has three sections: Section A, worth 80 marks; Section B, worth 30 marks; and Section C, worth 180 marks. The new layout of the exam paper has been designed to increase student choice by including additional questions to choose from.
What to expect in Leaving Cert Biology exam papers
Section A spans the first seven questions of the paper. You will be asked to answer any four of the seven questions. Each question is worth 20 marks. Two of these questions will be from Unit 1 of the Biology programme, two will be from Unit 2, another two will be from Unit 3 and the seventh question will be from any of these units.
Section B spans Questions 8 to 10 and deals with experiments. You will be asked to answer any one of three questions, and they are each worth 30 marks. Each of these questions will be aligned with a specific experiment section. There are three experiment sections.
• Question 8 will assess activities in the following eight practical experiments:
Quantitatively test for starch, lipids, proteins or a reducing sugars
Identify five fauna and five flora using simple keys
Use different apparatus to collect plants and animals
Quantitatively study the plants and animals present in an ecosystem
Investigate three abiotic factors present in an ecosystem
Be familiar with and use a light microscope
Prepare a plant cell and animal cell and examine them using a light microscope
Isolate DNA from a plant tissue
• Question 9 will assess activities in the following seven practical experiments:
Investigate the effect of pH on enzyme activity
Investigate the effect of temperature on enzyme activity
Investigate the effect of heat denaturation on enzyme activity
Prepare an enzyme immobilisation and examine its application
Investigate the influence of light intensity or carbon dioxide on the rate of photosynthesis
Prepare and show the production of alcohol using yeast
• Question 10 will assess activities in the following seven practical experiments:
Investigate the growth of leaf yeast using agar plates
Prepare and microscopically examine a transverse section (TS) of a dicotyledonous stem
Dissect and identify the parts of a heart
Investigate the effect of exercise on the pulse rate or breathing rate
Investigate the effect of IAA growth regulator on plant tissue
Investigate the effect of water, oxygen and temperature on germination o Use starch agar or skimmed milk plates to show digestive activity during germination
Use starch agar or skimmed milk plates to show digestive activity during germination
In Section C, you will be presented with seven questions (Questions 11 to 17), similar to Section A. However, you will only have to answer any three of these. These will be one question from Unit 1, two questions from Unit 2, three questions from Unit 3 and a seventh from any of three units.
An extra full long question is now included and an additional part (d) will be added to Questions 16 and 17. If you choose to answer these questions, you will have to answer any two of the four parts.
How to revise for the Leaving Cert Biology exam
It’s very important to study all three units on the Biology course. Ecology is one particular area of Unit 1 that can be worth a lot of marks on the paper, so should be studied in detail. Set a revision schedule for studying the three units and their topics, rather than cramming everything in one go.
This includes definitions, which are typically worth around 15-20% of your overall marks in this paper. Prepare these definitions on flashcards or other visual cues so they are easier to scan and recall than searching to find them in a textbook. You should also practice your diagrams and labelling, as these can be worth as much as nine marks each.
Although the layout of the exam has changed, it would still be beneficial to use sample and past papers during your revision. This is so that you can continually improve your technique, knowledge recall and ability to interpret questions. It will also help you recognise topics that are likely to appear on the paper.
Resources for revising Leaving Cert Biology
Revise Wise Biology – Higher Level is written by subject experts and is 100% focussed on the exam. It is packed with study tips and revision hints, as well as exam questions and sample answers.
Essentials Unfolded – Leaving Cert Biology presents all essential materials for both Higher and Ordinary levels in a clear and condensed way. Text is kept to a minimum to highlight keywords, definitions and well-labelled diagrams.
Less Stress More Success – Leaving Cert Biology covers both Higher and Ordinary level courses and is designed to help you stay on track for the exam. It highlights key information and provides in-context exam questions as well as marking schemes so you can maximise marks and prioritise your revision.
Exam Solutions – Leaving Cert Biology – Higher Level covers every question that appeared on a Biology exam from 2008 to 2018. It will help you identify which topics appear in the paper the most frequently and learn the quickest way to answer questions. It will also help you understand which points are accepted by examiners and which aren’t, so you can avoid common exam pitfalls.