Today's Leaving Certificate Biology Paper (HL) was a fair yet challenging representation of the syllabus and contained some well constructed questions which would have required the candidates to "think" far more than previous years. This style of examination question is to be welcomed, but some of the candidates may not have expected this departure in form and could have been intimidated slightly. I might imagine that some exam purists may argue that some questions were "not on the syllabus" come the marking conference but, saying that, I'd imagine the majority of pupils and teachers would feel the paper was reasonable.
Section A, the short questions, was generally straight-forward. Question 1 assessed food science and biomolecules and was fine, although the number of amino acids in proteins may have caught out a few. Question 2 was on mitosis and meiosis and was on the easy side, question 3 involved matching different ecological terms with their definition and shouldn't catch too many out while question 4 was a nice assessment of pupil understanding of temperature control in animals. Question 5 assessed the digestive system in humans and was fine, except for a poorly drawn liver / gall bladder (I can't tell to be honest) and section A finished off with a straight-forward question on respiration (which many pupils would have expected to be assessed in the longer questions).
Section B, the experiment questions, was challenging this year, particularly question 7. This involved an unseen experiment, a departure from previous years (a decision which will surely be controversial but I personally welcome), which aimed to assess the students understanding of the scientific method and their ability to apply that knowledge to an unseen investigation. There were a few tricky parts to this question, which may have put some people off, and was certainly more difficult than the other two options. Of these, question 8 was a mixed bag of easy questions from various mandatory investigations and question 9 was a clear cut assessment of the separation of DNA from plant tissue investigation. I think the examiners may find that questions 8 and 9 will have been attempted more often than question 7, which is a pity.
On to section C, the "long" questions, although they tend to be a series of shorter questions really. Question 10 again assessed ecology with part (b) a particularly well constructed series of higher order questions - this part asked pupils to make deductions based on different observations of animal and plant activity in nature. The question was fair yet challenging! Question 11 saw plant growth regulators and human hormones being given a full question for the first time and shouldn't have caused too many problems - the questions generally being in the lower order bracket. As tipped, question 12 was an undemanding yet thorough look at the human excretory and urinary systems - again with a few welcome questions requiring the candidate to think. Genetics and evolution were assessed within question 13 and neither the definitions or the genetic cross should have troubled the well prepared student. Question 14, which had three options to do two, was again straight-forward. Part (a) looked at an exam favourite - the rate of photosynthesis investigation - but again contained a few higher questions. Part (b) was a mix of trouble free questions on enzymes, biomolecules and metabolism and part (c) was another mix of questions on cell structure, movement of materials between cells and amoeba - neither should have caused too much bother. The final question on the exam again had a choice, two from three parts, and assessed the ear and hearing, plant structure and transport and a welcome question on Rhizopus.
Overall, this year's Leaving Certificate was a slight departure from tradition with more higher order questions which would have challenged the candidates. It certainly would have rewarded those with a good understanding of the principles of the scientific method and not those who are more used to information regurgitation. For this, the examiners are to be commended.
Let us know what you thought of the biology paper - leave a comment below.