Please Mind The Platform Gap: Taking H2 Biology

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By Shreya Singh (23S03C)

Cover image by Tay Yu Ning (23S06E)

Gene technology today has completely revolutionised the way we approach diseases.  Your very DNA can now be edited to blur the boundaries of the human experience. In all its versatility, the CRISPR method capitalises on our knowledge of the genetic code.

Diagrammatic representation of the CRISPR method

The H2 Biology syllabus enables one to better appreciate CRISPR by expounding on concepts relating to DNA and Genomics. In a similar vein, we’re able to understand how the coronavirus functions because we have a strong grasp of other viruses with similar structures.

Structure of Influenza Virus

H2 Biology aims to address the broader questions of what life is and how life is sustained through building on knowledge, skills and attitudes. 

As science students, we find ourselves in a conundrum, having to choose between either Biology or Physics when deciding on our subject combinations. To many, Biology seems to rely purely on rote memorisation, rather than demanding a strong grasp and understanding of complex concepts. Yet, it might be surprising to find out that H2 Biology is more than simply knowing your content, as it also gets us to consider how content can be applied to novel scenarios apart from the ones you are already well-acquainted with.

A key distinction between Biology taught at the secondary school and JC level is the essay question. The essay question typically requires a rigorous grasp of the entire H2 syllabus, requiring knowledge on a wide range of concepts from various topics to be answered effectively. 

An essay question from a “Genetics of Bacteria” tutorial

While this may initially sound daunting especially for Science students, who may feel they are not as skilled in writing essays, it can actually offer clarity on the links between topics, helping one to look at the topics less in isolation and more in relation to one another.

The syllabus document classifies the topics by themes rather than in isolation.

A typical tutorial session consists of going through structured and essay questions based on the current topic, as well as covering broad overviews of topics that help to reinforce important concepts. Tutorials can be a good starting point for revision, as they equip students with skills required to answer questions. 

The subject is also characterised by an emphasis on the right keywords. Some students would joke and say that Biology and English are one and the same, as it takes an insurmountable effort at times just to convey the correct idea. It is important to sieve out only what is important by paying close attention to the phrasing of the question and taking note of the mark allocation. 

Practicals consist of a wide variety of setups, ranging from microscopy to cutting out 2mm thick pieces of beetroot discs. Over the course of the year, skills such as using a scalpel and calculating the magnification of a cell specimen drawing will be developed. This is followed by evaluating data obtained from observations as well as application of content knowledge to explain any visible trends. 

Taking H2 Biology can lead you to life science-related courses at university, as well as careers associated with the course. While the subject may not be a requirement, it would be useful when applying for courses such as Medicine as well. 

Students with an aptitude for the subject can also choose to further their knowledge through avenues such as H3 Biology, or Raffles Academy (Biology). The requirements for taking H3 Biology in Year 6 include obtaining at least a B for Biology, and at least a C for all remaining subjects. Selection tests for Raffles Academy (Biology) are held at the start of the academic year. 

Due to the sheer volume of content that comes with studying H2 Biology, some may opt for H1 Biology instead. Some of the differences between H2 and H1 Biology include a reduction in the syllabus. For instance, topics like “Control of Gene Expression” and “Infectious Diseases” are not taught. Additionally, the practical paper is omitted during assessments. 

If one wishes to offer H2 Biology, an important prerequisite to take note of is Year 4 / O-Level Biology. However, if one wishes to take the subject without Year 4 / O-Level Biology, they can appeal to do so.

While it cannot be denied that content mastery is paramount when taking Biology as a subject, the memory often comes hand-in-hand with understanding, enabling one to better appreciate the subject. So if you find yourself intrigued by what goes on at a genetic, biomolecular, or cellular level, H2 Biology might just be for you! 

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