biology learning resources

Some ideas on data handling questions

So, the new AQA Biology A level paper 3 has a 15 mark question on “critical analysis of given experimental data”.

Sounds scary.

This post will give you some ideas on how to help prepare for this.

The mathematical requirement has been increased for the new specification.

Check out what you are expected to know.

Have a look here for AQA, other exam boards will have similar.

There is nothing too tricky here for anyone who achieved higher tier GCSE maths.

If you are not so confident and would benefit from some extra help, there are books available to buy.  I have found Maths Skills by James Penny a useful reference.  CGP also do a guide with questions to work through.  If you have an A level textbook for the new specification it will also be likely to have relevant material.

As usual, I’ve been collecting websites, you’ll find Maths for Biologists links here.

If you’re struggling with stats, there is a really good resource booklet from TES resources written by cterry1.  This has loads of guidance and worked examples.  You will need an account although it’s free to sign up, or ask your teacher.

However, critical analysis of data isn’t just about the number crunching.

First you need to know what the question is asking.  Check that you are familiar with command words, so that you know when to describe and when to explain and when to evaluate!

For more detail on words to do with experiments, have a go at this glossary exercise from my worksheets page.

If the question requires you to evaluate an experiment or a conclusion based on data, some ideas for you to think about can be found here.

Once you have done the preparation, you need to have a go at analysis of data.  The best way to improve is just to try lots and lots of examples.  If you have access to a textbook there may well be lots in there you can have a go at.  The OUP Biology Toole and Toole book has application sections throughout each chapter.

If you subscribe to Biological Sciences Review or can borrow a copy from your teacher or school library, there are often data handling exercises in there.  The extra online resources are freely available online.

The free and always useful Big Picture magazine have an online issue on Number Crunching.  This has lots of guidance on stats and how to interpret them.

Your final task is to get stuck into some past paper questions.  Although the new specification at the time of writing this only has Specimen papers available, the most recent AQA legacy specification had a 15 mark data question on both Unit 4 and Unit 5.  Download past papers and mark schemes here.

Resist the temptation to look at the mark scheme until you have had a really good go at the question, then use them to check your answer and see how to improve next time.  Don’t worry if you score low marks at first, this takes a bit of training as you are trying to apply your knowledge to unfamiliar situations.

This resource from scitweetcher (TES again) provides a useful template and guidance on how to approach these questions, although written for unit 1 it’s relevant for all questions of this type.

If you would like even more past paper questions, it’s worth knowing that the really old specification (up to 2010) had a separate section on data handling.  You’re looking for Unit 6/7/8B.  AQA have removed these from their website but you might find them elsewhere – if you do, let me know.

If your school has access to Exampro it is also possible to search for relevant questions on there.  If you do not have access ask your teacher.

I hope this has given you some ideas to help with these questions.  If you have any more suggestions please do add a comment (these are pre-moderated).