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Low Prep Student-Centered AP & IB Exam Review!

Whenever I am teaching a course with an externally moderated exam, such as IB DP Biology or AP Environmental Science I always plan out my course to have at least 3 weeks for review after we have gone through all of the content. Students often struggled to organize their own review time efficiently and preparing for such a high stakes exam with so much to learn is incredibly challenging for high school students.

Over the years I have developed an easy, low-prep but effective system that I use which allows the students to determine what we will review while reminding them of the vast amount of content on their upcoming exam. My current school always does Mock IB exams in January and so I decided to dedicate the first couple of weeks in January to helping students prepare for these exams and I thought I'd share my process in case someone else out there finds it helpful.

Step 1: Grouping the Content

Every teacher chooses how to organize their course into distinct units based on a variety of factors, at my current school I teach both SL & HL IB DP Biology in the same classroom, so I tend to sprinkle in some HL content throughout my units so that I can keep a balanced workload for all of my students. If you are interested in some different course sequences for IB DP Biology you can find them here in my TpT store. Here is the list of how I grouped the content this year, notice how I have included all the required lab practicals, this is because they often show up throughout the IB exam:

  • Topic 1: Cells

  • Practical 1 Microscopy

  • Practical 2 Osmolarity

  • Topic 2: Molecular Biology

  • Practical 3 Enzyme Reaction Rates

  • Practical 4 Chromatography of Photosynthetic Pigments

  • Topic 7: Nucleic Acids (HL only)

  • Topic 8: Metabolism, Cellular Respiration & Photosynthesis (HL only)

  • Topic 3: Genetics

  • Topic 10.1 Meiosis (HL only)

  • Topic 10.2 Inheritance (HL only)

  • Topic 4: Ecology

  • Practical 5: Mesocosms

  • Topic 5: Evolution & Biodiversity

  • Topic 10.3 Gene Pools & Speciation (HL only)

  • Topic 6: Human Physiology

  • Practical 6 Ventilation Rate

  • Topic 11: Animal Physiology (HL only)

  • Topic 9: Plant Biology (HL only)

  • Practical 7: Potometers & Transpiration Rate (HL only)

Step 2: Prepare the Materials

The best way that I have found to gather feedback from ALL of my students is to write down each of the aforementioned groups on a large piece of chart paper and then tape them up around the classroom. I chose to include an additional two pieces of chart paper for students to share their insights into and requests about Paper 1 (Multiple Choice) and Paper 2 (Short Answer & Data Analysis) as well.

Step 3: Gather Student Feedback

The next step in my class is to give all of my students markers and ask them to walk around the room writing down what they remember about each Topic & lab on the chart paper. You will notice on the example I have included here that the chart paper includes the related SL & HL content as well as any of the seven required lab practicals. This reminds students of all the topics we have covered and helps them identify which areas of each topic they remember and which they do not. Since every student has a chance to write (with 9 pieces of chart paper it's pretty spread out) I get some feedback from each of my students.

After students have written down what they remember the next step is to distribute post-it notes on which they can write requests for each topic and subtopic...what do they want help with which they can then stick to the appropriate piece of chart paper. Before I added the first step of writing down what they remember I found that my students would write very large and vague questions rather than specific subtopics or concepts about which they needed support as a mini-lesson, review tools or past paper questions. This extra step makes a huge difference in the amount of detail I am able to gather from my students to guide their review.

Step 4: Plan Your Review Days

Now that I have gathered detailed student feedback it's time for me to plan our review time, in this case I had five class blocks to go through the entire list, so I went to my whiteboard to make a plan during one of my prep periods. You can see that I have the pieces of chart paper handy taped to the bottom of the board & am using them to guide my plan. I was able to leave this on the board to ask for feedback from my Seniors, they requested additional Data Analysis questions, which you can see I added for each day.

All that is left is to put the plan into action! To keep my life simple I tend to use the presentations from the original lessons to do any mini-lessons, these are also great memory cues for my students since they have seen them before. I hope this is helpful for you and your students as we prepare for another exam season in the Spring of 2022.

Thanks for reading teachers, travelers & curious souls of all kinds.

The Roaming Scientist



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I'm the kind of teacher who is always trying something new, new labs, new Apps, new scaffolds and even new countries to live and teach in. I'm looking forward to share what I learn with you all through my weekly blog posts. 

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