Opinion: How to succeed in Life Sciences

By Okuhle Simayile - 3 minute read

Okuhle studied Life Sciences for the matric and is now training to be a teacher. She has a strong passion for ensuring that all her Life Sciences students attain distinctions and is here to give you the best advice on how to understand and do well in the subject.

In this guide:

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What should I know about Life Sciences?

It is interconnected:

One of the many things that I loved about learning Life Sciences is how different topics are put into their own categories and you can easily work through them individually. Although the topics may be separate, a lot of the key concepts and the science behind them are related in many ways. So once you grasp the core concepts and especially how to answer certain questions well, it becomes really easy to apply this to any topic.

Life Sciences is a language:

Like any other language, you'll need to familiarize yourself with scientific terms and become comfortable with using them. You can do this easily with flashcards of new terminology for every topic, and put these cards up around your room so you can see them every day.

Detail is everything:

With science, you have to be very particular and detailed in everything you do, so practise, practise, practise! Get into a routine of working through either example questions and quizzes for each topic. If you've practised everything over and over, when you finally reach your exam, it won’t be as stressful and you’ll be able to work through it comfortably.

How do I handle the workload?

Get a head start:

The best way to prepare initially is to find out what work you will be covering. You can either do this at the start of the year or at the start of a new term. Find out what topics will be covered and for how long and note them down on your calendar. This was one of the best things that I did to prepare myself mentally for my final year in high school and to reduce anxiety around the workload.


When you start working on a new topic in class, go home and use flashcards to familiarize yourself with the new terms. I used sticky notes and would have them stuck all over my bedroom walls. If you do it every day (even if it’s just one sticky note per day), knowing definitions and terminology becomes a breeze when exams or tests come around.

Use diagrams to summarise:

If possible, print out diagrams in A3 size and use them to make summaries of the concepts that the diagrams are about. This saved me a lot of time and it made studying so much easier and more interactive.

Practise every day:

Try to spend at least 40 minutes a day on your Life Sciences study. You can use this time to make diagrams, make flashcards, and go through practice questions or short quizzes on Studyclix. Keep all your notes and study from these when exams come around. You can then increase your study time for topics that you need to work on a little more. 

Top tip

Since there is a lot of work to get through, cramming the night before will not work and it will just cause you more stress. Plan ahead and do small amounts every day instead!

What is the best way to study for an exam?

The earlier you start, the better:

Many people make the mistake of preparing for a Life Sciences exam a few days before or a week before. You can avoid making the same mistake by practising small amounts every day. When you make a habit of making study notes, flashcards, annotating diagrams and so on for as little as 30 minutes a day, you will reduce so much work and stress when the exams come around.

Plan ahead using the exam guidelines:

Use the exam guidelines to figure out the weighting of the different topics that you covered so you can know how to allocate your time. For example, human evolution makes up nearly 40% of the final exam mark and plant hormones and responses only about 10%. Using this, you’ll know not to spend too much time on plants, but rather allocate more time to human evolution.

Active recall:

The best way to study definitions and terminology is active recall, i.e. using flashcards. Using sticky notes or anything you have available, write down the term and its definition at the back. Go through these every day and don’t waste time rewriting definitions over and over.

Practise by going through past papers:

Life Sciences exams are very repetitive and you can use this to your advantage. Go through the past papers and practice as much as you can. This will help you become comfortable with the questioning used in exams.

Top tip

Studyclix has many past exam papers and breaks them up into topics so you can easily revise the topics and exam questions in bite-sized chunks.

Diagrams should be your go-to:

Instead of spending hours going through notes in your textbook, use diagrams to summarize various concepts efficiently. You may even use flow diagrams and mind maps to cover the different topics. It is easier to learn from and it’ll make your studying more productive than trying to rewrite notes and memorize them.

What can I do to use my time wisely during an exam?

  • Read through the whole question paper from start to the end.

  • Go through section A and answer as much as you can, if you get stuck, move on!

  • With section B, read through it while making highlights of important things to note and get started on questions that you’re able to answer.

  • You should not spend more than one hour on section A, this is the short answer section.

  • Try not to spend too much time on one question in section B. Move on and come back to it later if it's taking too much of your time.

  • Once you’ve gone through all the questions, go back to the beginning of the paper and try answering any questions you couldn’t do before.

  • With the last ten minutes, make sure to read over the whole paper again and your answers to check that you’ve answered them sufficiently.

  • Don’t leave until you’re confident that you have done everything you can. Take advantage of the time given to you.

How to best handle the short-answer questions (Section A)?

Multiple choice:

If the correct answer isn’t obvious, use the method of elimination to figure it out. Try to answer the question using what you know about each answer option, if it doesn’t make sense with one option, cross it out until you’re left with the correct one.


With the use of your flashcards, this section should be really easy to get through. However, if there is a term that you’ve forgotten or genuinely don’t know, leave some space for it and move on. You will certainly have time to get back to it once you’ve answered other questions, and these might help you figure out that term.

Other short-answer questions:

Most of these will be based on a diagram, so try to label the diagram as soon as you get to it. From there, it should be easy to answer questions based on the diagram and it will help even more if you use diagrams to study beforehand. Even if you’re asked to describe a process, you can use the diagram to help you do this as well.

How to tackle the experimental questions?

Read carefully:

You can sometimes get a text with information about an experiment and you'll have to answer questions based on this. If you used past papers to study, the experiment or text might be similar to one from a past paper but you still have to read through it carefully. Make sure you answer questions strictly based on the text or experiment you were given. Don’t use information from anywhere else and make sure you include all details and correct scientific terms when required.

Structure your answers well:

When you’re asked to describe a process (for example), avoid giving a simple definition or just naming the process. You will need to state what happened (give a cause) and give the effects of that cause.

Top tip

Make sure that your answer provides the how, when, where and why. This will help you get as many marks as you can, and avoid losing marks for silly mistakes.

Drawings, tables and graphs:

People often lose many unnecessary marks when it comes to their drawings, tables and graphs due to not following scientific drawing rules. Make sure that you are familiar with these beforehand. Always draw with a pencil and ruler, include a heading, make labels clear and in pen, etc. It may help you to write a short checklist on the side to make sure you’ve included everything you need to get all the marks for these questions.

Last few tips

  • Life Sciences can be overwhelming, and it’s okay to feel that way. However, it is manageable and you can definitely work towards doing well. It is all up to how much work you put in and always working smarter by doing small bits every day.

  • Everyone is different so try to find study methods and general working strategies that work for you. Make it yours!

  • This subject does require consistency, so remember to stick to doing your flashcards everyday, keep using your diagrams and flow diagrams and stay ahead by looking at the exam or subject guidelines.

  • Ask for help whenever you need it, even if it’s for the smallest thing. Like all worthy things in life, getting a distinction in Life Sciences will take some hard work, but the rewards will definitely be worth it. You’ve got this!

Remember: Studyclix can help you study Life Sciences and do really well. Use our past exam questions to your advantage and check out our Community page to chat with other Life Sciences students to get even more tips & advice.

Best of luck!

By Okuhle Simayile

After receiving distinctions in her Matric, Okuhle recently completed a postgraduate course in education; her speciality being life sciences and natural sciences. She has experience in the medical research studies field and this experience helps enrich her teaching and learning.

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