When you take the IB Biology SL or HL exam, you'll probably be stressed out no matter what. But having seen a past paper beforehand will be a huge advantage: you'll know the format of the test cold and be used to the length and style of the test.
In this article, I will at least try to get you familiar with the exam format by exposing you to IB Biology past papers, both free and paid. I'll also share strategies on how best to use these IB Biology tests for your own exam prep.
Where to Find Free Past Papers
In the last few years, IBO has gotten tough on illegal uploads of past papers, with the result that many sources are no longer available.
Unfortunately, IBO has yet to provide any free sample Biology papers (SL or HL) on its website (although we'll be sure to update this article if and when that does happen). Because of this, while you might find some results if you search around online for past IB Biology papers, it's difficult to know if they're real past papers (illegally uploaded) or unofficial (ones created from scratch by students for practice).
You should be very wary of any unofficial IB Biology papers you find. I DO NOT recommend using them, as they may be very different from the actual IB Biology exam.
Where to Find Paid Tests
The Follet IB store sells digital versions of the IB Biology SL past papers and IB Biology HL past papers from November 2015 to November 2018. This is the only safe place to get IB Biology past papers to download.
Each paper and each mark scheme cost $3, so one full exam (including paper 1, paper 2, paper 3, and the mark scheme) will cost you about $18.
Buying all of the past papers and mark schemes from 2015 to 2018 is costly, so we recommend just purchasing the two most recent complete past papers (May and November 2017). These tests will be the most similar to what you'll be tested on, particularly since there was an IB Biology syllabus change as recently as 2016. Plus, for most students, two tests will be plenty of practice.
3 Tips to Use IB Biology Past Papers Effectively
Each IB Biology practice test will take 3 hours for SL or 4.5 hours for HL, so it's crucial that you get the most out of each test (since you will probably not have time for very many of them). Here are critical strategies to keep in mind when you're taking the tests:
#1: Take Papers 1 and 2 In One Sitting, if Possible
IB Biology SL and IB Biology HL papers 1 and 2 are given back to back, forcing you to write for 2 hours for SL and 3 hours and 15 minutes for HL. You need to build up endurance, so you don't make careless mistakes when you are exhausted at the end of paper 2.
By taking the IB Biology practice exam in one sitting, you build up important endurance for the real papers. If you don't have time in your schedule for a 2-hour or 3-hour 15-minute session, then splitting the papers up over a few days is fine. Just make sure you follow the next rule:
#2: Keep Strict Timing on Each Paper With a Timer
It is vital that you get used to the timing pressures on the IB Biology papers. Here is the time allotted for each paper:
IB Biology SL
- IB Biology SL Paper 1—45 minutes
- IB Biology SL Paper 2—1 hour 15 minutes
- IB Biology SL Paper 3—1 hour
IB Biology HL
- IB Biology HL Paper 1—1 hour
- IB Biology HL Paper 2—2 hours 15 minutes
- IB Biology HL Paper 3—1 hour 15 minutes
In this time frame, you need to finish:
IB Biology SL
- SL Paper 1: 30 multiple-choice questions
- SL Paper 2: 4 short responses and 1 essay question (you choose between 3 options)
- SL Paper 3: 6 short response questions that each can have between 2-5 parts
IB Biology HL
- HL Paper 1: 40 multiple-choice questions
- HL Paper 2: 4 short response questions that each can have between 3-10 parts and 2 essay questions (you choose between 4 options)
- HL Paper 3: 7 or more short response and essay questions (varies based on the options that you covered in your class).
Do not give yourself even two extra minutes during your practice—this can allow you to answer more questions and improve your IB exam score substantially. You want to use these practice tests as reliable indicators of your real IB Biology score, not as a way to falsely boost your sense of progress.
#3: Review Your Answers From Your Practice Test
At the end of every practice exam, make sure you review every mistake you made, and every question you were unsure of. If you skip this step in the process, you're not going to learn from your mistakes, and you'll continue making them on the next tests.
You should spend at least 1.5 hours reviewing every full practice exam. This may feel like a lot of time, but emphasize quality of learning over quantity of learning. I'd rather see you take two exams with detailed review than five exams with no review.
Learn more about IB Biology:
- The Complete IB Biology Syllabus: SL and HL
- The Best IB Biology Study Guide and Notes for SL and HL
- The Best IB Biology Books, Reviewed
Learn more about the IB Program through our other articles:
- The Complete List of IB Course and Classes
- Which IB Courses Can I Take Online? Can I get an IB Diploma Online?
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As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.