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Unit 6: Practical biology and investigative skills

Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total marks: 50
Number of questions: 3

QUESTION 1: Based on one of the Core Practicals.

There are 8 Core Practicals at A2 and these includes:
Unit 4: core practicals
1. Describe how to study the ecology of a habitat e.g.
Does the abundance of a particular species vary with a
change of a particular biotic factor or abiotic factor?
Does the pattern of vegetation change as you move from
one point to another?
2. Describe how to investigate the effect of temperature on the
development of organisms. E.g. Seedling growth or hatching
success rate of brine shrimps eggs.
3. PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)
5. Investigating the strength of antibiotics
Unit 5: Core practicals
6. Describe how to investigate rate of respiration practically using
simple respirometers
7. Investigate the effect of exercise on tidal volume and breathing
using spirometers
8. Investigate habituation to a stimulus e.g. using snails

Note: AS core practicals may also be included e.g. May 2010 paper
had beetroot experiment

Students may be required to suggest a suitable hypothesis

or null hypothesis for investigations.
A hypothesis is a testable scientific prediction. Think of them
as questions to be answered in an investigation.
The null hypothesis is the reverse of the hypothesis. It forms
the basis of statistical tests and is either rejected or accepted in
these tests
Null hypothesis always begins with, there is no significant
difference between or there is no significant correlation
Know the practical procedures of each core practical
Independent and dependent variable
Controlled variables
Errors: Identify systematic and random errors
Anomalous results
Reliability Issues
Validity Issues

Question 2
This second question is a data based question.
Students may be required to suggest a suitable hypothesis/null
hypothesis (read revision guide page 88)
The student should be able to tabulate data ( page 87)
Calculate means
Present the data in suitable graphical form (page 87)
Apply a statistical test ( notes below & page 88)
The student should be able to explain the meaning of any
calculated test statistic in terms of 5% significance limits.
5% significance level which is also written as p= 0.05means
that there are 5 chances in 100 that the result obtained in an
investigation could occur even if there was no difference
between two data sets
All biological investigations are based on 5% significance
levels or 95% confidence level
Types of statistical tests

You are not expected to know the formulae or fine details of each
test but you should concentrate on selecting the correct type of
test and demonstrate your understanding of how to interpret the
There are three main statistical tests

Students T test
Mann- Whitney U test
Spearmans Rank Correlation test
Chi-squared test

1. Students T test
This is used to measure the amount of overlap between two
data sets.
It tests whether there is significance difference in means between
two data sets e.g. the difference between the mean lengths of
leaves in a shaded site and a sun exposed site.
The calculated t value is compared against the critical value at
5% significance level for the number of degrees of freedom (d.f.). d.f
= na+nb-2 where n is the number of samples
If the calculated t value is larger than the critical value, we
reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternate hypothesis
that there is a significant difference between the means of the two
data sets.

Example 1
A t test was applied to test whether there is a significance difference
between mean of red blood cells of athletes before and after
training in a highland.


Example 2


2. Mann Whitney U test

The Mann Whitney U test whether there is a significance
difference between medians of two data sets. E.g. The density of
blue bells at two sites of a rocky show.
Then a formula is used to calculate U values i.e. U 1 and U2
The smallest U value is compared against the critical values which
are given in a table at 5% significance.
If the smallest U value is less than or equal to the critical value
we reject the null hypothesis, and accept the alternate

hypothesis that there is a significant difference between the median

of two data sets.
3. Spearman rank correlation test (rs)
This test is used to look for correlations between two variables i.e.
the independent and dependent variables in an investigation.
In a correlation, a change in one variable/factor is reflected in
change of another factor i.e. when one increases the other factor
increases or decreases.
E.g. whether there is correlation between increasing the temperature
and enzyme activity.
There is a formula used to calculate r s value which is then compared
against critical value at 5% significance level. The formula is always
given and a table of critical values is also given in a table.
If the rsvalue is greater than or equal to the critical value for
the number of samples, then we reject the null hypothesis,
and accept the hypothesis that states that there is a significant
correlation between two variables.


- It is used to test for goodness of fit, that is, how the observed
and expected values compare i.e. one must have expected
values so that during the investigation the observed values are
compared with expected values.
- The requirements for the X test are:
The chi-squared value which is always given
Degree of freedom (n-1)
Confidence level = 95%
Critical value which is obtained from the table using
significance level (5%) and degree of freedom (DF).
If the X value is more than or equal to critical value,
reject the null hypothesis and vice versa.

6BI08: Practical Biology and Investigative Skills

Question 3: Planning Question.
This Question requires the student to describe issues relating to
planning of scientific investigations.
The candidates are required to give answers under the following
-A consideration of sampling techniques to be
employed in the investigation if it is a field
-There are only two types of sampling
1. Random sampling using quadrats
2. Systematic sampling using line transects.

The student is also required to consider safety or ethical

issues of the proposed method.
The most potential safety hazards of the investigation are
described and the steps to minimize them are also identified.
- Consider use of lab-coats for protection against
paints/dyes/biting insects/scratches from bushes, etc.
- Consider use of goggles for eye protection
- Consider use of gloves to protect from sharp cutting objects/
holding toxic or hazardous substances
- Use gumboots in slippery and wet areas
- Use sterile apparatus in microbial experiments and nutrient
agar solutions
NOTE: All animal experiments raise ethical issues
- This question requires the student to suggest and describe
the preliminary work to be undertaken. This is like a trial
investigation or a pilot study meant to ensure the proposed
method works. If its a laboratory investigation the method
should be tried out and if it is a field work the site should be
visited and the proposed sampling technique tried out. This
is done :
- to determine the independent variable
- to determine the dependent variable
- identify variables to be controlled i.e. kept constant
- determine the time scales

This part of the question requires the student to give a
detailed method and explanations of how important variables
are to be controlled.
- A clear statement of the dependent variable is given i.e.
exactly what is to be measured.
- A clear statement of the independent variable is stated
- The range of the independent variables is suggested.
- A clear consideration of the time over which the
investigation is to be carried out.
- Suitable details of how the measurements are taken or
how data is collected.
- At least two variables that can affect the investigation
are identified.
- A description of how the above to variables are
- The investigation must be repeated for reliability.
- The total mark for the question is 10 which includes 2
marks for SPG (Spelling and Grammar)
This part of the question requires the student to give a
clear explanation of how the data are to be recorded,
presented and analyzed in order to draw conclusions.
- The student is expected to draw a table of results which
matches the proposed method.
- The tables should have clear headings and units.
- The means should be calculated from the repeated data.
- A suitable graph, a line or a bar graph, should be drawn
with correctly labeled axes.
- The student should make reference to a suitable statistical
test e.g. a t-test or a Mann-Whitney for significant
difference, a Spearmans Rank test for correlations, or Chi
test goodness of fit.
(e) This question requires the student to give limitations for
method of investigation used.
- Limitations are genuine difficulties or factors that the
investigator cannot be able to control.
- If you are comparing two areas in ecology, its difficult to
match the conditions on both sites.
- It is difficult to control environmental conditions

- Judging the gender of insects is difficult.

- Its difficult to control movement of animals.
- Controlling fitness or health levels of organisms.
- If experiment is done in the laboratory its difficult to
match the natural conditions in the natural wild
- Difficult to control genetic variations within organisms.
- Difficult to control all variables affecting a particular
dependent variable.

Good luck.