If all living things are part of biology, learning about the discipline can seem almost impossible. However, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed! Biology is a wide-ranging topic, and learning about it will change the way you see the world around you. We’ve gotten advanced degrees in science and learned a lot along the way—not just facts about biology, either. We know specific study skills that will help you retain knowledge and perform your best on your tests. Get your pens and highlighters ready because it’s time to crack the books!
Rewrite Your Notes
Leading up to the big test, you’ll certainly be reviewing your notes. Don’t just look at them though! Actively rewrite them. Some people think that taking notes in class is all you need for your notes to work: unfortunately, your memory doesn’t work like this. Repeat exposure is what allows your brain to easily recall information. The first time through, just slowly rewrite your notes, thinking of what each concept means as you rewrite them. Next, look up things you didn’t understand from the notes add these details to the new notes. Try to rewrite them from memory. Think of your notes as the first draft, and keep rewriting and reworking them until you have a detailed studying tool.
Also consider how you’re organizing your notes. Don’t be conservative with paper. Write largely and clear. Graphically organize the information so you can draw lines connecting ideas. This will help you block the ideas into shapes and images. Try to use all your senses to keep the ideas in mind.
There are two types of questions you’ll want to ask when you’re studying. First, and perhaps most important, ask your instructor what will be on the test. This is so essential to succeeding on your test because you need to know exactly what you’re expected to learn before you learn it. Thankfully, this question asks ten seconds to ask and one minute to answer. Write the answer down word for word. Usually, it will be something like “Chapters X through Z.” This is vague, so ask for specifics like “What parts of each chapter” or “What are the key topics.”
The other type of question is specific questions about the content of the test. If you don’t understand a given concept, go into your teacher’s office hours or make an appointment after class to ask for one on one instruction. Most teachers are very open to this arrangement. You’ll be able to work closely with the instructor at a self-defined pace. The only downside is you need to find an agreeable time—however, think of it this way. One hour with your teacher is worth three hours of solo studying. Teachers want you to succeed so go ask for one-on-one help.
Sometimes, it takes hearing an idea explained in three, five, even ten different ways for it to make sense to you. With nearly-infinite lectures at your fingertips, you’ll find that Youtube is a powerful tool in teaching you confusing topics. Likewise, just using Google is helpful too—you can find lessons, study guides, practice tests and more on the internet. Most teachers are using the internet to get their teaching tools, so why not get the knowledge straight from the source.
Another benefit of using Youtube to learn is that you can control the pace of the lecture. You can watch it on 1.5 speed if it’s slow—or you can rewind and re-watch a specific part over and over. It can’t be overstated how helpful Youtube can be when you’re trying to learn something as complicated as the science of life.
Learning with friends is both easier and more fun than learning on your own. You’ll probably never meet a doctor who doesn’t fondly remember the study groups that got them through med-school. Studying in groups allows you the chance to be a teacher. You can explain things your friends don’t understand, and they can do the same for you.
The downside of a study group is that sometimes they can be too much fun—so fun, you don’t get anything accomplished. A good method for studying in groups is assigning everyone a few key topics. Then, have each person explain their topics to the group. Take practice tests together and when you go over the answers, you can help your friends understand the questions they answered incorrectly. Once you get a rhythm going, studying in a group is very helpful because, as you’ve heard, two (three, four, etc.) heads are better than one!
If you’re allowed to write in your book, this is a very helpful option to understanding the material presented. Highlight key terms and bracket off important paragraphs. Re-write these paragraphs so you engage your memory in recalling the specific words and details. If you’re not allowed to write in your book, you can still book note! Just get post-it notes and place those on important pages of the book. You can write and draw right on the pages without making permanent marks.
The best way to study for a test is over a long period of time, in small chunks. If you study for half an hour every day for a month, you’ll know the information a lot more effectively than if you cram for a few nights before the test. That said, cramming is important too if the test is really hard! You need to get the information stuck in your brain somehow, so follow these strategies and you’ll have an easy time with it. So remember: take notes and rewrite your notes; ask questions about the test and schedule time for help with your instructor; use Youtube to see new perspectives on the material; study in groups with your good friends; write in your book so your brain can recall the information with ease. If you follow these steps, you’ll watch as your grades dramatically improve!