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How to Study for Biology Classes

by Susan Revermann

College biology classes are not for the faint of heart. A wealth of knowledge is available in this field of study, and it can pave the way for more advanced science classes, but you must put the time and effort into this course if you want to succeed. Make the best of your time by coming to classes well-prepared, with terminology note cards in hand, your own categorizing system implemented, organized notes in tow and diagrams drawn up.

Preparation

Reading the assigned information and text prior to class is important. As you read, take notes and make an outline of the material. Use a color-coding system to highlight terminology, biological systems and other main concepts. When you get to class, you can make connections from the reading to the lecture content. Leave space in your outline so that you can add notes during the lecture. For example, if you made an outline or diagram of the digestive system, you can add notes along the margins. If you’re not prepared, you may spend half the time playing catch up or writing so vigorously that you miss some key components.

Attendance

It is vital for biology success that you attend all class lectures. However, refrain from zoning out or just going into note-taking autopilot. Texas Tech University suggests engaging your brain during the lecture by mentally asking questions, making connections and thinking critically about the discussions. TTU suggests questions such as, "What is the evidence to support that?" "Why does it work that way?" and "How does that relate to yesterday's lecture on this topic?" Be an active listener and ask questions before, during and after class. The professor has office hours, too, so ask him personally for assistance if you need to. As you take notes in class, circle key concepts and look for connections between other lectures and concepts. Since biology exams often require you to tie in different information and key ideas, instead of simply reciting words or phrases, attending class regularly will help you solidify the information when you study.

Diagrams

When you see diagrams in your biology text or figures drawn in class, examine them thoroughly. Trace the diagram and add your own labels and notes. This will help file that information into your memory better than just staring at it. If you're studying the human body, for instance, trace the picture and use different colored pencils to label each bodily system.

Labs

Do not miss biology labs, where you connect the theoretical information to a practical application. Plus, getting your hands moving and into the information will help with retention. Looking through the microscope at cells moving in a blood sample or closely examining the cross sections of a plant is much different than seeing a textbook picture. Draw your own diagrams of what you saw and experience. Make notes of your own observations and findings. Keep all diagrams and handouts from these labs and use them as study guides.

Memory Tricks

Implement some memory tricks. Mnemonic memory techniques can help you remember difficult biology terminology or information. For example, if you’re trying to remember the parts of a flower, make a silly sentence that uses the first letter of each part with the first letter of a word in the sentence. In other words, stamen, ovary, petal and pistil can be "Someone owes Peter pennies." You also can use visualizations to help you remember. Visualize pictures or graphs with the words next to each part. Add color or movement into your visualization to make it more fun. Mentally name the parts of the item, using a goofy mental voice as you go along. It may sound strange, but the act of making something stick out, regardless of the method, will help you recall it later.

Terminology

According to Pima Community College, learning Latin and Greek roots can help you in biology. If you understand what the roots mean, you gain insight into the definition of the seemingly difficult technical names you often find in the sciences. The PCC suggests using 3- by 5-inch note cards to study and learn these roots. For instance, if your professor starts talking about hematology, you can connect the prefixes and suffixes you studied the night before to know that he's talking about the study of blood, or cardiology to mean the study of the heart.

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