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How to study for Biology?

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

It's often said that studying Biology is all about memorising stuff.. a very common phrase I heard over the years is "Just memorise and dump it all in the exam! If you can remember things well, it's nothing too difficult!"

Depending on my audience, sometimes I'd just smile it off and change the topic... Well, sometimes it's kind of tiring to go into lengthy discussions on why Biology is not all about memorising stuff... you see, people who have studied Biology will understand and people who are studying Biology wouldn't say that.

If you're reading this, I guess you should be a student taking the Biology exam soon... Here are some tips I can offer you to, hopefully, make your revision easier.

Pay attention and take down notes in your textbook or study guides.

Listen carefully to what your teacher is saying in class.. She (for simplicity's sake, in this post, I will refer to the teacher as a "She") will usually drop hints and say "this concept is often tested in the exam" or "this is important! highlight or draw a star next to this point". All teachers want their students to do well so it pays to pay attention.

Ask questions.

Not really sure what the teacher just said? Raise your hand and ask her to explain it again. Don't care if your friends all understood, just ask. For all you know, the quiet ones in class are just too shy so you might be helping them out as well. If your teacher is in the midst of a lengthy elaboration, give her some time to come back to you or if time runs out, follow her out of class quickly to ask before the next teacher pops by.

That being said, if you have a not-too-related and it's-just-out-of-curiosity type of question, it would be better to take this offline (like send her a text to ask or email her) so she can move on with the syllabus and attend to your curiosity later. Or, better yet, for such questions, search google to find out then share it with your 'cher.

Learn the vocabulary.

It is necessary to learn the terminology. It would be difficult to "communicate" (a.k.a. write down) your answers if you do not use the right terminology. Most Biological words have Greek or Latin roots. Once you learn many of these, you will find it easier to guess what new words actually mean before they are defined. An example is photosynthesis where photo- means light and synthesis means to make. Now use that to unpack photolysis and you have using light (photo-) to break (lysis).

Revise effectively.

If you are studying notes and memorising definitions, do that in blocks of 30 minutes with a 10-minute break. Make your revision active - summarise your notes, highlight key points, draw diagrams, use post-it notes, record yourself on your mobile, ask someone to test you, whatever works. Choose what is best for you, or try a variety of methods before settling on one that you find effective.

Practice questions.

If you are practising papers, do it in blocks of one hour - 50 minutes of doing, 10 minutes of break. Don't get too used to this though. For pure Biology students, your paper 2 component lasts for 1 hour 45 minutes and you don't have the luxury of a 10-minute break during the exam so about 1.5 to 2 months before your exam, try timing yourself when practising past year papers. For combined science students, your paper 4 lasts for 1 hour 15 minutes so time yourself too.

Get used to the style of questions used in the exams, which is why finishing that ten year series is important. Highlight (or underline) the keywords in the question, plan your response and ensure your answer is relevant.

Boost your memory.

Who are we kidding? Even though it's not all about memorising, some bits of information (like definitions) still require memory work. And for certain processes (like blood clotting), you still need to know the names of enzymes and flow of events.

Try breaking down the information into chunks and use keywords, images, mnemonics, rhymes or colour-coding to trigger your memory.

Make a revision schedule... and keep to it.

There's a quote about planning by Alan Lakein (author of How to Get Control Of Your Time and Your Life) which is so true.

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.

So, start planning for your revision and you might want to hop onto the mailing list to get a printable copy of a weekly revision planner to get you started.

Have a positive mindset.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Don't give up so easily. Believe you can and you will.

Seek help.

You might want to ask for consultation sessions from your teacher in school. Make an appointment so she can set aside the time to meet you and answer your queries.

If you are studying at night, and have some burning questions that you need answered, you can drop me a message via the chat box or question form on the website. I'll do my best to answer them as soon as I can!

I have uploaded some bite-sized information in my drawings on my Instagram page. I will also be uploading some resources on the website soon... I'm doing them as fast as I can but you know, good things take time! :P

Have fun learning Biology!

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