Every semester, the question I am asked most frequently is some variant of "how should I study for this class". The style of study obviously differs somewhat from student to student, but I am convinced that following these guidelines will increase the efficiency of your study, thereby increasing your chance of receiving good scores.

Learn the vocabulary.

Biology is a vocabulary-intensive discipline, so there is no way to avoid having to learn new words. You will have several hundred new words to learn this semester. It's important for you to know them, just so you can be conversant in anatomy and physiology. But it's also very important for you to know the lists of terms so you can do well on my lecture examinations. All of my lecture examinations are mutiple-choice type tests, and most of my questions have only one choice that is even close to being correct. But that certainly doesn't mean that the questions are easy. Learning the vocabulary will make answering the questions much less difficult, though, because it's just as important to know the meaning of a word to eliminate it as an incorrect answer as it is to know the meaning of a word to identify it as the correct answer. In other words, you won't realize how blatantly absurd some of my test-answer choices are unless you know the meanings of their words. This can make a big difference to your test scores.

Take thorough notes.

My lecture examinations cover material that I lecture on, some of which will not be easy or even possible to find in the textbook or the online notes. Therefore, the order of importance of study materials is (1) your own notes, (2) the online notes, (3) the chapters of the textbook. Each successive resource should be used to further refine the knowledge gained from the previous resource(s). So spend the most time mastering the material in your notes (and therefore in my lectures), then use the online notes to bolster that knowledge. If you've mastered your own notes and the online notes, then you will find that reading the chapters is much easier, because you already are familiar with the material. That way, the chapters can truly drive home the concepts in your notes; but also you'll be able to tell when the chapter is going in a direction you do not need to go, as far as this class is concerned. The textbook contains much more information than you will need to know for this class. Knowing your notes well will make spotting the unnecessary information much easier, saving you time and frustration.

Share notes.

This class presents a flood of information and terms. This makes taking notes a bit of a challenge. As a result, everyone will miss something important here and there. Also, students differ not only in their ideas of what is important enough to write down, but in their overall note-taking styles as well. Therefore, get to know a group of your classmates early on, and make arrangements for everyone in the group to make photocopies of its own notes (enough copies for everyone in the group). Then distribute the copies to the people in the group. The more versions of notes you have, the more likely you will be to have all of the important information and to be sure the information is correct.

Rewrite your own notes.

There are a few reasons for this. First, there is something about the act of writing that helps to engrain facts into a human's brain, so rewriting serves a useful mnemonic purpose. Second, there is no need to spend all of your time writing during lecture, at the expense of listening to me, because you will always be able to download from this website an audio recording of each of my lectures. This will allow you to pay closer attention to my in-person lectures, which will include important visual aids. Then, if you play back the recording, you can take careful and neat notes at home, because you can pause and replay at any time. Finally, rewriting allows you to make a neater presentation for sharing with others.

Give your own lectures.

This is the tip that probably the least people try, because it seems so silly. But it likely is the most important thing to do. That's because, as you study by looking at something that's written down (notes, a chapter, etc.), it's very easy for you to falsely convince yourself that you know the material. Then, when faced with an examination (and nothing else to look at), you find that you don't know the material nearly as well as you thought. As an instructor, I've learned that there is no better way to test how well I know something than to try to teach it to someone else. Facing that situation is a lot like facing an examination, only teaching is potentially much more embarrassing. So the best way to test whether you've spent enough time studying for a test is to put away all visual aids and explain the material, out loud, to someone (or something) else. Ideally, you would lecture to a classmate, so that the classmate can rate your performance. But your audience needn't be a person familiar with biology, nor even a person at all. The important thing is to actually speak the lecture, without looking at notes. If you're able to do that, then you are prepared to score well on an examination. But if you're like most people, you will find that you get hung up somewhere, not sure of what you're talking about. That's good, though, because that will tell you exactly where you need to brush up. If you can breeze through certain topics, there's no need to waste time studying those further. Spend your time on the problem areas of your lectures. Eventually, you should be able to explain all you need to know, without visual aids. But it's important to wait a few hours or a day between looking at notes and giving a lecture. Otherwise, you can fall into the trap of believing that your memory is permanent. I strongly urge you to take this advice and try a lecture, if only for the following reason: If you are unable to explain the material without any notes or visual aids, then you are NOT prepared for one of my examinations. So do yourself a favor EARLY ON and try this.

Pay particular attention to figures in the textbook.

Humans are very visually oriented animals. Looking at figures in the textbook can be very helpful in making the difference between being familiar with a concept and actually knowing it. Just be sure that when the text of a chapter refers to a figure, you take a pause from reading and look at that figure until you understand what the text was just explaining. Then go on to the next topic.

This page was last modified 03/31/2018 11:54:22.