Introduction to Cell & Molecular Biology (BIOL121) - Dr. S.G. Saupe (; Biology Department, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321

Three Dozen Study Tips For Introductory Biology 


Dr. SG Saupe
 College of St. Benedict/St. John's University
Biology Department
Collegeville, MN  56321

    There is no "right way" to study for this course. Each person needs to find the strategy that best meets his/her learning style. It is also important to know your learning style and use it to your advantage and work on your weaknesses while taking advantage of your strengths. These tips will hopefully provide you with some ideas for improving your performance in this course (and maybe even others). 

Tip #1: Keep up with class activities.  This is a "survey" course, which means that we move fast. In fact, we cover about a chapter of the text per day. This doesn't leave much time for goofing off. If you miss a day or two of class or study, you could be easily left behind.

Tip #2.  Read the chapter before class.

Tip #3. Take copious notes in class. In fact, you should be writing the entire time. Copy down everything said by the instructors and students. Sort out the important stuff later.

Tip #4: Reread the chapter after class with your notebook open. Record any notes from the book directly into your lecture notes. Check your lecture notes for accuracy. Complete unfinished sections, add transitions, etc.

Tip #5: Answer the questions at the end of the chapter in the text or in the Study Guide or CD or textbook web site.

Tip #6: Go over any study guides or other materials prepared by the instructor.

Tip #7: Talk to your professor if you need help.

Tip #8: Study with a friend - ask each other questions.

Tip #9: Go to the library and read some books related to the topics covered in class.

Tip #10: Make up sentences using terms from the unit.

Tip #11: Always ask the "W" questions - why? what? when? where? (w)how?

Tip #12:Write a letter home or to a friend summarizing what you've learned.

Tip #13: Write a summary of each concept you have learned.

Tip #14: At the end of each class, write in a journal a summary of what you liked best, learned that was most fascinating, unanswered questions, topics you want to know more about, etc.

Tip #15: Get sufficient rest/exercise; eat well.

Tip #16: Budget your time - the amount of time wasted by the average student (and I'm sure faculty member, too) is incredible.

Tip #17: Memorization is important, but understanding is much more important.

Tip #18: Talk to your instructor(s) if you have any questions.

Tip #19: The material in many units is not readily "cram-able". For example, genetics has many problems that simply take time to work through. Cramming this material is usually a waste of time.

Tip #20: Make a sketch or flowchart of different processes.

Tip #21: Make a table comparing and contrasting different processes.

Tip #22: Make up your own test questions.

Tip #23: Prepare a concept map. A concept map is a diagram that depicts the interrelationships between a series of concepts (ideas). Preparing a concept map can be a valuable way to pull together your ideas and enhance your understanding of a topic. The general steps for drawing a map are: (1) identify the major concepts; (2) then, identify related and more specific concepts; (3) write the most general or most inclusive concept at the top of the paper; (4) write the next level of related concepts and continue to write additional levels as needed; (5) Put in words or phrases that link the concepts; and (6) draw in cross links and branches between the concepts as needed.

Tip #24: Understand Bloom's Taxonomy. In brief, Bloom's taxonomy provides a hierarchical way of organizing cognitive processes. There are six major categories, each which builds upon the previous. These groups are:

  1. Knowledge - refers to the ability to define, recall, identify, recognize, knowledge of methodology, principles, generalizations, trend, facts, terminology, theories and structures;
  2. Comprehension - refers to the ability to translate, rephrase or restate, interpret or extrapolate;
  3. Application - refers to the ability to apply, generalize, choose, organize, develop, use , classify, restructure;
  4. Analysis - refers to the ability to analyze relationships, elements and organization, principles such as being able to distinguish, identify, classify discriminate, categorize, deduce, analyze compare;
  5. Synthesis - refers to the ability to produce a unique communication (i.e., write, tell, transmit) production of a plan or set of operations, derive a set of abstract relationships;
  6. Evaluation - refers to the ability to judge in terms of internal and external evidence (i.e., judge, argue, validate, assess, compare

Example. Let's assume that you will have a test about the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Do you remember the story line? - Goldilocks visits the home of the papa, mamma and baby bear where she sleeps in their bed, eats their food and breaks their chairs. Answer the following questions:

Knowledge: What are some of the things that Goldilocks did in the bear's house?

Comprehension. Why did Goldilocks like the little bear's chair best?

Application: If Goldilocks had come into your house, what are some of the things she might have used?

Analysis: What parts of the story could not have actually happened?

Synthesis: How might the story have been different if Goldilocks had visited the three fish?

Evaluation: Do you think Goldilocks was good or bad? Why do you think so?

Notice that the questions get progressively more "difficult". They cannot be answered with single word answers at the upper levels. Also note that simple memorization will not suffice to answer the "higher level" questions. Rather, careful thought is required to formulate a decent response.

In general, introductory biology students do a terrific job answering knowledge and some comprehension type questions but don't do as well with higher level questions. As a rule of thumb, we like to include at least 50% or more knowledge questions with a handful of others. Be prepared. Cramming and memory work are only good for "knowledge" questions.

Tip #25. "Talk" biology with a friend.

Tip #26: Look at old exams to get a feel for the style of questions your instructor is likely to ask.

Tip #27: Spend on the average 2-3 hours studying per hour in class!!!

Tip #28: Pretend to teach the information to someone who hasn't had biology. What would you tell her/him? Prepare a mock lecture on each section.

Tip #29: Develop your own personal examples/analogies for better understanding material.

Tip #30: Avoid doing all your studying the night before the exam - get a decent night's sleep.

Tip #31: Relax when you take the exam - don't stress yourself out.

Tip #32: Read biology out loud to a friend.

Tip #33: Read the chapter summary, then read the chapter, then try to write another chapter summary from memory.

Tip #34: Read a section of the text, then in your own word write a summary of the section.

Tip #35: Never loose your sense of wonder.

Tip #36: Keep asking questions - why? why? why? why? why? why? why?….

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Last updated: July 14, 2009     � Copyright by SG Saupe