A Study Guide for First Time Biology Students
(The following is a reprint of an anonymous pamphlet)
Ahhggg, Not Biology??!! Biology is a hated course. In fact, most people who have taken biology usually will say, "Biology, ugh, it was my worst subject in school," or "It was sooooo hard." Biology scares people ----- it sounds so overwhelming. Most people fail to see any connection between what they have or will learn during a biology course and what they do everyday. Yet, everything you think, eat, see is connected to biology. According to Webster's dictionary, biology is defined as "the general science of structure and process of living organisms." Every living being on this earth, from the smallest single-celled organism in your local pond to a rose bush to you and me, are part of the biological world. It's a wonderful science that surrounds our day to day lives. What most people find scary and irrelevant really is fascinating and vital to our survival. There is no question, however, that biology can be hard. But it's not impossible --- with the right attitude. However, many students tend to approach the taking of biology in a way that actually prevents them from doing well, "I only taking it because I have to." As with any new endeavor, the right attitude and approaches can turn failure into successes. Learning biology is work and will take time. You don't have to be a science major to do well in this course but you must follow some basic study guidelines and you must start NOW. The skills that this booklet teaches you will not only help with biology but with other courses as well. No matter what your major, good study skills never hurt. STOP Biology is fun. Look around, everything has something to do with biology. Biology is hard....not impossible. Establish good study habits NOW. With the right attitude you can be successful in your study of biology.
Biology has an extensive amount of material and therefore requires organized and systematized study skills right from the start. There are chemical (yes, chemical) symbols and formulas that must be learned, def- initions and structures that must be memorized, and concepts that must be mastered and understood. Since biology is presented in a progressive way, as are most science courses, you need to understand the basics. For example, before you can un- derstand the functions of the digestive system you need to understand about tissues and before you can understand about tissues you need to understand how a cell is constructed and before.....well.... get the picture? Basically, a major portion of what you learn at the beginning of the course is used as a foundation to build concepts and information throughout the remainder of the course. For example, some foundation topics are: 1) the levels of organization in nature 2) basic principles of chemistry 3) the scientific method 4) the cell theory What this means is that you cannot procrastinate. You must stay current and start good study habits right from the beginning of the semester. If you wait until after midsemester grades have been released it will be too late. STOP -- Studying biology requires different approaches and techniques. -- Biology is progressive. -- Foundation topics should be learned early. -- Staying current right from the beginning is essential.
In order to succeed, you must attend class. Your instructor should see you at every class session unless you absolutely, positively, without a doubt can't attend. And, contrary to what most students think, the first lecture is the most important lecture of the semester. This is when the instructor tells you what to expect during semester and what is expected from you. If you miss the first class session, you need to ask yourself how serious you are in wanting to learn biology. Remember, your final grade will reflect the amount of energy you expend from day one. Once you have received your course materials, read them thoroughly and carefully, highlighting important information such as dates of quizzes/exams, the teacher's attendance policy, test make-up policies, etc. Make sure that you ask questions regarding any item you don't understand. Keep this inform- actin in a safe place and refer to it often throughout the semester. During lectures, pay close attention to your instructor---be an active listener. Don't spend time talking with your neighbor, shuffling papers, traveling to the bathroom, etc. You should come prepared for each lecture by having studied what was covered in previous lectures and having read the assigned text. It's a good idea to come a few minutes early and sit near the front of the classroom. If you have any questions regarding the previous lecture's material or study questions ask them at the beginning of the lecture. Your questions should be specific, making it clear that you have spent time trying to understand the material on your own. If you plan on recording the lecture, sit near the instructor to facilitate taping. STOP -- Attend ALL classes. -- Pay close attention. -- Come a bit early, sit in front and be prepared for each lecture. -- Ask questions.
Notetaking is VERY important. In order to take good motes you must listen carefully (active listening). Concentrate on what is being said but don't write down everything. Many students feel that unless they copy every word that is spoken they'll miss the key to learning the material. Coming to class prepared will help you sift through the information presented in lect- ure. For example, if you know that a specific topic is covered extensively in the textbook, then your notes can be less detailed. However, if a topic is not mentioned in the text, then your notes should be more detailed. If you're still nervous about missing some golden nuggets of wisdom, bring a tape rec- order to class and record the lectures. Most instructors allow taping of lec- tures as long as it causes no disruptions. When taking notes, use abbreviations, symbols, and illustrations when- ever you can. Write down whatever is written on the board or presented on overhead transparencies. Copy all diagrams unless you're told otherwise. Label individual notes as "important" or, if you don't understand something, "incomplete". Immediately after class, recopy your notes into a separate notebook. Re- copying your notes gives you the opportunity to review the material covered in class and to complete areas that were confusing by comparing the material to your textbook. Enhance your notes by adding comments, drawings and charts, anything that will help you understand the material. STOP -- Be an active listener. -- Take complete notes, using abbreviations, etc. -- Copy whatever is written on the board. -- Review and recopy your notes immediately after class. -- Record the lectures if necessary. -- Come to class prepared.
In Addition to attending class and taking good notes, you must use your textbook properly. At the beginning of the semester, read the Preface of the text, particularly any sections entitled To the Student. Examine the appendices, they contain helpful information and are there to support the text. Note whether your book contains a glossary or an answer section to study questions. Your syllabus will identify the chapters in the Table of Contents for easy reference. Before every lecture, you should read the material that will be covered in lecture, identifying any questions or areas of confusion. Refer to your unit handouts and unit objectives, read the chapter summary. This will give you an overview of the presented material. Skim the vocabulary list, noting any terms that you're already comfortable with. Establishing familiarity will help you feel more confident with your learning capabilities. Your first reading of the assigned chapter, which should occur before the lecture, will be slow. Use it to gain a general picture of the assigned topic. Don't highlight anytext at thispoint. A second reading, which should come after the lecture, will be more exact. At this point you should highlight only important pieces of information, not every single word or phrase. Your book shouldn't become yellow or pink after the second reading. Only highlight information that will benefit you when reviewing. STOP -- Familiarize yourself with your textbook. -- Highlight required chapters. -- Begin with the assigned objectives. -- Start and finish each chapter by reading the summary. -- Highlight only important information ---- not every word.
The next step is the most time consuming but, without a doubt, the most beneficial. After your second reading of the text, using a separate notebook orflashcards, handwrite an outline of the chapter. I can't stress how important it is that you continually copy and recopy the material presented in this course. Don't use a computer or typewriter -- handwrite everything. Copy any diagrams or charts, making notes, in your own words, that will help you understand the material. This handwritten outline, along with your recopied notes, will become your primary study sources and review aids. It can't be emphasized enough -- rewriting, not rereading, is the key ingredient to mastering biology or any other course material. After creating a handwritten outline of the text, answer any chapter study questions and unit ojbectives, in writing. Any objectives or questions that you can't answer comfortably, ON PAPER, should be reviewed. STOP -- Make a handwritten outline of the chapter material. -- Answer study questions and objectives on paper. -- Review any material that you don't understand.
Cramming before a test is the usual study practice by students. While this procedure may result in some favorable test performances, a rapid rate of forgetting is a likely result, making preparing for midterms and finals extremely frustrating. It's important to distribute your study effort over a period of time, thereby increasing retention. Finding a quiet place with little distractions will make the most of your study time. Although people would like to believe that they can learn anywhere with anything occurring around them, it has been proven that comprehension occurs more effectively and quickly when the person's attention is focused. Our library provides and ideal environment for studying, recopying your notes, reading before class, answering text questions or just collecting your thoughts. Libraries are quiet and comfortable, plus they provide resources that can help facilitate our learning. When you can't find a satisfactory explanation to a problem in your textbook, a different book might just provide the answer. Also, classmates are often there who can help you work out any problems you may be having. This raises another important point --- classmates. Never underestimate the benefits that classmates can offer. Students often find it beneficial to establish study groups that meet once or twice a week to review lecture material, exchange notes, or just offer moral support. While this is a good idea, it is important to make sure that each participant in a study group provides an equal amount of energy. Don't allow a member to sit back and let the other students carry the bulk of the work. STOP -- Distribute your study effort over a period of time. -- Find a quite place to study. -- Familiarize yourself with the school library and resources. -- Establish a study group.
The question is often raised as to how much time should be spent studying. A general rule of thumb is three hours of study time for each hour of class time. Successful students will tell you that at least 10 hours , outside of the classroom, is the minimum time required. Because most students often have out- side responsibilities, such as work and families, it is important to schedule the 10 hours into your weekly routine. Remember, twohours daily will be more effective than a 10 hour cramming session. From Day one establish a semester work plan, scheduling study time for each class. By establishing a plan, you will never have to ask yourself if you will study biology or math today, only when. Always schedule some study time as soon after class as possible. The information presented in the lecture will be fresh in your mind and recopying your notes will proceed much more easily. After class is also a good time to schedule a study group meeting. But don't forget about the importance of relaxing and enjoying your friends and families. Make sure you schedule enough time for your family and to exercise and sleep - all work and no play is very boring. If there is a definite wrong time to study it's before a test. If you've maintained an adequate study schedule, all you should have to do before a test is review the material. The old saying, "If you don't know it by now...." applies. Flash cards are always helpful when preparing for a test. Write a question on one side, the answer on the other and quiz yourself. For more on tests, see the next section in this booklet. STOP -- Invest three hours of study time for each hour of class time. -- Distribute your study time throughout the week. -- Establish a work plan for the semester and stick to it. -- Schedule study time immediately following class. -- Allow time for family and friends. -- Never study before a test. -- Before a test review the material. -- Create flash cards to use in preparing for a test.
Students think that instructors spend long hours devising tests that will trick and fool their students. While this may be true in some cases, most tests are designed and produced for one purpose -- to evaluate a student's comprehension of the presented material. Beyond testing a student's ability to memorize, a good testwill focus on comprehension -- demonstration of the student's ability to draw from his/her memory bank to integrate and evaluate the material learned. Memorization, the storage of information, is not learning. Learning is based on comprehension and with comprehension comes know- ledge. (Remember Confucius' advise: "Study without thinking and you are blind; think without studying and you are in danger.") Testing students on a regular basis helps to sustain study habits and demo- strates the student's level of performance. Understanding the material completely, with a high level of comprehension, is the key to successful test results. Students love to say "I really knew this stuff but I froze on the test." If this is truly the case, then concentrate on relaxing. Panicking can freeze your brain, so when it comes time to take a test follow these simsple rules: 1) Before class, make sure you have a pen that works or a sharpened pencil and don't ever complete a test in red ink. 2) Breathe deeply and focus your attention on relaxing. 3) Write your name on the paper and read the test directions. Note the amount of time that you will be allowed for the test and the number of questions. How many minutes can you spend on each question? 4) Read the entire test completely before answering any questions. Place an asterisk(*) or checkmark next ot the questions you find difficult and leave these until last. If you don't understand a question, ask the instructor for clarification before guessing at your answer. 5) Answer only the questions that you feel comfortable with first. For multiple choice questions, read all of the choices before answering, eliminating the options you know are wrong. Of the remaining choices, read them carefully -- dropping a word such as NOT can change the whole meaning of the answer. For fill-in questions, note whether a single or plural answer would fit. Ask if points are taken off for incorrect spelling and make sure your answers are neat and legible. 6) Allow time at the end of the test to review your answers and check your work. Unless you're absolutely sure that your first choice is wrong, don't change any answers. 7) Never leave a question blank,and never, never pass in a test early un- less you're confident that all of your answers are correct. When the test is over, don't spend time worrying about how you did. Remember, tests are meant ot mark you level of progress in learning the course material. If you feel that you did poorly, move on to the next topic and resolve that you will do better next time around. When the test is passed back, review it, making sure that you understand why you got certain answers wrong. If you don't understand why you got an answer wrong, ask the instructor for clarification. Keep all of your past tests and use them to review for midterms or final exams. STOP -- Don't memorize. -- Work to understand and create a level of comprehension. -- View tests as a gauge of your performance. -- When taking a test don't panic --- relax. -- Always have a pen or pencil when taking a test. -- Never take a test with a red pen or pencil. -- Read the directions completely and carefully. -- Read the entire test before proceeding. -- Read each question carefully. -- Answer the questions you are most comfortable with first. -- Review the entire test and never pass in a test early. -- If you don't understand a question, ask before guessing. -- When it's over, focus on the next topic. -- Review your corrected test and keep all your tests.
At this point, let's summarize what your plan of attack will be this semester: 1) Familiarize yourelf with your textbook, course syllabus and other materials. 2) Before every lecture, read the unit objectives, chapter summary and chapter text without highlighting any of the information. 3) Attend lectures and take notes. 4) Immediately after class, reread the chapter summary and chapter text, highlighting important information. 5) Recopy your class notes or, if you recorded the lecture, create a written copy of the recording. 6) Handwrite an outline of the chapter text, including any charts, diagrams, etc. 7) Compare the handwritten outline to your lecture notes, asking for clarification of any discrepancies. 8) Answer study questions and objectives in writing, reviewing material that you don't understand. 9) Establish a study group. 10) Create flash cards for use when reviewing for a test.
Confucius once said "I won't teach a man who has no desire to learn, nor will I explain anything to a man who has no desire to seek his own explanation." As your teacher, I am more than happy to work long and hard to help you understand the material presented in this course. But it's up to you to decide whether or not you're willing to invest the energy necessary to succeed. Do you want to learn or do you just want a grade? If knowledge is what you're seeking, then you're in the right place. If all you want is a grade then consider this -- a loser is someone who doesn't try. When it's all said and done, the only person standing between you and success is YOU. I wish you the best of luck and a wealth of knowledge.