Tips on How to Excel in Biology

 As a biology tutor, I have dealt with hundreds of students from different educational backgrounds and have had different learning styles and teaching styles. Over the years of my tutoring experience, I tried to make a “survival kit” on how to excel and succeed in biology for both the preliminary and HSC course.

1. Your syllabus is your ultimate guide.

The syllabus should be every student’s best guide and ‘go-to’ resource when revising for every subject, including biology. It provides insight into what content will be taught and tested.

 When you’re concerned or worried that you don’t know how much you need to know or how much you need to study for your official exams, always refer back to the syllabus, as all exam questions are formulated around the dot points.

 TIP: Always have a biology syllabus on hand during your classes to keep track of the content taught as keeping track of how much you’ve done and how much more you have definitely relieves some of your built-up stress for the subject. It is also useful to annotate the syllabus for the key terms and verbs that will help answer exam-style questions.

2. Take notes from Day One

The greatest regret that students mention to me the most would be not writing up their notes from the start and consistently updating their notes. The transition from your junior to senior years of schooling is an experience that others may not inform you about and is found rather tricky.

Writing notes is not very common before prelim, hence the best way to begin year 11 is to start by making note-writing a habit. It takes 21 days for an action to become a habit, and what better way to do it than starting from day one, where the stress is yet to overcome you.

Even though we at the Thinking Cap Tutoring Centre do supply great notes, students still chose to add more and reformat it into a way that suits their studying styles, which is a great thing to do. However, once the content starts piling up, and the weeks pass by with your procrastination becoming worse and worse, writing those notes becomes a hassle. Students fail to keep up most of the time, which significantly impacts their study’s quality and may bring down their overall marks.

When compiling your notes, remember:

          Make it a habit

          Make it fun

          Make it appealing (if you are a visual learner opt for more images and diagrams)

The best recommendations for studying biology is through, including tables, graphs, maps and dot-points. Explaining a concept using a labelled diagram along with annotations and brief descriptions make for top-notch quality notes that don’t look like textbooks, but more engaging like comic books. It’s in your hands to try to make your study time fun, so do whatever it takes to get your motivation levels up and study hard.

3. STUDY! STUDY! STUDY!

As a tutor, I can confirm for a fact that at one point in my life, I was in your stressful position. I completed my HSC and finished my undergraduate studies at university. Any tips and advice other tutors and I give you are based on personal experience and not from a textbook. I failed to complete some of these steps at one point in my experience, so I am here to help you avoid these issues.

The most effective method to make sure biology content sticks in your long-term memory is to study the content straight after being taught in class and repeat daily until you have another biology class, consistently repeating this process. Biology content is not straightforward, especially when you have to go through 6 weeks’ worth of content all at once because you haven’t been studying weekly. The idea of looking at three pages is much more motivating and simpler to process than learning 30 pages worth. 

Here are some study tips for you to try out, all of which have been backed up by research as very useful:

Tip 1 – Have you ever sat down on your desk for hours and hours trying to study a concept, but still not understanding it? This inability to comprehend the content could be due to overworking your brain and not giving it time to refresh.

One tip I suggest is for you to break down your study time into intervals.

          Option 1: Study for 40 minutes straight, then reward yourself with a 10-minute break, consistently repeating this cycle until you are content with the amount you have studied for that particular day.

          Option 2: Study for 20 minutes straight, then reward yourself with a 5-minute break, consistently repeating this cycle until you feel like you have studied enough.

This method ensures that your brain gets to refresh during your break time and rest a little. It is more effective than overloading all of the information in a full block of time and not having anything sticking in your memory. Keep in mind that you are not to use your phones or any other forms of social media while you’re studying in that 40- or 20-minute block. It’s purely focused around you studying and getting the most out of the content. 

Tip 2 – This is an exciting tip to try out as it has worked for some and failed for others. Eating gum or candy of the same flavour or even smelling a perfume’s unique scent while studying for an exam and sitting that exam may help trigger your memory and help you remember content much better under stressful conditions.

The reasoning behind this comes from the fact that your brain may pair up the taste of the perfume’s gum or smell with the information you were memorising.  So, when you get to read a question relating to this content and try to answer, it may help trigger your memory of that content faster and more efficiently. 

Again, it may or may not work, but it wouldn’t hurt you to give it a try. (Try different flavours/different scents for other subjects).

4. Sleep

Sleep is, by far the most shocking topic I have ever discussed with my students, after questioning how many hours of sleep they receive per night.  Anything less than 6 hours a night already puts significant stress and pressure on your organs, specifically your brain, where your concentration levels decrease. Your motivation to do work significantly drops, which negatively impacts your progress.

The response I get from students is “I’m up studying” or “I’ve got an assignment due tomorrow, so I have to finish it”. One thing I’d like to inform you is that, last-minute studying is USELESS.

The night before your assignment submission should be you editing your work and fixing it up to make a great final submission. The night before your exam should be a final check-up on the notes and going over the main points for the last time, then SLEEPING because you do not want to be exhausted on the day of any exam, especially your Trials and HSC Exams.

5. Practice past paper questions

The most effective way to test your knowledge of the content, particularly biology, is to do past paper questions and put it in words on paper. Biology is a subject known for having A LOT of content that requires attention and consistent practice to guarantee you do not lose the information from your memory.

Anytime you’re given practice questions, don’t save them up for later or keep them on the desk to pile dust, but answer them right after studying the relevant content for it. I can assure you the more practice; the higher your marks will get. 

I hope you found this blog beneficial, and I wish you all the best in your studies!

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