How to get a good grade in a Biology class:
Come to class. Most of the material for exams comes directly from lectures. Reading the text will help you understand the lecture material better, and will fill in gaps in your knowledge, but is not a substitute for coming to class. And pay attention! Texting or surfing the web is distracting to your classmates, insulting to your instructor, and counterproductive to learning the material.
Take notes. Take elaborate, detailed notes. Do not just follow along in the text during lecture! Taking notes is an important part of the learning process. It moves the material through both halves of your brain, and lays the groundwork for remembering information. Following along in the text does not do this. Throw away your highlighter, and write stuff down! Even if you use a tape recorder, you should be taking notes to plant ideas and concepts into your brain.
Ask questions. Don’t be shy. Chances are, if you don’t understand something, fifteen of your classmates don’t get it either. You’re doing yourself and everybody else a favor by asking questions.
Study regularly! There is an amazing amount of information involved in the study of biology. You are not going to learn it simply by coming to class and then reading over your notes before an exam. Plan on spending at least two hours outside of class for every hour you spend in class. Unfortunately, some of the learning process involves rote memorization. Get used to it.
Organize your notes. Many students find it helpful to re-copy their notes after each class session—either by hand, or on a computer. This reinforces the learning process that you initiated by writing your notes in the first place. It also allows you to check your understanding of difficult concepts, correct errors, discover gaps in information that you may have missed, and formulate questions for the instructor. If done on a daily basis, it also serves as a review for quizzes that may come during any class period.
Make up study questions. As you go through your notes, try to imagine what questions the instructor could ask. Write out these questions, then the answers. Drill yourself until you know the answers cold.
Learn definitions. Make a list of important terms from your notes. Write out definitions (use note cards if you like). Learn the definitions forward and backward. Eighty percent of a science class is mastering the lingo—if you know the terms, the rest makes much better sense.
Get a study partner. Another student will look at things from a different vantage point, and will see things that you missed. Working with another student will allow you to use mnemonic devices that they formulate, and will also help your study partner. Organize a study group if you can. Remember, too, that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to somebody else.
Read your textbook. The instructor can only cover so much in class. Reading the textbook fills in gaps in information, resulting in better understanding of difficult concepts. You may also discover errors or omissions from lecture.
Use outside materials. The website associated with the textbook contains practice quizzes, animations, and links to other helpful websites. Your textbook also contains study questions and practice quizzes. You-Tube often has animations and even recorded lectures. You remember things better if you see them in different ways.
Use your instructor. Ask questions. Come to office hours. Write e-mails or call with questions. Remember that the instructor practices biology for a living, and therefore loves to talk about it. You are not bothering the instructor by asking questions.
Understand how your brain works. Your brain is actually a piece of equipment that you must maintain properly. It takes fuel—oxygen, water, and food. Don’t try to study or take an exam on an empty stomach. Make sure you eat something that has a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and even some fats. Drink lots of water, and remember that caffeinated drinks and sodas can actually dehydrate you. Make sure there’s fresh air in your study area. Take breaks from studying; a lot of short study sessions work better than one or two long ones. In between, get some exercise, or just get up and walk around.
Start now. The first exam is in just a few weeks. Don’t dig yourself a hole—it’s much easier to get a good grade if you do well on the first exam than it is to play “catch-up” through the whole semester.
Remember that biology is no harder than any other kind of class. If you are a non-science major, don’t be intimidated by science classes. Anyone can get an A in a general biology class with a moderate amount of work. If you are a science major, consider that general biology will be the easiest class you have in the rest of your science career. You need to excel to build a foundation for the more difficult classes to come.
Most importantly—remember that YOU are responsible for your grade! Your instructor will help you in every possible way, but ultimately you must make the commitment to perform the studying necessary to get the grade you want. College is not high school; you have to perform at the next level. You won’t get credit just for showing up! (But show up!)