How to Pass a College Biology Test

Every college student will need to pass at least one college biology course as part of the general studies requirement for an undergraduate degree.  To pass the course, you’ll need to pass the quizzes and exams. This article is for the “scientifically challenged” (and others), who are wondering how to get through their Botany or Zoology courses (among others), each with its own baffling texts, scary lab sessions, and, at times, seemingly harsh and uncaring instructors, who demand hours of student self-study to pass their course.

To pass a college biology exam, you will need to do three things: (1) focus, (2) focus, and (3) focus. Your goal is NOT to become a learned scientist. It is to pass an exam so that you can get through the course and on with your major – your true passion and aptitude led you to go to college in the first place. On the other hand, if you are a science major, you probably do not need all of the following advice, but read on anyway:

Focus #1: Know the vocabulary. Spend lots of time studying and memorizing the new scientific vocabulary.  When you encounter an unfamiliar term, write it down and try to use it in a sentence. If the terms are not “sticking,” it is time to start making study cards. Get some 3 x 5” cards, cut them in half and write the term on one side and the definition on the other.   

Focus #2: Know how the vocabulary fits in with your studies of biological systems. As you vocabulary grows, use your card file to organize your systems studies. Cross reference your cards and re-stack them. For example, you would have a group of cards that relate to one-cell organisms with vocabulary terms like “organelles,” “protozoa,” etc. 

Focus #3: Maintain orderly class notes and class handouts (syllabi, study guides, etc.).  A good study practice is to re-transcribe class notes soon after class while the material is fresh. In that regard, it is also a good practice to form study groups with classmates to compare notes with the goal of everyone having good study notes.

There is also another bit of good advice that applies to anything you are studying. It is not so quantifiable as it is simply true: When you focus, study, and understanding something – even though the amount of material might seem daunting – the cognitive act of studying results in something that happens somewhat unconsciously.

The foregoing seems to work especially well before bedtime: you study something without going through the agony of ensuring that you remember everything. The trick is to study the material, know it, and move on. What happens next is cognitive miracle that seems to occur as a reward for study and focus. When it comes time for the test, you know the stuff!  The value of the process is that it cuts down on the anxiety that accompanies and interferes with effective study. Trust your understanding of the vocabulary, how the vocabulary fits into the  and that the very lack of anxiety will allow more information to penetrate the unconscious cognitive process that is the crux of learning. 

Also, each of us has different learning styles. The trick is to find out what that style is and use it to the best effect. Maybe you’re a “memory trick” person. (e.g. H O M E S = the five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior). Perhaps you do well with charts and illustrations, of which there are many in Biology classes. Whatever works best, it is advisable to use more than one learning method to reinforce your grasp of the material.

Finally, most biology class quizzes build up to mid-term and final exams. Many of the questions, terms, labeling and matching tasks on previous quizzes will be recycled. Here’s where the study group will come in handy, especially if the instructor does not allow students to keep their quiz papers: Get together as soon after the quiz for a “group-think” and try to reconstruct the quiz material. You will, undoubtedly need it for the mid-term or final exam.