Biology is a wide-ranging field that encompasses the discrete calculations of mathematics (biophysics, computational biology), the more subjective analysis of psychology (social sciences, niche behavior) and the exhaustive lists of pathways that define life (metabolomics, proteomics). Studying for this wide array of areas can make a undergraduate career in biology a difficult task. But there are a number of ways to prepare yourself for success in any curriculum in biology.
1) Stealth studying – This is by far the most effective way to study for any subject matter. It involves small study sessions “hidden” throughout your day, starting from the very beginning of the course. This constant reinforcement greatly increases your ability to retain information and recall that information later. (For a more detailed explanation: http://www.calnewport.com/blog/?p=130) It takes some work, but it pays off by minimizing the stress of last minute cramming. Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave much room for procrastination, so you must be willing to start early and keep working.
2) Stay involved in biology – It’s easy to ignore biology once you are outside of the classroom. It’s almost as if it’s your right to reserve talk of biology for designated class or study times. But the best way to become knowledgeable in the field is to read and be immersed in biology outside of the class. Find some areas of biology that are interesting, and read an article or two every week. It would only take an hour or two of your time and the benefits are concrete and vast. The papers will bring up new questions and increase your interest, making it easier to be interested in your class material. Also, over the years of your undergraduate studies, it will be easier to understand new material because of your stronger background in biology. Consider taking papers with you on long car rides or even browse research articles during meals.
3) Research – This is similar to the previous post. While not directly applicable to studying for a specific test, being involved in undergraduate research will make you more generally knowledgeable in biology. You will grasp new material more effectively and your understanding of the basic and over-arching themes will grow dramatically. You will have real exposure to the field and you’ll be surprised at how much you retain when you work directly with the research and systems you are trying to learn.
4) Diagrams – Biology, at its essence, is about the interactions between systems. Whether we are talking about the social interactions between creatures or atomic interactions that govern a cell membrane, there are pathways and systems that can be mapped and diagrammed. Studying from a diagram can assist visual learners where simple auditory information may not be sufficient. Also, the actual creation of the diagram or system map can help more tactile learners grasp the information readily. There are many large systems diagrams available online too. Consider buying a few and placing them on the walls of your apartment or dorm room. Not only will you proudly display your passion for biology, the occasional glance at the material might actually stick!