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How to Study for Biology

Two Parts:Learning the MaterialStudying the Material

Although biology is a mandatory class, it doesn’t have to be a painful one to study for and get through. It is a subject that builds upon itself, so it’s essential to understand the basic concepts before you can understand the more complex ones. Learning the vocabulary associated with biology and staying on top of the material are the best ways to improve your comprehension of biology and be ready for every exam.

Part 1
Learning the Material

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    Have a positive attitude towards biology. Biology can be complicated, but it is also very interesting if you take a step back to think about what you’re studying. Having the right attitude can make it more fun to study. It will still be difficult, but if you’re interested in what you’re learning, it won’t feel like such a burden.
    • Think about how your body works. How do your muscles work together to allow you to move? How does your brain communicate with those muscles to tell your body to take a step? It’s very complex, but all of the cells in your body work together to keep you healthy.
    • Biology teaches you all about these processes and how they work. That’s pretty fascinating if you think about it.
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    Break down complex words into their roots. You might find the vocabulary of biology complicated and difficult to spell. However, most words in this subject come from Latin, and have a prefix and suffix. Knowing the prefixes and suffixes that compose the terms can help you spell difficult words and grasp their meaning.
    • For example, the word "glucose" can be separated into two parts, "gluc" means sweet, and "-ose" means sugar. As "-ose" means sugar, you know maltose, sucrose, lactose are sugars as well.[1]
    • The term "endoplasmic reticulum" seems difficult. However, if you know "endo" means "within/ inside", "plasmic" means cytoplasm and "reti" stands for net, you will know that it is a net-like structure that is found inside the cytoplasm.[2]
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    Make flashcards for the vocabulary words. Flashcards are one of the best ways to learn the meanings of the many words you’ll come across in biology. You can carry them around with you and study them at any time. In the car on the way to school is a great time to flip through your flashcards. While the process of making flashcards is a helpful way to study, the cards themselves are only useful if you actually study them as well.[3]
    • At the beginning of each new unit, identify the vocabulary words that you don’t know and make flashcards of them.
    • Study these cards all throughout the unit and by the time the test comes, you will know them all!
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    Draw and label diagrams. Sketching a diagram of a biological process can be a simpler way to learn the concept than just reading about it. If you really understand it, you should be able to draw the entire process and label all of the important aspects. Study the diagrams that are in your textbook as well. Read the captions and truly understand what the diagram is representing and how it relates to the concept you are learning.[4]
    • Many biology courses will start by learning about the cell and the various parts and organelles that makeup the cell. Being able to draw this and label all of the pieces is important.
    • The same goes for many of the cell cycles such as ATP synthesis and the Krebs Cycle. Practice drawing these a few times a week to make sure you have them down before the exam.
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    Read the textbook before class. Biology is not a subject that can be absorbed in the short period of time you are in class. Reading the material before it is covered in class will give you a head start on the concepts and you’ll know what is coming up. The text will introduce the topics to you and you will get much more out of class if you come prepared to ask questions based on your reading.[5]
    • Refer to your syllabus to know what parts of the book to read before class.
    • Take notes on the material and come to class with questions in hand.
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    Learn concepts from general to specific. Understanding biology requires that you have a general understanding of the broad concepts before you can really get into the details. Really master the broad topics before trying to comprehend the details of how they work.[6]
    • You need to know that proteins are made from the blueprints of DNA before you can understand how the DNA is read and then translated into these proteins.
    • Outlines are a great way to organize your notes from general to specific.

Part 2
Studying the Material

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    Answer the questions at the end of each chapter. Biology textbooks have really good questions at the end of each chapter that reinforce the concepts that you need to understand from the material. Try answering the questions and see how many you can get through. Take note of the questions that are more difficult to answer. Revisit your notes on these topics and/or reread that part of the chapter.[7]
    • If you’re having a lot of difficulty answering these questions, seek extra help from your classmates or teacher.
  2. 2
    Review your notes within a day of each lecture. Avoid walking out of class and forgetting about everything you just learned. Reviewing your notes later that evening or the next day can help you synthesize what you have learned. When reviewing, ask yourself if everything makes sense.
    • If something stands out that confuses you, reread the material on that concept in your textbook. If it still doesn’t make sense, ask your teacher about it in the next class.
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    Set aside time specifically for studying biology. Because biology can be difficult for many students, you must put in the time to do well. If you set aside time every night or every other night for biology, you will get into the good habit of frequently studying. You will thank yourself later when you don’t have to cram for the exam because you have been reviewing everything this whole time.[8]
    • Stick to your study schedule and make it a habit. If you skip one day, be sure to get back on track the next day and not let yourself slip into not studying multiple days in a row.
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    Study old quizzes and exams before tests. If you have access to exams from previous years, try taking them and see how much of you get right. If you don’t have access to these, study your quizzes and previous tests for an idea of the types of questions you will get asked.[9]
    • Answering questions from old tests will give you an idea of what you need to keep studying and what topics you have mastered.


  • Go to a helpful, educational website to study from.
  • Watching the news and reading newspapers and science magazines can help you study biology. New technologies emerge everyday (e.g. breakthrough in the cloning technology) and these new things may appear on your exam (application problems).
  • Paying attention to current issues can help you get an overall idea about the newly invented technologies. Doing so can also make you feel more interested in this subject.


  • Don't try to memorize all the things in your textbook, this will not help; you will only get frustrated trying to learn this way. Learning how to study effectively is really essential for you to like a subject and perform well on the exam.

Article Info

Categories: Biology