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Pre-Professional Health Sciences

Study Techniques for Science Courses

If you want to succeed in your science, especially biology courses, there are study strategies that can make the difference between mediocre versus mastery performance. A lot of information will be presented during the lecture sessions; the challenge will be for you to move that information and the resultant concepts from short-term to long-term memory. Understanding proceeds from a mastery of basic concepts.

Study before and during class…

Study begins prior to the lecture. Typically the course syllabus will list the text book pages that correspond to a specific lecture session. Read and meditate on these pages prior to arriving at the lecture period.

Using a highlighter to mark the key ideas in the text as you read will aid in focusing your attention, and hence your brain on the material. Make a note of several ideas that appear to be key ones in the specific reading and see if your instructor further describes or explains them in his/her lecture session.

During the lecture session, you will typically have some visual aids such as a PowerPoint presentation, a handout, or diagrams and major terms listed on the blackboard or the overhead projector. Most of this information should not be new but should reinforce the information that you have read prior to attending the lecture.

Focus on the material as it is being presented. Anticipate what will be presented next as a way to keep your attention on the material rather than wondering what will be served at lunch or whether the student on the next row would be a candidate for a future spouse!

Compare information…

Following the lecture, preferably the same day before going to bed, take the information from the lecture (handouts, class notes, etc.) and compare it with the text materials. Then prepare a set of lecture study notes for yourself. Print neatly and reproduce significant diagrams or figures that illustrate major ideas.

Sometimes creating a glossary of defined terms and putting them on flash cards is a helpful study aid. Prepare your study notes so that you would have adequate materials to present your own lecture on the information.

Keep working…

At least weekly, gather together the lecture study notes and peruse them. Read them out loud; practice lecturing them to a silent non-existent observe; explain from memory the most difficult or interesting ideas to your room mate.

The key to moving information and concepts from short-term memory is repetition, more repetition, and more repetition using various different brain strategies, e.g. silently reading, then reading out loud, then telling the information from memory, then re-writing the major ideas on scrap paper from memory, etc.

A second key to study is to focus your attention and not let it rove afar. To maintain focus it is helpful to involve a body movement with a mental movement, e.g. to pace the floor as you read or to write with your hand as you attempt to recall. You should be able to focus acutely for 20-30 minutes without interruption; then plan for a break (5-10 minutes) when you physically get up and walk away from your study materials.

Following the break, do not forget to return to your study area for another period of intense concentration. After a couple of these sequences, study-break, you should have gained a basic mastery of the material.

A fine tuning strategy, after you have obtained basic mastery, is to schedule a study period with a friend who is also taking the course. In these co-study periods, spend most of this time asking and answering questions with minimal reference to the text or to your notes.

Exam time!

Finally, the day arrives for the scheduled exam. Review the mastered material again in the day or two prior to the exam. Then get a good nights sleep before the exam and prepare to answer most of the questions correctly. The resultant A grade that you will receive will constitute a due reward for your effort.

Information and concepts presented in your science courses, which are requisite for entrance into professional health science schools, are very important to master. The course grade should reflect your mastery of the material.

The importance of grades…

You want to make a good mix of As and Bs in your science courses. One low grade of C will not necessarily derail you if you want to go to medical school; however, you should try to fix it by changing that grade through repeating the course so that you can obtain mastery of the material. Failure to do so will be reflected in a low achievement in entrance examinations such as the MCAT.

If you have trouble making Bs in science courses, you should reconsider your study methods or your choice of a career in the sciences.