I remember in my first semester of my degree sitting in lectures and thinking ‘how the heck am I ever going to learn all of this’? I suspect a lot of students have this feeling in their first year and for some throughout their entire degree. I am hoping by sharing my study tips that I can help people find a way to get the most out of their degree and enjoy studying at the same time.
A bit of background of my UG degree
When I first started at my University, I was enrolled in a Biomedical Science degree. In my first semester I had 4 classes and of those my highest overall mark was only 62%. Obviously not a good start at all and I feel very nervous about admitting this openly on the Internet where anybody can read this, but its true! I was an awful student in my first semester. I then took some time off to think about whether this was really what I wanted to do with my life, was I going to be able to succeed and actually finish this degree? Eventually I decided yes, this is really what I wanted to do and so I went back to the same degree. In my first year back I was an okay student, nothing amazing. It was still a struggle for me. I still didn’t know how to study properly and had no idea how to commit everything to memory. In the later years of my degree I did much better and ended up with some really good results. In my final year I was consistently getting between 90% and 100% in tests and finishing classes with final scores in the same range. Once I figured out how to study properly I became a good student, this is proof that anybody can do well if they set their mind to it.
Also important – I did end up switching to molecular biology degree. So I recommend making sure your degree is really in an area you are interested in. My classes did not change much between the two degrees, however I took better to biochemistry, genetics etc. than I did physiology and immunology, and therefore achieved better grades.
- Attend your lectures! I know this seems really simple, but it is so easy to fall behind if you don’t physically attend your lectures. Our lectures were recorded and put online so, if it wasn’t feasible to attend it was fine, however I found it much easier to focus if I was in the lecture.
- During lectures don’t just write down what it on the slides, think about what is being said and think of the types of questions that could be asked based on the content. I found that making my own questions to test my knowledge helped me to understand things.
- If your lecture slides aren’t available to you after the lecture is over, then id suggest writing down everything on the slides. EVERYTHING! However, hopefully you have access to the notes after the lectures.
- After my lectures were over, I would sit down and write everything out neatly, trying to put things in to dot point or in my own words. This makes you actually think about what information is important and forces you to engage with the content.
- In terms of using your computer to type vs writing things in a notebook, I did both. First I would write it all down in a notebook and then I would go through all those notes and write questions and answers from those – these would be my notes on my computer.
- Tables and flow diagrams are also really good ways to organize your information. Particularly in physiology or anatomy.
- I also wrote all my questions out on system cards (palm cards). These are a really good thing for self-testing and revision later on (picture at end of post).
- Ask questions! I was very fortunate at my university that my lecturers were very open to sitting down with students and explaining things that didn’t quite make sense in the lecture. I was always asking questions about the material. You don’t have to go straight to your lecturer though. You can ask your peers, or seek help from people who may have previously done the class.
So by this stage you should have done your lectures, written notes, made questions and answered each from your notes. This is a very easy way to make sure you’re working through all the content in your classes and really thinking about everything. The next thing to do is start to revise everything. So how to do that? To be honest, I never really went back and read over my previous notes other than the questions I made. This is why I think that questions are a really helpful learning tool. Nobody wants to read their own notes again, its boring.
- So you have done your primary study, and you may have exams or tests coming up. Now it’s time to go back over lecture material and take note of tricky concepts and ones you aren’t entirely confident with. Write all those things down somewhere so you can focus on those as you revise.
- First thing I would do to revise would be to read all the lecture notes again. When I got to those parts that I found tricky or didnt understand I would write those out again and really work on getting that concept down before moving on.
- Next,go through your questions and answers you made. When study I would do this many times prior to tests and exams. When I say many times I mean many times, I would go over my questions up to 20 times prior to exams.
- Go through past exams if you have access to them and time yourself. Most people would say to do them under exam conditions but I never did this because I don’t have the attention span to do a 3 hour exam unless I have to. So I just worked through them and really thought about what the question wanted from me. This worked for me, but if you can be bothered sitting and doing a whole exam at once, do that.
It is really important to know what kind of questions are going to come up in your exams or tests:
If you have multiple choice questions, make sure to practice them. People tend to think MC are easy, however they are often tricky and students pick the wrong answer for silly reasons. Read the question carefully, and work out what it is really asking, then I recommend using a process of elimination until you have the answer you feel most confident with.
If you have short answer questions – look at how many marks are allocated to that question, this will give you an idea of the level of detail required to answer it. Carefully read the question and only answer that question! Too often people recognize words in a question and write an answer, but they haven’t specifically addressed the question given. You may know things on the topic, but you wont get the marks unless you actually answer the question that is given to you.
If you have to write extended answers – think of the topics that could be used as extended answers and write them out as you would in the exam. Go over these again and again. This will also help you in other sections, so it’s a good thing to do. Extended answers were my favorite sections of exams because it is really easy to get full marks if you know the content. Make good use of this section!
Finally summarize everything leading up to your final exams. By now you should have gone over everything so many times that you could almost recite it backwards. Now you should summarize everything in to as little info as you can and bring all of the topics you learned together. Most classes aren’t about individual topics, but a big picture.
Other than all that, repetition is really the key. Try to repeat the content over again but in different ways. Draw up tables, make explosion charts, draw pathways, if it’s a mechanism or physiology draw it, get people to quiz you. I promise you the more you understand a subject the more interesting it is and the more you’ll enjoy studying.
Here are some pictures of the type of things I was doing to study:
My cards, note on computer, drawings, my files where I kept all my written notes organized into topics and then my summaries.