Some tips on how to study for Biology

(This post by Ms Yap first appeared here on Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts on 24 August 2017.)

“How do I study for Biology?”

This is one of the most common questions I get from students. Biology is difficult. We all know that it’s nigh impossible to get all that information, word for word, into your head. This is especially so, given the focus on MOLECULAR BIOLOGY for the biological sciences.

The good news is, “Hard work always beats talent, when talent fails to work hard.” – Kevin Durant

Here are some tips on how to study for Biology. We will also canvass some of the commonly raised issues/questions by students here.

1. Pay attention in school, during all your lectures and tutorials.

Notwithstanding that it’s an early morning lecture at an unearthly hour of 8 am, listen! There may be extra annotations given by the teachers, and tips by teachers could very well tell you which areas are the (more commonly tested) areas.

Some schools show animations of biological processes in action. Being able to visualise how certain biological processes occur, will go a long way in aiding your understanding. These biological processes include, inter alia, how the end-replication problem occurs at the ends of DNA, how the ribosome translocates one codon at a time (and the sequential involvement of E, P, A sites of the large ribosomal subunit). When you are able to visualise these, you will be able to understand the sequential mechanics behind these biological processes, in contrast to blindly memorising. And if you understand how these processes work, should an examination question be set on something other than the normal “template” questions, you will be better able to answer them.

1.1 Before the lecture / tutorial

If you are unable to multi-task, eg simultaneously understanding the lecture content, copying down annotations, and handling the occasional distractions by classmates- read the lecture notes BEFORE the lecture. (Note: This was what I did when I was a student myself, eons ago.)

Reading the notes before the lecture will give you a rough gauge of what the teacher will be going through. Having a rough idea of what’s going to happen, can save you time to “digest” what the lecturer is saying, and avoid being lost.

Be forewarned that biology is extremely content- heavy. To finish the syllabus in time and allow for revision, you will find that lectures progress at an alarmingly fast pace.

And.. before the tutorial, you have to attempt the tutorial questions. (This goes without saying…. right? ) :)

1.2 After the lecture / tutorial

Read the notes again after the lecture. If there are still areas you are unclear, mark these out and clear your doubts. If you have any doubts, please do not leave doubts till the eleventh hour before you start to clarify, when you may realise there are so many unanswered concepts you do not yet understand. If you do not work well under stress, you will panic, when you realise you have to both understand and memorise!

2. Practice many questions

Doing questions are a MUST. What good is knowing all the content, but having no idea how to apply all these knowledge? Completing your Ten-Year-Series is a given, these will be the easiest questions you will see. The questions set by your school teachers will (usually) be more difficult.

3. Be able to answer the Learning Outcomes

A quick way to test yourself, would be to answer the learning outcomes provided in your Syllabus structure. You may even try assuming the learning outcomes as an essay question!

4. Test yourself, under timed conditions

This means doing mock papers under timed conditions. Then, using the answer key, you could mark the paper yourself to find out where you stand.

Students may under-estimate the amount of time they need during the examination. It will be a pity if you do not attempt a question, not because you did not know how to do it but because you did not have enough time to!

5. Organise and file your material topically

Organise your lectures and tutorials neatly according to topic. Make sure each question set comes together with their answer key. This will save you a lot of time trying to find the missing “partner” or missing “elements” which you may not realise you have misplaced!

6. Understand, and then memorise.

Not the other way around. Understanding before memorising, will allow you to be better able to apply your concepts to questions. Of course, if you understand first before you memorise, it will be much easier for you to memorise. Isn’t blindly memorising without any understanding… painful?

7. But… what if I don’t have enough time?

Time, can always be found. The crux is, do you know how to find time?

Plan your time in half-hour blocks. Write your study session down and exactly what you have been doing. Remember, a 4 hour- study session with friends is not productive if only 15 minutes of the session is spent studying, while the rest of the session is spent gossiping/ chit-chatting/ catching up on the latest game (insert any other activity). Find time to study in all the other pockets of time that you have, eg waiting for the bus, during train rides home, or even during lesson breaks!

Now… good luck! And you should start studying now.. ! :)


This article is contributed by Ms Yap, an 'A' Level H2 Biology tutor who graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences (First Class Honours). Visit her site at for more information.


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