How to Succeed in Your Biology Course

highquality pictures of biological dna

How to Succeed in Your Biology Course

Here are some things to consider in plotting your strategy for success in this course:
  • Will you have enough time to study and to attend your class regularly?
  • Did you choose the right course for you (based on your previous math, chemistry, and biology background)?
  • Will you be creative in your approach to studying and discover the best way for you to do this?

Will you have enough time to study and to attend your class regularly?

If you find that the only way that you can get your homework done is by sacrificing sleep, you have not been realistic about your time expectations when you signed up for courses this semester.  This will work against your success – you won't learn the material as well as you are capable of and you won't make as high a grade as you could. You may pass. Only you can decide whether that is what you are content with.
In general, in college classes, you should plan to spend at least 3 hours outside of class doing homework and studying for every hour in class. For a 3-hour course in a fall or spring semester, that means at least 9 hours each week that you will need for study time just to succeed with a passing grade. Your study time should be spread out over at least three different days during the week, and done when you are not sleepy or otherwise distracted. If you need to do a substantial amount of review, because you are not very well prepared by your previous coursework or you have been out of school for a while, you will need extra time past the 9 hours per week.
If the course is in a shorter semester, you'll need to spend more time per week. A 3-hour course meets for 48 hours during the semester. So, spending at least three hours outside of class for every hour in class means that you should spend at least 150 hours on work outside of class, spread fairly evenly over the semester.  So, for a six week course in the summer, that's at least 25 hours per week, spread over at least five different days during the week.
If you miss a class, it will almost certainly take you at least twice as much time as you would have spent in the class to learn the material covered in the class on your own (in addition to the usual study time you need to do homework). That may not seem reasonable to you, but remember that the teacher is trained to give concise explanations and is there to answer your questions and to clarify the material for you. If you're having to do that on your own, you won't be as quick about it. When you do miss a class, if you don't learn the material covered before the next class, you'll be behind and then you won't learn the material in the next class very well. So it's very important to talk with your teacher and get caught up as soon as possible when you get behind.
It's a very good idea to make arrangements with a classmate to exchange class notes if one of you must miss class. Reading through a good set of notes will help you focus your studying and may save you from having to spend quite as much time figuring out the material on your own.

Did you choose the right course for you (based on your previous math, chemistry, and biology background)?

It seems unlikely to me that a student who had Spanish in high school 10 years ago would just automatically sign up for Spanish II and be sure everything would be OK. To sign up for an advanced college biology course when you last studied biology in high school ten years ago, and haven't used it since, is just as unrealistic. In order to be successful, you must match your course to your background. The Biology Department has information on course prerequisites and degree plans at to help you.
If you need a stronger background from high school sciences in order to take the college-credit classes you need, we have a variety of introductory courses at ACC to help you. Any of the biology teachers would be happy to discuss this with you if you have questions. If you have had the courses before, but just need a short review, see our continuing education offerings at or our online tutorial at .
Do your review before the course starts. Don't just enroll for a course and assume "they'll review the material I need." That idea does not promote success!

Will you be creative in your approach to studying and discover the best way for you to do this?
While no generalization is 100% correct, it seems to me that many of my students who make C's and D's are set in their ways about doing homework and studying, even though it clearly isn’t working well for them. Maybe they always look at the solution manual immediately after they work the problem or maybe they never look at the solution manual. On the other hand, most students who make A's and B's seem to be willing to experiment with various study styles until they find something that works for them. Sometimes (when they're finding the material difficult) they stop and review the key concepts to make sure that they have mastered it, or take some time to watch an online animation that covers the same topics, or test themselves with the relevant study questions published with the textbook or provided by the instructor.  Then they continue on with the next section of the textbook in the same way. They aren’t just putting in the time, they are checking to make sure that they are actually absorbing the material.
These more flexible students are likely to notice that the experience of taking a test is different from doing homework for a number of reasons and they find ways to practice their test-taking skills as they are reading the textbook material.  There's a lot of discussion among teachers these days about how students have many different learning styles. Some learn better visually, others by hearing, others by doing something. There is no "best" way. Have you thought about what types of learning activities work best for you? Try out some different things and see what seems to work best. For instance, you might get some 3x5 cards and write important ideas from your course on them. Then try two different things: put some of them somewhere where you'll look at them several times a day and take others and read them out loud to yourself at least once a day. After a week or so, which set of ideas do you feel the most familiar with? Does this help you figure out a good study strategy?
Most students are visual learners.  You can test to see where you stand on the left-brain/right-brain scale by trying the quiz that I provide here at my website.  If you score high on the visual learners’ scale, read on after you take the quiz about how to best learn and memorize new ideas and concepts.
If you frequently have test anxiety or do not perform as well on tests as you do on homework, that's a clear indication that you need to pay more attention to your learning style and find some different ways to work on the material than you have used in the past. Ask your teacher if you need some help in thinking of some different ways to try.

No comments