How to ace your bioscience degree in six steps | Top Universities

How to ace your bioscience degree in six steps

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Olalere John

Updated May 18, 2023



Anatomy drawings on an iPad

Biosciences is the study of living things and includes everything from biology to botany and zoology to genetics, for a greater understanding of the science of life.  

Studying science at university can feel overwhelming at first, because you’ll be learning at a more intense, in-depth and fast-paced level than you’re used to. It can take a little while to get to grips with the different modules and assignments compared to school-level science.  

As a zoology graduate and a microbiology student at Lovely Professional University in India, I’ve found a series of tips and techniques that helped me to learn more effectively and ace my exams and assignments. Here’s everything I’ve learned.  

Improve your notetaking game 

Olalere taking notes in class

Taking notes is a standard part of university life. Whether you’re in lectures, seminars or even reviewing course material online, taking notes for your own learning is vital. The following techniques took my note-taking to another level and made me learn more effectively in class, and in my lab work and assignments.  

After each class, I flesh out my notes and break the complex parts into easier to understand sections. I do this within 24-48 hours of the class, so it’s still fresh in my mind.  

I’ve also learned that I don’t need to write everything down. Most often, lecture slides are available to view online after the class and you can catch up on additional reading later. Instead, I pick out the key learnings and write simplified notes that I can flesh out at home.  

For example, in a microbiology class about entamoeba histolytica, an organism that causes amoebic dysentery, my notes might look like this: 

  • Enta – enteric cavity (body cavity; gastrointestinal tract) 

  • Amoeba – Amoebas 

  • Histo – tissue-related (histology is the study of body tissues) 

  • Lytic – to destroy or breakdown (remember glycolysis – breakdown of glucose sugar) 


Tips that help me with note taking: 

  • Take notes in your own words. This will help you better understand what you noted rather than generic or class terms.  

  • Leave some extra space on your margins to add  further notes while revising later. 

  • Break topics into sub-topics, headings and sub-headings, and down to the key points. The simpler the concept is, the easier it is for you to study.  

  • Make your notes short and concise. Use abbreviations and acronyms for better memory retention.  

Use the Lego technique 

The Lego technique is a method to help you break down the components of each topic, so they become easier to learn. A Lego brick is assigned to each fact or component and when added together one by one, they build a bigger picture of the topic as your knowledge grows. 

Just as cells form tissues and tissues form organs, every course in bioscience has many components to learn. When learning about the nature and structure of DNA, you can’t grasp a real understanding without learning about the individual components of proteins. Without gaining knowledge at this level, it becomes very difficult to understand everything else. 

I took a module on genetic engineering and I wasn’t getting the hang of it. I felt overwhelmed in the run up to the exam. Using Lego bricks to help me visualise the different elements, and then adding them together as I gained new knowledge, helped me to get into the fundamental aspects of the subject and learn my way up from there. Without it, I couldn’t have imagined trying to work my way around that module. 

Study diagrams as much as the text 

Olalere studying anatomical diagrams

Most biosciences topics will involve visual diagrams that give students a better understanding of the written details. When studying the anatomy of a flower petal or blood circulation to the heart, a diagram illustrating the specific components and properties can help to clarify what exactly is meant in the text. 

Don’t underestimate the importance of studying and learning diagrams. It’s as important as the written notes you make. If you’re learning a subject and struggling to grasp it fully, try and find a diagram either in a textbook or online.  

When it comes to exams, having an image in my mind about how a process works has helped me to pull my knowledge out onto the page.  

Drawing my own diagrams is a great way to memorise them and fully understand the detail. I have always been fascinated by the brain, but I found it difficult to remember the functions of its different parts. Drawing my own diagrams to memorise the different areas helped it to sink in and my knowledge improved.  

Test, test and test some more! 

Preparing for your exams with practice tests is a great way to show you what you don’t know, and to help you get there. I include mock tests in my study routine, so that I can clearly see my progress throughout the semester.  

A study on the effect of online practice exams in biology showed that pre-exam quizzes significantly improved student success. Another study showed that low-stakes quizzes significantly improved the outputs of lower-performing students in STEM courses. 

For me, mock tests help me to learn without the pressure of an exam. I can pick the topic I want to practice, set the level of difficulty and understand where I need to keep learning.  

I find online multiple-choice tests and free quiz tools very helpful because you can view your results immediately, and they also explain the answers at the end. I can simply type the topic on Google and add 'MCQs' (multiple choice quizzes), and get hundreds of options.  

See YouTube as a powerful learning platform 

Educational videos are an undeniably helpful way to break down a comprehensive piece of information. With over 2.7 billion active users, over a third of global internet traffic goes to YouTube, making it a haven for whatever information you’re looking for. 

Using YouTube to learn about the concepts you don't understand in class can significantly improve your grades. Indian YouTubers ingenuously have a knack for simplifying biological concepts, contributing over 24 per cent of all major educational content on YouTube. 

Crash Course is one of my favourite channels which provides free educational videos in a number of subjects including chemistry, biology and climate. If you’re a fan of animations with a touch of biology-themed humour, the Amoeba Sisters have got you covered. Shomu’s Biology, Professor Dave Explains and Khan Academy are other amazing channels I regularly learn from.  

It can be easy to get distracted on YouTube, so I find it helpful to set a time limit when watching educational videos.  

Ask your professors 

Olalere in class

When I first started university, I underestimated how helpful my professors and teachers were. I thought that they would teach me in lectures and seminars, and that would be as far as the relationship goes. However, I quickly learned that professors are invaluable sources of support when I’m struggling, or I want to know more detail about a subject I’m really interested in.  

They may not be instantly available, but in my experience they’ve always been willing to help. Usually, professors will have office hours where you can drop in and speak with them about any issues you’re having, or to get recommendations for further reading.  

Professors are busy people, so make sure you speak to them early enough to receive their help and not a few days or weeks before your exams. 

Despite my passion for biosciences I still found my programme difficult, but with these tips I was able to study smarter and improve my grades!  

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