The MuchSmarter Blog

Becoming Much Smarter in Biology

Steve Schecter
February 23, 2015

Most students are intimidated by science, and this intimidation is their biggest obstacle to learning. Depending upon the subject, science confronts students with demanding vocabulary, extensive memorization, challenging concepts, the use of complex mathematical models, or all of the above.

Science appears and feels difficult to most students, and so, students develop limiting beliefs and emotions that prevent them from enjoying and mastering the game of learning science.

But students can let go of these limitations and learn to approach each of the scientific disciplines with confidence and skill.

You can use our method to let go of your limiting beliefs and emotions about science. Then you can use the Method’s seven steps for learning anything you want:

1. Approach the learning as a game

2. Be willing to play badly at first

3. Get the whole story up front

4. Learn the moves of the game

5. Practice the moves (until you don’t have to think about them)

6. Refine the moves

7. Practice again

Let’s look first at biology, since high school students normally study biology before chemistry and physics.

Biology presents a slightly different challenge than does physics or chemistry. More than physics or chemistry, biology asks you to remember facts: parts of the cell, the phases of mitosis and meiosis, classification systems, the parts of a plant, the parts of the human anatomy.

Effective memorizing of facts begins with this idea: learn the whole story first.

View each aspect of biology as a complete system or process that you want to understand from beginning to end. In order to learn the details of cell respiration, learn the whole story. Tell the story (describe the process) from beginning to end.

When the story makes sense to you, from beginning to end, you will not find it difficult to remember the parts of the story. So, when you can “tell the story” of cell respiration, from beginning to end, you will be more ready to remember the individual parts of the process.

So, to begin mastering the biology game: find a crystal clear explanation of each story (process) that you want to master. (This may require a little persistence, but online or offline, in text or video, someone has authored a crystal-clear explanation of anything you want to learn!). Then, practice telling the story again and again, as if you were learning the lines of a play, or learning a piece of music.

I once worked with a student, Lily, who was struggling in an AP Biology course. She had gotten an “A” in a biology course the previous year. But in the AP course, she was barely passing. I went through some topics with her – cell respiration, mitosis and meiosis. I wanted to see if she “sort of” knew the story, or if she knew the story. For each topic, she “sort of” knew the story. So, for each topic, I got her to learn the story, and tell the story, from beginning to end, and to practice the story as if she were learning the lines of a play. On her very next test, she got a 90, and continued to excel in the course.

When I see students struggling in biology, they almost always fail to either 1) get the whole story up front for each topic, or 2) practice that story until they can tell it with ease. Do both of these consistently and the biology game will be yours!

Until next time.

- Steve

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