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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Biology Reading Skills

1. IMPORTANT: Have you taken the reading assessment test? Can you read at a level that is adequate for this text? In general, all the college biology texts are at least 12.6 grade level and some are considerably higher. If you read at the adequate level, then the following suggestions may be helpful. What follows is a summary of strategies that are being used by students who are successful in biology. AND YOU CAN SUCCEED TOO!!

2. Slow down !! The flow of a biology book is not like the flow of a novel. A novel can be read effortlessly, smoothly and rapidly, but biology books cannot be. If you are reading a novel and are somewhat distracted, you can still get the idea of what it is about. When you are not concentrating on biology you will get very little out of it, and it will seem more difficult than it really is.

3. Every word counts. Biology books are usually not repetitive, so there is little chance of picking something up from reading on. Writers of biology texts believe that extra words and repeats get in the way of clarity.

4. It is best to tackle each chapter at least 3 times. The first time you should skim the chapter, noting topic sentences, words in bold print, all tables, diagrams and summary charts. This is best read before the lecture. The second reading should be in more detail, studying each area and not proceeding until each section is understood. Reread each section as of many times as necessary until you understand its meaning. Mastery can take minutes or hours or days. The last major reading is for writing down terms and definitions and important concepts (see #6 below).

5. Talk to yourself as you read. Explain what you have read aloud and make up your own examples to better understand what you have read. Rereading the material aloud, especially in your own words helps clarify the information. Hearing yourself makes a lot of difference.

6. Words and symbols of biology have specific meanings. Each time you come to a new term or concept, cover up the text and see if you can express the idea aloud in your own words. Write down all the words you don't know. Emphasize words in bold type. Whenever possible write out the definitions in your own words. Strive for understanding the definitions so that you can easily state them in your own words; you are more likely to remember them that way. By saying it out loud and writing it, you are more like to recall it later, when needed.

7. Study all diagrams and charts. They condense a lot of valuable information. Cover up and see if you can visualize them.

8. Write as you read.
o During your first reading write nothing in the text.
o Don't highlight ¬ it slows down reading and it's often used as an excuse for not concentrating.
o In a later reading, call attention to important words or phrases by underlining them (don't overdo this). Complete sentences or paragraphs should be bracketed and not underlined.
o Write summarizing statements to yourself in the margin.
o Make notes to yourself right in the text.
o Note questions that you need to have clarified.
9. Record all key points on a separate sheet.

10. If there are study questions at the end of the chapters, be sure you can answer them. They are good practice for the exam.

11. Make flash cards with terminology and concepts.

12. Keep testing yourself on a separate sheet of paper.

13. Without looking back, write out and say aloud the important points.

14. Create tasks for yourself as you read the text. After reading an example and working it out for yourself, try to think of other examples that would fit the idea being discussed.

15. Use more than one book on the topic you are studying whenever possible. Pick books that appeal to you. If you are very verbal, a book with long explanations is likely to be most helpful. If you are more visual, you might choose a book that has more illustrations.

16. Read the chapter before, and again after, class. You will get the most out of class if you have read the material before the instructor presents it. Even if you felt you understood the material in class, read it over again in the text. The more you review it the more likely you are to recall it.

17. If possible, have a friend or family member quiz you on your notes and text information. Done regularly, this commits more information to long¬term memory.

By Cindy Arem Ph.D. and Paul Johnson, Pima Community College
Biology Study Skills
1. Successful biology students have told us they study a minimum of 2 to 3 hours per day, 7 days a week, throughout the semester.

2. Biology is hard work, so be aggressive. Take it as a challenge and give it your time and your energy. Don't take it with lots of other hard courses or a busy work load.

3. Know and understand all your terminology. This is one of the keys to success in any field. In biology it is extremely helpful to begin by studying your Latin and Greek roots. This is the basis for many seemingly difficult terms. Study these roots. Make 3" x 5" flash cards to help you memorize them and later do the same with your terminology.

4. Biology teachers have reported that if something is brought into the lab, it is guaranteed that you will be tested on it. So pay attention to whatever is brought into lab, even its name.

5. Chemistry is not a pre¬requisite for taking biology at Pima College, but taking a chemistry course before taking biology would be exceedingly beneficial.

6. Make it a practice to read over the topic or chapter before going to your biology class.

7. Attend all classes and be an active listener. It is important to be alert and concentrate on what is said in lecture. Successful students take full and comprehensive notes, writing down about 66% of what is said in lecture, while failing students write half as much. It is most important to stay current. Do not allow yourself to miss classes and fall behind or the entire course will become an effort and a struggle for you.

8. After class go over the material as soon as possible and again 8 hours later. Studies have shown that you are more likely to remember the information later. Fill in all the missing words or incomplete explanations. Recite important concepts in your own words.

9. Always remember you have the right to ask questions before, during and after class. See your instructors during their office hours for help. Notice when you are beginning to get in trouble and seek help immediately.

10. Read and study all your textbook explanations. You may wish to use at least two or more books. These books are often available in the library. Each book has a different discussion and examples on your topic, and one of these is likely to be helpful to you.

11. Whenever possible explain aloud to another person what you are learning. Work with a classmate and explain terminology and concepts to each other.

12. Describe in your own words the similarities and differences between the different concepts you are learning. Do this aloud with someone else.

13. If biology is your most difficult subject, then always study it before all other subjects. You must study biology when you are most alert and fresh. Make sure to take 5 or 10 minute breaks every 20¬40 minutes in order to clear your mind.

14. Write up summary sheets of biology terminology and concepts and review often. The more you review the more you'll remember. Also visually picture the terms in your minds eye. Visualizing is a powerful technique for remembering terms. Break words into small chunks and picture each chunk until you can recall it. Then put the chunks together. Remember, the knowledge of roots can be extremely helpful.

15. Making up mnemonics memory techniques may be fun as well as beneficial. For example, if you need to remember the 12 cranial nerves you can take the first letter of each nerve and make up a sentence where each word begins with the first letter of each nerves.

16. Create sample tests for yourself and test yourself often.

17. Give yourself timed tests similar to those you expect in class. Time yourself with a kitchen timer or an alarm. Practice, practice, practice.

18. Review the types of errors you make and types of questions that cause you difficulty. Give yourself more practice in these areas of difficulty.

19. If possible, have a friend or family member quiz you on your notes and text information. Done regularly this commits more information to long¬term memory.

By Cindy Arem Ph.D. and Paul Johnson, Pima Community College

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