Strategies for Success in BIS2A
On the habits of highly successful BIS2A students
Over the years, your instructors have talked with many, many students to try and understand why some students are more successful than others. The picture is, as you might expect, complicated. However, there seem to be at least two habits that we can consistently associate with highly successful students and that we find are practiced much less frequently by students who struggle. These are:
- Reviewing and studying material associated with a lecture THAT SAME DAY. This includes reviewing the lecture notes, vocabulary, and doing associated exercises. This ALSO includes making lists of concepts that still aren't clear and trying to have those questions cleared up before the following lecture.
- Constant self testing. That is, most successful students have developed methods (there are many) for assessing their comfort level with their understanding of the course material and spending more time on areas they find MOST challenging.
The first point is relatively easy to understand. Don't procrastinate. Material builds up quickly, concepts are often layered and exams sneak up on you very fast in the quarter system. It is difficult to identify the holes in your understanding of a topic and fill them appropriately two days before the exam.
The second point about self testing is more subtle. Basically, students that are good at this skill have ways of asking themselves: "Do I really understand the point of this question and the reason for the answer?" This can happen in a number of ways. We suggested one above. Try to invent new exam style questions for a concept or skill. Another good way to test yourself is to work in groups and force yourself to explain a topic or question to another student, as if you were the instructor. This is often more difficult than it seems. While this exercise can be hard - particularly if you are not used to flexing these mental muscles - this type of introspection is important to develop for both your short and long term success and we encourage you to look inward and test yourself and your understanding often when you are studying.
The cumulative nature of BIS2A
By its very nature, the course material of BIS2A is cumulative and as a result, it is very easy to fall behind. We recognize this challenge and have designed the pre- and post-lecture study guides to help you prevent this. The guides include a variety of exercises, such as:
- creating vocabulary study lists,
- creating sketches of molecules and biological processes,
- specific instructions to review lecture content,
- sample multiple choice questions that are formatted in exam style,
and a variety of other study aides.
Some of the exercises may feel strange at first, but remember: they are designed by the same people who are designing the lectures and the exams. There is a reason why we are asking you to practice these exercises.
If the rationale for an exercise is not clear, don't just ignore it! Instead, ask yourself why the instructors might be asking you to do that specific exercise. The exercises are designed to help you master the learning goals specified in the study guide. Cross-check each exercise with those learning goals and see if you can draw a connection. If you still don't understand why you're being asked to do something in the study guide, ask a classmate, talk to a TA, or ask the instructor.
Once you're convinced that you have mastered the learning goals and have practiced/reinforced key concepts and skills using the study guides, we recommend that you reinforce your understanding by creating mock exam questions that are designed to test a fellow student's understanding of the learning goals.
And now, we proceed to discussing some useful tips, tricks, and tactics to tackle the course material!
To be successful in BIS2A, you need to make sure that you have sufficient time each week to devote to the class.
Units at UC Davis are assigned based on time spent in class and time requirements associated with out-of-class work. For one lecture unit, you are expected to attend one hour of lecture per week and to spend about two hours per week out-of-class studying the material associated with this lecture. BIS2A has three hours of lecture per week, so you are expected to spend at least six additional hours per week studying the lecture material. BIS2A also has two hours of discussion per week. For these two discussion units, you are expected to attend one two-hour discussion section per week and to spend about four hours per week outside of class studying the material associated with this discussion. So in total, you are expected to spend ~15 hours/week on BIS2A.
What is the most productive way to use these 15 hours/week? Material in BIS2A is cumulative and falling behind can have a major negative impact on your grade. Therefore, the key to being successful in BIS2A is to study the material every day. “Studying” includes any time spent learning the vocabulary, doing the reading and Nota Bene assignments, preparing for class by doing the pre-lecture study guides, reviewing the slides and your notes after class, listening to the podcast, and completing the post-lecture study guides and homework assignments.
Research shows that the most successful students are those who take charge of their own learning and follow a simple but disciplined strategy.
- Identify the important vocabulary words and key concepts presented in lecture. Be able to recall this information from your memory and find opportunities to use it outside of class: limiting your studying to reading the textbook does not constitute effective studying in this class. To be successful, you need to be able to use the information. Therefore, we have designed interactive, question-driven lectures that will ask you to practice using your knowledge in both the lecture and your discussion sections.
- Recall information from your memory regularly: effective studying cannot be done the day before the exam. If you want to master a concept, you need to work on problems that ask you to apply that concept at regular intervals throughout each week. (When you attend lecture regularly, we will help you do this during class time!)
- Apply your knowledge to different problem types and new situations: we will give you the chance to do this in class and outside of class with pre- and post-lecture study guide questions.
The following section explores study strategies for before, during, and after lecture:
For each lecture, we have prepared a study guide designed to help you get the most out of the lecture.
- One purpose of the study guide is to provide you with a targeted list of tasks that will help you prepare for lecture (think of it as a suggested "what to do" list). It will help you decide what to read, what vocabulary to review, and what skills/knowledge to review from earlier lectures. It will also help you get a perspective on what the instructor thinks is important for you to practice before coming to class.
- Before coming to lecture, do the suggested assignments outlined in the study guide. The study guide contains the assigned reading (may include NB assignments and any supplemental reading), vocabulary lists, and most importantly, the Learning Goals for the lecture. The study guides are designed to help you prepare for lecture AND exams by helping you focus on what the instructor thinks is important for you to understand.
- You are expected to do all of the assigned reading before coming to lecture. Take the commenting on these assignments in Nota Bene seriously. Read the whole document and comment on all parts - particularly the suggested discussion items. This is an opportunity to learn from and with your classmates and to use information you've learned from earlier lectures. Your thoughtful participation/commenting in the reading assignments will also help your instructors identify where you are having conceptual difficulty. If enough people appear to have similar questions in the readings, the instructor will see this as a sign to spend some extra time the following day in class clarifying the points of most frequent and/or serious confusion.
Class time will be spent discussing course topics. Your instructor will expect that you have completed the assigned reading before you come to class and that you have attempted the assignments outlined in the pre-lecture study guide.
Active Learning in Lecture
One of the goals of the lecture is to give you the opportunity to practice your problem-solving skills. To facilitate this, the instructor will pose a question and ask the class to discuss the question in small groups. Following the discussion, you might be asked to "vote" on answer choices to problems by holding up a folded multicolor piece of paper (the paper serves as a cheap iClicker substitute), by raising your hand, or with an iClicker - the mode will depend on your instructor. This technique gives the instructor instant feedback about how the whole class doing on a specific topic.
For some questions, you or a classmate may be called upon to summarize your group's discussion and to share this information with the class. When someone is called on in class to answer a question, don't take a mental break! This is a time for you to listen to your classmate, compare their ideas with what you might have shared had you been called upon. Did your classmate have a particularly insightful idea? Perhaps that will help you. Did they have problems answering the question? Did you have similar difficulties with the question? This is not "dead" time - stay mentally involved and active. Your classmates are an important source of information and one of the great reasons we all get together in the same place.
Most students get a little nervous about answering questions in class. This is understandable. However, it is important to remember that your thoughts, no matter how well or ill-formed, are valuable contributions to the classroom discussion. The important thing is to try! Whether you are responsible for speaking or whether you are actively listening, view the questions covered in class as a clue from your instructors about what they think is important. Ask yourself if you understand the key concepts associated with any question asked in lecture. If not, be sure to go over the question after lecture and if you still are having difficulties answering it, talk to an instructor or your TA in office hours. Isn't it better to realize in class that you don't understand a particular topic than on the exam itself?
The following section provides a list of resources and study materials for post-lecture studying.
After each lecture, you will be given access to the lecture slides and a podcast of the lecture.
The slides and podcast will allow you to review the lecture and to confirm the accuracy of your lecture notes. The lecture study guide will also provide you with problems and exercises that will help you practice and reinforce what you learned in lecture.
Post-lecture study guide
- The study guide contains a variety of exercises that reinforce the mental muscles that are important for mastering the learning goals associated with the specific lecture. The problems/exercises on the study guide are a mix of short-answer questions, thought questions, and exercises that help you to build mental models that are important for success in the class (e.g. you may be prompted to sketch a picture of a particular molecule or process).
- The study guides also contains some multiple choice questions designed to model the kind of thinking that will be expected on the exam. Many of these questions are taken from old midterm exams.
It is important that you complete the study guides as soon as you can after class. Use this document to identify areas where you are having difficulties and figure out the best way to master this material. Waiting to do these exercises until the last minute defeats much of their purpose.
Previous exam questions
Another way to test your understanding of the material is to take a practice exam that contains exam questions from previous quarters. Some of these questions appear in the post-lecture study guide. You may also be asked to work collaboratively on Nota Bene to answer previous exam questions.
However, please be advised that we have found that many students don't use these questions as effectively as they could. These are NOT meant to be exercises in memorization! Your instructor will not, in all likelihood, ask you the exact same question. Many students fall into a trap of using these questions as a last second study guide, cross-referencing with a key and mentally checking off that they understand a topic, because the answer choice "makes sense". Beware, if you are falling into this trap, you likely have a false sense of the depth of your real understanding.
How to use previous exam questions effectively
Ask yourself if there are any vocabulary terms that appear multiple times in the exam or any vocabulary words that you don't understand. Sometimes, just knowing the precise meaning of a term is enough to answer the question.
Ask yourself WHAT learning goal(s) are associated with each question and what skills do you need to have mastered in order to able to answer the question. Remember, some questions may require you to integrate learning goals.
Ask yourself HOW the instructor is testing whether or not you have mastered the learning goals you identified above. Figure out what you needed to know or be able to do to answer the question and how did the instructor ask you to demonstrate this.
Ask yourself how you might RECAST the question (changing some details or specifics) in a way that still tested whether or not a student had mastered the associated learning goals and not just memorized the answers to the old exam questions. We as instructors do this all the time.
Asking yourself how you might CREATE a new question that an instructor could use to test the same learning goals. We as instructors do this all the time too.
Some notes on Nota Bene
Nota Bene (NB) is an online resource for collaborative commenting and discussion. You will be required to contribute thoughtful comments, intelligent questions, or even answers to questions from your classmates on selected readings or movies. Your instructors will assign the relevant content via URLs. The reading and discussion forum are intended to help you prepare for lecture, learn the core course concepts, and to develop the intellectual skills we expect from our students. Assignments in NB will be graded and your score will depend on the quality of your contributions.
As your instructors and TAs, we look forward to reading the NB discussions. We will add our own comments, flag misconceptions, and highlight particularly good or informative comments or threads. We hope that you'll find the feedback useful. These discussions also help us to focus our limited time together in lecture on the content/skills that seem most confusing or difficult to master. As each class is slightly different, this will hopefully allow us to more effectively tailor lecture time for your needs