Updated: Sep 10
How to win friends and influence your study score: collaborative learning techniques
Welcome- or welcome back- to the Biology blog! It’s been immensely enjoyable seeing you all at lectures in the past couple of weeks. Hopefully you’ve walked out of them feeling less confused (although I’m always open for questions!). That said, if you want to take revision into your own hands, then today’s post is for you.
As we settle into the exam preparation grind, I want to draw your attention to some less conventional ways of revising, beyond the tried-and-tested “rearrange notes before going on Instagram” method.
You’ll need yourself, a friend (or a family member, or a pet), and your notes. Ready? To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins: we’re going on an adventure.
Ask all the questions
While I encourage the practice of looking up answers yourself (it’s an important skill in tertiary studies and beyond), there comes a time where it simply isn’t efficient enough. That’s where friends come in.
From my experience, Biology is a prime target for this kind of collaborative revision. Unlike subjects that prioritise extended application, Biology concepts are discrete, measurable, and condensed into single questions. Learning an additional quote might not improve your
English essay, but learning an extra detail about Australopithecus will certainly improve the quality of your answers on human evolution.
Don’t be afraid to speak up! Reactivate those group chats and Skype calls that have been gathering dust since the beginning of the revision crunch. I personally regret not posting more in my Biology class’ Facebook group- it would have saved me hours of trawling through my notes for what was usually a simple misunderstanding.
If these groups don’t exist, why not do it now? Organise an exam review session. Flood them with questions. Post your favourite (Bio-related) memes. Every time you engage with the content in a novel way, your memory strengthens; the last 50 years of research into neural plasticity has, at least, proven as much.
Our default response in this stressful time tends to be self-isolation, usually out of fear that time spent away from the books = time wasted. If you’re balancing 5 or 6 subjects, it’s a pressing- and very real- concern.
But that’s more reason why you should fight that instinct: cutting myself from any communication only made me more stressed, and unless you’re among the rare population of true autodidacts (self-teachers), you’ll want to have support along the way. And, as an added bonus, you’ll be able to drop your books, call your friends, and feel good about it.
Teachers are your friends too
No, seriously! The same argument to contact friends in this time extends to your teachers. If anything, they are an even more reliable source of fruitful discussion that you shouldn’t hesitate to use. That said, teachers tend to be time-pressed as well, so here’s a few thoughts on what helped me best use my time:
1. Come in with a plan.
My Biology teacher got incredibly frustrated when students ran into her office crying for help. Try to avoid that! Teachers will be much more receptive if you give a clear breakdown of what you needed help on. The more specific your concerns (use a checklist if necessary), the easier it is for teachers to diagnose the issue and solve it.
2. Be self-critical.
Now is not the time to complain about tough marking or unfair examiners. You may well get some challenging advice- I was told, at one point, that I would struggle to get a passing mark on any questions related to Immunity- but the key is to identify those weaknesses and translate that frustration into sustained effort.
It’s certainly not pleasant, but having a group of friends/classmates to dissect these areas collectively makes the process much more rewarding.
3. Ask the right questions.
To really get an edge in these last few weeks, I would recommend shifting the focus of your questions away from pure content and towards skill-building.
Does your teacher have recommended ‘template’ answers for common examinable areas? Note them down.
Can they identify recurring patterns in my SAC performance? Pay attention to them in your next practice exam.
Be your own teacher
If you feel like you need something extra, it might be time to start ‘teaching’ questions to your friends/family/cat/dog/fish. If you can explain your answers in full- and have it make sense- you’re well on the way to nailing the concept in the exam.
Invite your friends to bring their questions to you, even if- especially if- you feel like you’re not quite up to the task. Here’s a list of ‘big ideas’ to get you started:
Summarise photosynthesis/respiration in three dot points.
Summarise transcription/translation/Lac operon action in three dot points.
What are the key steps in humoral/cellular immunity?
What is immunological memory and why is it important?
Name one autoimmune disease and its causes.
Explain the processes that lead to speciation.
Name as many physiological differences between Australopithecus and anatomically modern humans.
Of course, it’s even better if you drop in on your group chat (like the one you might have just made!) and kick-start the discussion. Collective wisdom is a powerful weapon, and by pointing it at the right areas, you can take down everything VCAA throws in your way.
Have fun: with your revision, with your friends, and with the last couple weeks of Biology study you’ll ever get (how exciting!)
Have a question?
In the final weeks before exams Allen will be hosting 2 Live Q&A sessions to help everyone get fully prepared for exams. If you have a question on how to best get prepared, have been stuck on an exam question or want to clarify an area of content send it through here, and Allen might answer it live!