How should I study for this course?

What happens if I miss class?

Do I really need the textbook?

What if I forget my clicker?

How can I find my grades?

What if I find an error in my grades?

Can I get class notes?  Do I have to take notes?

I forgot to bring my homework with me to class – can I still turn it in for credit?


How should I study for this course?

Unfortunately, there is no “right” answer here – every student needs to figure this out for him or herself. Part of learning is better understanding the methods and processes that work for you. This class emphasizes your development of skills, such as being able to explain, predict, reason, and represent.  As with any skill, you become better with practice.  Therefore, studying in ways that help you develop these skills are likely to produce a better payoff.

What works? Below are some of the study methods that students have told me have worked for them in this course:

– studying in groups. The most effective groups incorporate regular, scheduled time out of class to study.  They use the notes as a way to “re-create” the class, quiz each other, and challenge one another to explain concepts and processes through words and drawings. In this way, students confirm and solidify what they know, but more importantly – they also expose gaps in their understanding.  Knowing what you don’t know can help you prioritize where you invest your time and practice.

– be there!  Honestly, the single most important thing you can do to improve your chances of doing well is to come to class.  We use class time to practice the things you need to know and will see on your exams. If you’re not there, you will miss out on the questions and feedback – from both me and your peers – that can help you do well and better fill in those gaps.

– minds on!  “Being there” doesn’t just mean taking up space in a seat – that won’t work.  It means your brain is “on” and engaged in the work of the class. In most cases, that will mean participating in your group’s discussion and working through problems with them to learn the material.  If you’re texting friends, snoozing, checking up on the Kardashians, or shopping for shoes, you’re not going to get much benefit from class time, and worse – you’ll become a distraction for your classmates. If that is how you intend to spend your time in class, we’re all better off if you don’t come.

– regular, scheduled studying. Cramming for an exam the night before is a well-exercised strategy for many college students – I have used it myself! Sometimes it works – especially if the task is largely memorization and you only need to retain the material for a short time. However, that’s the opposite of what we’re going for in this class. We want you to understand concepts and develop skills that last forever, not just until the next exam. Developing and mastering any skill takes time and practice whether it’s for sports, art, or science.

– use the rubrics. After each exam, I will post a rubric that serves to explain how items were scored, including expectations for complete and correct answers, and explanation of how points were distributed.  In addition, I also make an effort, where appropriate, to explain the patterns that emerged in our grading – in other words, what were common problems and issues that we saw during our scoring.  Even in you got answers right, it might be worth taking the time to read through the rubric so that you can prevent making common mistakes on future exams, even if you didn’t make those mistakes on the current one.

– get help!  We build groups into the course so that you have each other as your first line of defense, but you don’t need to limit yourself there. In prior years, students have self-organized study sessions with designated times and locations where anyone from class can attend and work together. We have amazing undergrad learning assistants who are more than willing to work with you.  And don’t forget your instructor – I really do want you to succeed in this class, so please come see me before you feel like you’re drowning.  We will also be sure to build in reviews and evening study sessions to provide assistance if you can’t make it to office hours.

What doesn’t work?  Study methods that emphasize primarily memorization over conceptual understanding and methods that are passive and not active.  Although memorization does matter to some extent, study methods that emphasize it above “understanding” will not get you far.  In 2015, we will incorporate online Content Quizzes – these will assess your ability to recognize and use terms and jargon that are a part of the course.  But note that they will only constitute 10% of your grade; exams that assess your conceptual understanding and skills are worth 75%.  Similarly, you will not be able to develop the skills that help you become proficient at explaining, predicting, or representing concepts if you don’t do them – so, active practice is essential.

Some examples of study methods that have proven not very helpful for this class include:

– flashcards.  Flashcards are great for learning new jargon and unfamiliar terms, but this is not how you’ll be tested in this class.  You will be expected to use proper biological language throughout the course – so if the flashcards help you with this, then by all means, use them.   However, if this is the only tool you use for studying for exams, you will be disappointed.

– highlighters. Highlighting relevant text in your textbook and re-reading can be a useful exercise, but for the same reasons as flashcards, this probably won’t be effective for you if it’s the only way you study. Research has shown that most students don’t use highlighters effectively, indicating that they struggle to know “what’s important” in the assigned text and often fail to focus their attention on the most critical features that will promote learning.

Link to overview article (secondary literature): Lost in a Sea of Yellow: Teaching Students a Better Way to Highlight. This article is based on research published in peer-reviewed journal (primary literature):
Gallo, M. and Rinaldo, V., (2012). Towards a mastery understanding of critical reading in biology: The use of highlighting by students to assess their value judgment of the importance of primary literature. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 13 (2), 142-149.

– assuming you don’t have to take notes because notes are posted in D2L. Taking notes is part of the “active” participation that is required in this class. Definitely use the class notes to help remind you of what we did in class and to review key ideas, images, and discussion points.  The notes are intended for support, but they do not represent everything that happened in class. Discussions, questions, and activities that happen during class are important and you’ll want to make sure you capture these in your own notes.

What happens if I miss a class?

Part of your evaluation in this class will come from work completed during class time. Missing class means forfeiting the points for in-class work for that day. However, we understand that occasionally, things happen that are out of our control. As a result, we will drop your 2 lowest scores for in-class work for the semester. If you need to miss class because you don’t feel well, your dog ate your alarm clock, you missed the bus, or you just plain didn’t want to leave the comfort of your bed for the day, consider these as included under the 2-time waiver. Having more than 2 absences will result in loss of points for in-class work.

Exceptions: If you have an extenuating circumstance that could result in more than 2 absences from the class (e.g., you are on a traveling sports team, serving on a jury, have a medical emergency, etc.), complete the Excused Absence Form (in Admin folder of D2L) and file it with one of the LAs during class.  If you qualify for an excused absence, you may make up missed homework and have in-class points waived for the absence.  Make up work must be submitted to the LAs within 1 week of the missed class.

Important: Be in touch with your group mates whenever you need to miss a class. Group work is a big part of this course and your absence has a direct impact on others, so be courteous, respect your group-mates, and do the right thing.

Do I really need the textbook?

Yes.  The BioSci Program recently made a decision to switch to Mason’s Understanding Biology (2015), so that is why we are using it.  However, if you already have Campbell’s Biology or another text because you purchased it for BS 161 or another course, you may use it for our course and do not need to buy another text. That said, the reading assignments will made with respect to the listings in Mason et al. If you use a different text, you will be responsible for using the index to locate and read the corresponding chapters in your text.

In this class, the text is not the primary source of information, nor is it where I go to get questions for exams and quizzes.  I test primarily from what we do in class. Texts are important because they are generally reliable sources of information that can supplement and reinforce concepts we use in class. I expect you to use your text the same way I do – as a resource for supplemental information and to help me with concepts for which I need additional help.

What if I forget my clicker?

It happens. Batteries also die eventually.  You get 1 time during the semester that you can write in your responses on paper.  We will record in the gradebook when and if you use the paper option.  After that, you may lose your in-class points for the day if the activity requires clickers.  Be sure to pack an extra set of batteries in your backpack so you don’t have to use your paper option on account of dead batteries.

How can I find my grades?

An excel sheet with all grades from the course will be uploaded into D2L.  Your grades will be identified by the last 5 digits of your PID, and these will be sorted numerically. You can click on column headers to see how different grade categories are weighted and how sums within categories are derived.  An estimate of your grade to date will be provided in the right-most column.  You can download the file and enter values to estimate what you will need to earn on subsequent exams to earn the grade you desire.

What if I find an error in my grades?

If one of your scores appears to be an error (for example, you see a “29” displayed on your Quiz 1 hard-copy, but a “21” is posted in the excel sheet for Quiz 1), fill out a Grade Discrepancy Form (in Admin folder in D2L) and file it with the LAs within 1 week of receiving your graded exam or quiz.

Grade Discrepancy Forms may also be used to contest a grade.  However, before you submit a discrepancy, you MUST consult the grading rubric. Discrepancies will not be reviewed unless students specifically use the rubric criteria in their justification. Be sure to follow the instructions on the form precisely or your request for a re-grade will not be granted.

Can I get class notes?  Do I have to take notes?

Class notes (ppt slides with instructor’s inkings) will be provided after class in D2L.  It would be a huge mistake to not also take your own notes. Merging your notes with the provided notes is a particularly effective way to review class materials and test your understanding.

I forgot to bring my homework to class – can I still turn it in for credit?

Yes.  If the homework is turned in to Dr. Long’s office/lab (PLB S-336 or S-338) before 5pm of the same day it is due, you can still receive 50% of the point value.  Homeworks turned in later than that will not be eligible to receive credit.