How many times and how should I read one chapter of Biology Campbell ?

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Campbell Biology is the standard textbook that is most commonly recommended to anyone who wants to start preparing for the biology olympiad. It has more than 1000 pages so how on earth can you memorize everything in the shortest time possible?

Let’s review the key tips that will help you absorb as much information as possible. 

To begin with, there are probably many different ways of studying Campbell, but let me outline some very useful ones that you can try out in your preparation

1 Aim to read a chapter every third day

Aim to read a new chapter every third day. Let me explain why. Imagine you start with Chapter 23 on Monday and read it once. Then the next day you need to re-read it again to consolidate what you learnt the day before. Then on Wednesday read Chapter 24. If done correctly, you shouldn’t need to read Campbell like 10 or 20 times as some people claim.

Also it’s important to note that different chapters require different time commitment. Let’s compare Chapter 3 about water and Chapter 18 about regulation of gene expression. Since Chapter 18 is more complex and longer in terms of size, you may need to extend your reading time dedicated to Chapter 18 to 4 or 5 days. Thus, be flexible and adaptable!

2 Take notes, but not immediately

If you followed step 1, then by now you should have read each chapter from Campbell at least twice. Now, to make sure all your knowledge gets into your long term memory, you should read each chapter a third time, but not passively as before. It’s time to grab your notebook and a pen and take notes on diagrams and the most essential biological concepts. I personally think making your own notes will help you remember information much quicker and pain-free. 😉

3 Analyze diagrams and illustrations

Some olympiad questions are based on diagrams, cross sections and illustrations from Campbell. So pay close attention to all diagrams presented in the textbook. I can’t emphasize more how important it is, trust me. You won’t have a fun time on Biology Olympiad exams if you merely memorize each and every word from each chapter. Thus, start building a concise visualization of each topic in your brain. In past papers you can come across anatomical dissections of plants and animals, structural diagrams of biomolecules like proteins and nucleic acids and as well as such famous graphs as oxygen dissociation curve and Michaelis-Menten kinetics.

4 Practice practice practice

One of the best things you can do to improve effectiveness of your textbook reading is to take lots of practice tests. Do some questions from the end of each chapter and google some chapter-specific worksheets. Importantly, time yourself and score your test so you can get a rough idea of how you’re progressing. Most importantly, look up anything you don’t understand or answered incorrectly. Many topics and concepts repeat themselves from year to year, so make sure you know why one answer is correct and the other is not.

5 Review notes before the exam

A week before the exam review your own notes or the ones made by others that cover every single chapter from Campbell. This last-minute revision is very important to give you some confidence before the exam.

Finally, let’s talk strategy if you have only a few weeks or a month left before the olympiad. Here is my recommended list of the important chapters:

  1. Biochemistry: chapters 5 and 6 which are about biomolecules and chapters 9 and 10 about some important metabolic reactions
  2. Genetics: chapters 15 to 18 and chapter 20
  3. Plants: chapters 35 to 39
  4. Animal physiology: chapters 41 to 45 and chapters 48 to 51
  5. Zoology: chapters 32 and 33

This is roughly half the book, but it should be a good investment of your time. If you have some more time, review notes, not the whole chapter, on chapters 22-25 (Evolution and biosystematics) and chapters 52-56 (about Ecology).

Finally, although Campbell Biology is the standard textbook that is most commonly recommended for the biology olympiad, but…Campbell is not enough if you really want to nail the olympiad.

Wait what???

See, the problem is that the biology olympiad has been running for a number of years and many of the questions from Campbell have already been asked. Obviously, if you want to be better then your peers, you need to tap into other resources.

Other awesome books include:

Raven’s Plant biology

Practical Skills in Biomolecular Science

Brooker’s Genetics

Biochemistry by Harvey

Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts

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