Let’s be honest – biology is one of those theory-heavy subjects out of all sciences. The more facts and concepts you know, the more chances you have to succeed in the biology olympiad. Thus, on the Internet, you can find a ton of reading lists with different textbooks recommended for the biology olympiad preparation. One of them can be found here.
So how on earth do you memorize all of the textbooks for the olympiad? So there are probably many different ways of studying, but let me outline my top tips that you can try out in your preparation for the biology olympiad.
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 of Campbell Biology on Monday and read it once. Then the next day you should re-read it again to consolidate what you learned the day before. Then on Wednesday, you can read Chapter 24. If done correctly, you shouldn’t need to read Campbell like 10 or 20 times as some people claim. Allowing yourself to read the same chapter over two days relieves stress as you know that you have enough time to focus on absorbing information. What’s more, you can read the same information a few times so this in its own right already helps you memorize faster as you are exposed to the same information again.
Also, it’s important to note that different chapters require a different time commitment. Let’s compare Chapter 3 from Campbell about water and Chapter 18 about the 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, 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 Three-times rule
This leads me to the summary of the two tips above. My golden tip to anyone preparing for the biology olympiad is to read the same chapter three times. For the first time, you simply familiarise yourself with the content and try to grasp the broad concepts of the chapter. For the second time, you should be taking notes on the most important concepts, definitions, and facts of that chapter. When you read the same chapter for the third time, now you need to start memorizing the content and, at this point, I really encourage you to highlight, underline or otherwise mark the most important things in the textbook itself.
3 Analyse diagrams and illustrations
Some biology olympiad questions are based on diagrams, cross sections, and illustrations from Campbell Biology and some other textbooks. So pay close attention to all diagrams presented in your textbooks. I can’t emphasize more how important it is, trust me. You won’t have a fun time in the 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 the oxygen dissociation curve and Michaelis-Menten kinetics. So draw them separately on the A4 or A3 paper and hang them in your room. Then every day review them!
4 Practice practice practice
One of the best things you can do to improve the 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 tests 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 from the key textbooks recommended for the Biology Olympiad. Here you can find good notes that cover every single chapter from Campbell Biology. This last-minute revision is very important to give you some confidence before the exam.
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.
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 than your peers, you need to tap into other resources. Other awesome books include:
Practical Skills in Biomolecular Science