Reorganizing lecture, lab, and text book material in meaningful ways can help biology students in a number of respects. Information organization reduces the amount of information that must be learned and remembered. Reorganizing information forces students to use and think about information in different ways, a key when instructors reword their notes in the exam questions. Reorganized information helps students to detect patterns in the material and predict possible test questions. Many information organization strategies act as memory triggers, especially for visual learners.
Several organizational methods are useful in most biology courses. Each is outlined and illustrated in this section.
Flash cards are used to organize information such as terms and definitions, people and their contributions, lists, identifying characteristics, and structures. To decide what to put on flash cards, use the information recorded in the recall column of the lecture notes or use the bold words or main concepts listed in the textbook.
Running Concept Lists
Running concept lists are similar to flash cards, except all words and explanations are put on one piece of paper. Use running concept lists to organize information about people, terms, and concepts.
Chapter 3: Evolution
Matrices are used to show comparisons between two or more concepts or how concepts are similar and different. Matrices require that one make connections between different compartments; the more connections you make, the more likely you are to remember the material. Information is organized into rows and columns, with the things to be compared written across the top as column headings and the repeating categories written down the left-hand side as row headings. A compare-contrast example is provided below.
Immature and Mature Ecosystems
Concept maps are used to organize supporting information related to one topic. In biology, concept maps help to organize large chunks of related information. An example of a concept map using biology content will be scanned in the near future.
Hierarchical organizers show superordinate and subordinate relationships. In fact, the Linnean system in biology, which classifies extant and extinct life forms, is a hierarchical system. When reviewing notes, look for clue words that indicate the information might be hierarchical: characteristics of ... , characteristics for ... , styles of ... , types of... . Examples of hierarchies will be scanned in the near future.
The following strategies are designed to improve encoding and retrieval of information to and from memory. It is important in biology courses to begin the memorization process early so the large amounts of information are stored in long-term memory.
The information organization strategies described in the previous section also serve as memory devices for visual learners because the organization schemes put information into a memorable format. Put the organizers on paper separate from the notes so they can be transported easily and reviewed during free time.
Flash cards are useful for self-testing of memory by using the terms on the front as cues to remember the details on the back. Separate cards into "known" and "not known" piles as they are reviewed. Continue reviewing until all cards are in the "known" pile. But continue to review the "known" cards to insure remembering.
Running concept lists serve a similar memory function, but you must be careful not to "sneak a peak" at the definitions while reviewing. Keep the right-hand column covered with another paper or by folding the page.
Audio learners may prefer mnemonics for improving memory. These are verbal devices to help recall a series of facts, usually lists. The first letter of each item is used to form a catchy cue word or cue phrase.
For example, to remember the types of bacterial flagella, use a cue word:
As another example, to remember the structure of skeletal muscle, use a cue phrase:
Sometimes it is easier to remember lists of information when the items are alphabetized. For example, the major systems of the human body are summarized in a list: circulatory, musculoskeletal, endocrine, reproductive, digestive, lymphatic, respiratory, excretory, and nervous. Arranging these items in alphabetical order yields a list with two consecutive letter combinations, "c-d-e" and "l-m-n," plus "r."