0. Studying Biology


0.2. Using Your Textbook


A Textbook Is a Tool

A student enrolled in an introductory biology course as you are almost never learns everything from the textbook. Your text is a tool to explain and amplify what you learn in lecture. No textbook is a substitute for attending lectures, taking notes, and studying them. Success in your biology course is like a stool with three legs: lectures, class notes, and text reading— all three are necessary. Used together, they will take you a long way toward success in the course.

When to Use Your Text. While you can glance at your text at any time to refresh your memory or answer a question that pops into your mind, your use of your text as a learning tool should focus on providing support for the other two “legs” of course success: lectures and class notes.

Do the Assigned Reading.

Many instructors assign reading from the text, reading that is supposed to be done before lecture.

The timing here is very important: If you already have a general idea of what is being discussed in lecture, it is much easier to follow the discussion and take better notes.

Link the Text to Your Lecture Notes. Few lectures cover exactly what is in the text, and much of what is in the text may not be covered in lecture. That said, much of what you will hear in lecture is covered in your text. This coverage provides you with a powerful tool to reinforce ideas and information you encounter in lecture. Text illustrations and detailed explanations can pound home an idea quickly grasped in lecture, and answer any questions that might occur to you as you sort through the logic of an argument. Thus it is absolutely essential that you follow along with your text as you recopy your lecture notes, keying your notes to the textbook as you go. Annotating your notes in this way will make them far better learning tools as you study for exams later.

Review for Exams. It goes without saying that you should review your recopied lecture notes to prepare for an exam. But that is not enough. What is often missed in gearing up for an exam is the need to also review that part of the text that covers the same material. Reading the chapter again, one last time, helps place your lecture notes in perspective, so that it will be easier to remember key points when a topic explodes at you off the page of your exam.

How to Use Your Text. The single most important way to use your text is to read it. As your biology course proceeds and you move through the text, read each assigned chapter all the way through at one sitting. This will give you valuable perspective. Then, guided by your lecture notes, go back through the chapter one topic at a time, and focus on learning that one topic as you recopy your notes. As discussed earlier, building a bridge between text and lecture notes is a very powerful way to learn. Remember, your notes don’t take the exam, and neither does the textbook; you do, and the learning that occurs as you integrate text pages and lecture notes in your mind will go a long way toward you taking it well.



Learning Tools at Your Disposal

Learning Objectives. Every chapter begins by telling you precisely what each section of the chapter is attempting to teach you. Called “Learning Objectives,” these items describe what you are intended to know after studying that section. Use them. They are a road map to success in the course.

Quiz Yourself. When you have finished studying a chapter of your text, it will be very important for you to be able to assess how good a job you have done. Waiting until a class exam to find out if you have mastered the key points of a chapter is neither necessary nor wise. To give you some handle on how you are doing, three sorts of questions appear at the end of every chapter.

Test Your Understanding. At the top of the last page of each chapter, you will find a “Test Your Understanding” section composed of ten multiple choice questions. These questions are not difficult and are intended as a quick check to see if you have understood the key ideas and identified essential information.

Apply Your Understanding. Beneath the Test Your Understanding you will find two or more “Apply Your Understanding” questions. One of the easiest mistakes to make in studying a chapter is to slide over its figures as if they were simply decoration. In fact, they often illustrate key ideas and processes. These questions will help you apply what you have learned to what the figures are trying to teach you.

Synthesize What You Have Learned. At the bottom of the page, you will find a series of “Synthesize What You Have Learned” questions. These questions do not test your memory, but rather your understanding. None of them are easy; all of them make you think.

Let the Illustrations Teach You. All introductory biology texts are rich with colorful photographs and diagrams. They are not there to decorate but to aid your comprehension of ideas and concepts. When the text refers you to a specific figure, look at it—the visual link will help you remember the idea much better than restricting yourself to cold words on a page.

Three sorts of illustrations offer particularly strong reinforcement:

Key Biological Processes. While you will be asked to learn many technical terms in this course, learning the names of things is not your key goal. Your goal is to master a small set of concepts. A few dozen key biological processes explain how organisms work the way they do. When you have understood these processes, much of the heavy lifting in learning biology is done. Every time you encounter one of these key biological processes in the text, you will be provided with an illustration to help you better understand it. These illustrations break the process down into easily understood stages, so that you can grasp how the overall process works without being lost in a forest of details (figure 0.4a).

Bubble Links. Illustrations teach best when they are simple. Unfortunately, some of the structures and processes being illustrated just aren’t simple. Every time you encounter a complex diagram in the text, it will be “predigested” for you, the individual components of the diagram each identified with a number in a colored circle, or bubble. This same number is also placed in the text narrative right where that component is discussed. These bubble links allow the text to step you through the illustration, explaining what is going on at each stage—the illustration is a feast you devour one bite at a time.

Phylum Facts. Not all of what you will learn are concepts. Sometimes you will need to soak up a lot of information, painting a picture with facts. Nowhere is this more true than when you study animal diversity. In chapter 19 you will encounter a train of animal phyla (a phylum is a major category of organisms) with which you must become familiar. In such a sea of information, what should you learn? Every time you encounter a phylum in chapter 19, you will be provided with a Phylum Facts illustration that selects the key bits of information about the body and lifestyle of that kind of animal (figure 0.4b). If you learned and understood only the items highlighted there, you would have mastered much of what you need to know.




Figure 0.4. Visual learning tools.

(a) An example of a Key Biological Process illustration. (b) An example of a Phylum Facts illustration.


Key Learning Outcome 0.2. Your text is a tool to reinforce and clarify what you learn in lecture. Your use of it will only be effective if coordinated with your development of recopied lecture notes.