Putting off writing your HSC Biology study notes? You’re not alone!

It can be hard to feel motivated about writing your Bio study notes when it can seem like the most boring task on the planet.

Let’s be honest, if all you’re doing is writing out paragraphs and paragraphs of stuff you don’t feel like learning right now, it’s going to suck out your life force.

However, writing your bio notes doesn’t have to be excruciatingly boring and soul-sucking!

Let me tell you how you can write the BEST HSC Biology study notes:
  • Brilliant
  • Exciting
  • Stimulating
  • Time-efficient

So what kind of steps do I need to take to write my BEST notes?

Let me tell you that it only takes 4 steps to write effective HSC Biology study notes

Step 1: Figure out your learning type
Step 2: Summarise content
Step 3: Take notes in class
Step 4: Learn your HSC Biology study notes

Step 1: Figure out your learning type

The way you learn isn’t going to be the exact type as your friends and classmates. They may be able to use chunks of typed up notes or use only one diagram.

So, what’s your learning type?

Learning your learning type is important because it will determine the format, content and length of your notes.

You can imagine that someone who turns their notes into songs might take longer than someone who learns by speaking and recording themselves talk.

Each will have their benefits and drawbacks, so there isn’t a #1 study style proven to work 100% and be super time efficient.

Find what works for you and you’ll improve in speed and efficiency when making your HSC Biology study notes.

How can you find out what learner type you are?

When I say what kind of learner you are, I’m talking about what kind of format (paper, digital, audio) you prefer to learn with, and what kind of style (simple, artsy, creative) you like to turn the content into.

You can have a mix of different formats and styles to create something tailored to you.

Format: Audio, Visual, Physical

Format refers to the medium you’d like to use. Think of it like an artist using paint, sculpture or printmaking.

For a more in-depth analysis of this concept, have a look here! Our brains are wired a little differently from each other.

Nobody really likes learning the same way — this is why it’s not a great idea to:
  1. Use your friends’ notes
  2. Use notes online
  3. Only use one format

Format has less to do with the content, and more about the way it is delivered.

For example, if you are a physical learner, you may like to associate a movement with a concept. You may like to act out the process of Transcription by pretending to be RNA polymerase or you can remember that one finger is one feature about bacterial fission. You aren’t really changing the content, but you’re changing how you’re expressing it.

Mixing and matching formats AND writing them yourself is a great way to solidify concepts. It’s also great way to memorise your HSC Biology study notes while you’re writing them.

Types of formats you can use:
  • Audio: songs, talking with others, listening to classes
  • Visual: drawing, diagrams, videos, PowerPoints, mind maps
  • Physical: acting, moving
  • Media: video, art, Prezzie, puppet show

Style: Creative, Logical, Blog

Style refers to changing the content to suit your way of thinking and your interests.

This helps keep studying interesting while also practising your hobbies.

Thinking of new ways to present information is a great way to actually learn from your notes because you are going through the information twice: once, by gathering information, and twice by consolidating information into a new style.

You may be an aural learner, but do you like to record yourself speaking the notes? Or do you like to turn them into a conversational, podcast type pieces? Do you like to turn them into songs or do you like someone else explaining the concept to you?

Personally, I am a visual learner and like turning my HSC Biology study notes into funny doodles. I am also fusing my interest in art with my biology study, which means, doodling!

This was something that took my notes from 70% likeable to 95% likeable. I was a visual learner, but once I started turning e.g. enzymes into a short image, they became enjoyable to revise.

The great thing about drawing is that there is a lot of information you associate with an image without writing it down.

So, if you are short on time, or don’t really know how to word things properly at the moment, draw out what you know, then fill in the blanks later.

Youtube

I also like to binge watch my favourite Youtubers when I come home.

This isn’t something that only you’ll have trouble controlling – whether you go on to go to uni (trust me, I still do it), or if you go into the workforce.

This isn’t even something only visual learners do. So, you shouldn’t beat yourself up for watching, but instead use it to your advantage.

Next time you find yourself binge watching, try to add a biology video into your long list of videos.

Doing this is a thousand times easier to do than to get up and get your notes out. Even though it is passive learning, it’s better than nothing!

What are some other creative ways to style the content?
  • Bullet journal
  • Turn it into a comic
  • Like a pamphlet
  • Turn everything into an acronym
  • Stream of consciousness
  • Turn it into a song

Handwriting or typing?

Regardless of your learning style, you will have to explain in words what your concept is about (using appropriate terminology and in the correct structure).

When you do, I will always recommend handwriting as your go-to way of writing — but let’s be real, there’s no way to avoid typing.

So, when should you use each?

Handwriting

As I’ve said, try to do this the most. This includes getting out a dedicated book or some loose-leaf paper and writing down at least a couple points on the topic you are learning at the moment.

Writing and thinking takes a lot of mental energy (especially after a long day), so try to take frequent breaks (every 20-30 minutes), or suffer from the dreaded burnout.

If you’re a physical learner, try to do 40% physical, 40% writing (for everything you study physically, try to jot down in words), and 20% typing (where necessary).

You might think 20% is a bit too little, but consider that the more you type, the more you’ll find yourself wanting all your notes to be typed.

If you have something written down by typing, and you understand it, you can practice writing it down when you answer past papers.

Don’t word-by-word copy your typing because “I have to get this down in handwriting”.

A drawback to handwriting is that it is just so time-consuming. It might take you 30 minutes to write down what would’ve been 15 minutes of typing and editing.

This is why, where appropriate, you should start typing!

Typing

There’s a lot of controversy around typing – should you do it?

Science shows us that handwriting trumps typing by a mile. But in this modern day and age, why shouldn’t you?

It’s fast, the internet is at your fingertips and you can chat to your friends at the same time.

Let me tell you that typing doesn’t give you the benefits of handwriting. Sometimes, you can type 1k words, and not know anything about whatever you’ve just written. This is because it’s just so easy to zone out and type anything.

Studying should be about setting aside a dedicated time to absorb and understand the content.

So, when should you do it?

Use it ONLY where appropriate:
  • I have work at 4pm and I don’t have a lot of time to revise
  • I need to babysit my younger brothers/sisters
  • Family is going out to dinner tonight

These are all perfectly normal situations where you just don’t have the time to be handwriting all your notes—but don’t do this quick method all the time.

Typing is useful, but it shouldn’t be criminalised. Don’t rely on it, but acknowledge its benefits.

Step 2: Summarise content 

Now that you know what kind of format and style you want your notes in, it’s time to start creating your HSC Biology study notes.

Start from the Start

Even if your class doesn’t, start going through the syllabus chronologically, start from the beginning. NESA has changed the syllabus so that going in order makes the most sense.

Going in order ensures that you have the appropriate background information. It’s hard to learn about infectious diseases if you don’t know much about the immune system or infectious agents.

Sometimes in class, you’ll learn about miscellaneous things that don’t follow a specific dot point (but still interesting or relevant).

Make sure to add it into an ‘Extra information’ section at the relevant dot point. This makes sure that when the HSC rolls around, you’re learning the essential facts and numbers.

Write in your own words

“the organs and processes of the body that provide resistance to infection and toxins. Organs include the thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes.”

This above is a definition taken straight from the first google result I found of the immune system.

It sounds fancy and covers everything, but does it actually mean anything to you?

You might like this definition but it only shows that the writer of the above definition understands the immune system, and not you.

Writing in your own words ensures that you understand the concept, and are able to describe it yourself.

If I was asked to describe the immune system, I would say:

A cellular and organ system that protects the body from infectious agents and communicates with other systems.

This new definition tells me that:
  • The immune system is make up of organs but also cells (like B cells and T cells)
  • Infectious agents cause an infection
  • Communicates with other organs and systems e.g. the allergic reaction is caused by cells releasing chemicals that cause reactions in other organs like the lungs

Your definition is going to be a thousand times better for you, no matter how good the other definition sounds.

Focus on harder concepts

In the week before HSC Biology, what would you rather revise? The process of transcription and translation (which you only know briefly), or about homeostasis of glucose (which you’ve been through a thousand times)?

Try to focus on concepts which you know are important, and concepts which you don’t understand. You’ll thank yourself when revising later on.

Topic summary

After you have completed a topic, write down the top most essential information from that topic.

It should be no more than 5 separate points/shouldn’t be a complicated summary.

You can also use a diagram or a flow chart to illustrate the same information. Be brief and specific.

After a topic summary, you can write a module summary.

In the module summary, you should include:
  1. 5 main points from each topic
  2. How each topic relates to each other in the bigger picture of biology
  3. What you learnt from the module
  4. How it sets up the stage to the next module

You can use the topic and module summaries to study for your final exam. It’s a great way to refresh your brain on the details.

Step 3: Take notes in class

The notes you take in class should contribute to the notes you do out of school-time. You should take that time to write proper notes, as we will go through later.

It’s a pain to constantly rewrite your notes from class and go over concepts you’ve already been through.

How can you use class time to write notes that work, and that you are happy with?

Pre-reading

Coming to class prepared is the best way to save yourself time and energy in class.

When you pre-read, you are reading up on the essentials of the class. You might not understand it now, but you’ll have a good idea of what it’s about.

If you don’t know what you’re going to learn about the next lesson, the simplest way to find out is by asking your teacher.

If they don’t really know either, go with the next dot point after the one you did in class.

If you don’t end up going through that concept that day, at lease you’ve studied up on that dot point! Nothing is lost.

To pre-read the best, ask yourself these 3 questions:
  1. Describe the concept(s) in 3 lines or less
  2. How does it work? Draw a flowchart or watch a video on the process
  3. What don’t I understand about it?

During class, you are separating out the information you already know with the information you don’t know yet. You are also answering question #3 in what short time you have.

You can now slot these class notes into your database of notes. It’s useful because they answered questions you didn’t know before, and it also contains the most important information.

Step 4: Learning your HSC Biology study notes

It’s one thing to write notes, and its another to actually use them at a later date.

Are you going to use the 90-page document on one topic? Are those hundreds of recorded hours of biology useful?

5 minutes is better than nothing

Schedule a certain time to look over your notes.

Try to do this right after school because when you get home, have dinner and relax, there is a super low chance of being productive (if you’re like me).

If you can relax but then have the energy to go back to study, then I can say that you have a superpower.

Know when you are most bothered to do things e.g. if you are a night owl, try to schedule reading over notes later in the day when you know your brain is awake.

Now, take 5 or 10 minutes to look over your notes. Not skim—but actually process, read and question the content. By looking over at the syllabus, question if you know how to answer them.

Consistency

Your memory is essentially neurons in your brain strengthening every time you use them.

If you are not consistently strengthening your Biology neurons, they will become weak, and your recall and memory of learning the content will dramatically reduce (which isn’t great news).

Try to practice recalling the information after 5 minutes, after 5 hours, 5 days then in 5 weeks (5 is an arbitrary number and if you wanted, you could recall after 2 minutes and 2 hours).

This ensures that you strengthen your memory to the best you can!

Don’t beat yourself up!

Studying can be hard, and maybe in 2 days, you won’t feel like going through the content again.

This is perfectly fine, and you can always try again. Never stop trying and take frequent rests (of both your mind and body).

Good luck writing and learning your HSC Biology study notes! Learning the content is all about consistent effort. As long as you do something, you’re on the right track!

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