The Study Dude—Study Like a Biology Olympian

Why study for an International Biology Olympiad? After all, it’s a high school competition and if we’re at AU we’re well beyond that, aren’t we?  But studying for mastery gears us for goals. The skills that we’d learn practicing for something as intense as an Olympiad would surely translate into better habits for all our courses.

I never took high school biology.  But I took an anatomy course at a campus-based university.  I had no idea what livers or gonads did.  So, after less than a week of skull-scratching, I dropped for a refund.

But the biology bug bit me.  Now that I read about nutrition, I yearn to learn about the digestive tract, and I’ve started watching TedMed—Ted Talks from doctors.  I even picked up biology books, toying with the idea of challenging the diploma exam.  No classrooms.  No deadlines.  And maybe no expense.  Perfect. But that’s basic biology.  High school.  It’s another ballpark to consider competing in an International Biology Olympiad.

To win an Olympiad, author Martyna Petrulyte says study for 60-minutes like you’re in a race and then take a five-minute break.  And repeat.  During the undergrad, I’d study math slowly—painfully—like a race horse on tranquilizers.  But I had a relaxed mindset.  To my credit, that relaxation transferred over exam time.  I’d feel calmer writing exams than soaking in bubble baths.  And I scored top grades.

But am I ready to prep for a Biology Olympiad?  Are you?  International Biology Olympiad winner, Martyna Petrulyte, shows us how in her book How to Prepare For the Biology Olympiad and Science Competitions:

  • But first, what is the International Biology Olympiad? “Basically, the IBO is a competition aimed at secondary school students …. The examination is comprised of theory and practical parts, each lasting for 6 hours” (p.  5-6).
  • How do you score in a biology Olympiad or achieve any other goal? First, “if you’ve got a goal, that means you need to reduce the time spent on other activities” (p.  15).
  • So, study hard for mastery: “On weekdays, I studied for three to four hours. On weekends, I increased the time to around eight hours a day” (p.  21).  “Just set a study time, whether it’s from 5pm to 8pm or 6pm to 9pm.  You’ve got it!” (p.  16).
  • Study an hour straight topped with a five-minute break: “When you’re reading a textbook or doing some biology worksheets, set a timer for a specific period of time, say 60 minutes …. When the time is up, give yourself a short break (3-5 minutes) and move on to another round of the race” (p.  16).
  • Break wisely: “While you’re on your break, go for a short walk or run, meditate, or call a friend or do any other mind clearing exercise that helps you recharge” (p. 19).
  • To form good study habits, repeat: “You see, habits don’t need willpower, only repetition” (p. 16).
  • Save the easy homework for later: “Start with the most mentally demanding task …. At the end of the day, when you feel tired but still want to study, do something that requires less effort.  For instance, watch biology lectures and tutorials or listen to the audio records” (p.  23).  “To put it simply, the longer you study, the less efficient you become” (p.  23).
  • To score big, get fit and eat healthy: “You think you’ll last long if you just focus on studying? Ignoring physical exercise? Eating junk food? Isolating yourself from friends? No, my dear ….  For maximum performance, eat well …” (p.  20).
  • And exercise the morning of exams: “This will boost circulation to your brain, wake you up, and equip you with tremendous focus and attention to detail during the test” (p. 26).
  • Dogging it drags out study time: “Study time = procrastination / Learning quality and efficiency. So, what’s it all about?  The more you procrastinate (i.e.  the bigger the numerator), the more time you’ll spend studying” (p.  33).

If you score top grades in biology, go to med school.  Not to become just a doctor, but to become a holistic medicine doctor.  Holistic medicine doesn’t just pop a pill, but addresses diet, exercise, lifestyle, relationships, spirituality, and more.  What better reason to win an International Biology Olympiad?