Learn Biology Events (Div B)

Learn Biology Events (Div B)

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This guide is written by Josephine Wang: Anatomy & Physiology and Biology instructor and co-founder of ScioVirtual. Josephine is a captain of the WW-P North Science Olympiad team, ranked in the top 50 of the USA Biology Olympiad, and infamously conducted biochemistry research at Indiana University.

The Purpose of this Guide

With over 1,000 ScioVirtual students (flex), we get many questions from students and their parents:

  1. How can I learn science by myself? How can I go beyond what we learn in school?
  2. Where do I start? Should I read textbooks? Watch YouTube? Play online science games? What is the best online resource?
  3. How do I not forget stuff after I learn it? Why do I forget stuff one week after I learn it? Do I need to keep relearning stuff regularly?
  4. In how much detail do I need to go?How do I know if I understand a concept completely?
  5. How can I use my time effectively? How do I spend my time on the most important stuff?

From these questions, it’s clear that ScioVirtual students are ambitious. Whether they want to win an upcoming competition next week or become successful in college and beyond, our students are hungry for more knowledge.

The problem is that many young students do not know where to start learning. And even when they do, students make common “rookie mistakes” that prevent them from using their precious time effectively.

When I was in middle school, I had the same questions. This guide is for motivated students that want to challenge themselves and properly learn biology by themself.

The Two Simple Steps

Famous biologist Thomas Huxley said:

"Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.”

This guide will help you do that by splitting up your learning in two steps:


A common mistake students make is they jump into very specific topics without having a proper background. For instance, when I was in 6th grade, I tried to understand DNA sequencing technologies when I didn’t even learn the basics of DNA structure and replication.

That’s like a kid learning long division before being able to count. No matter how hard that kid tries to memorize symbols, patterns, and procedures, they won’t really understand what is actually going on and will forget everything quickly.

Even if some of the content seems unrelated to the specific topic you want to learn, learning this information anyways beforehand will give you a huge edge for biology class in high school and college!

To learn the basics of biology, you need to spend some time on each topic.

Long division (Source:
Long division (Source: Creative Punking)

Step 1: Learn the Basics of Biology

There are 7 major branches in biology. If you take one week and assign a major topic to each day, you can learn the basics of biology in just one week!

However, to fit everything in one week, you need around three hours of deep work per day.

Anatomy & Physiology
Cell Biology
Genetics & Development
Public Health

Some notes:

  1. This recommended schedule is challenging and accelerated. It is more important to take your time to actually understand the content and ask questions (instead of just rushing).
  2. You are not going to be an expert on every topic in just one week. Step 1 simply allows you to survey and understand the bigger picture of biology before you enter the specifics.

The 7 Major Biology Branches

Click on each branch to learn.

Before you get started

Here are some general study tips to help you navigate massive amounts of biology that is about to follow!

How do you study? (not just for biology!)

Taking Notes 📝

Notes should be concise and made for you. Perhaps you hate reading and are a visual learner (can totally relate)! Try drawing diagrams! Vertical notetaking, where you utilize the vertical space on your page rather than just writing line by line, can be easier to follow and review.

Here’s an example!
Diagram of a seed
Diagram of a seed
Vertical notetaking
Vertical notetaking
More vertical notes
More vertical notes

But who actually goes back to look at all their notes? Sometimes, a good way to review is to look at the info you’ve written down and turn them into active notes. Active notes are questions about important concepts or things you need to memorize. Answer them later during a review to solidify your understanding.

Actively remembering pieces of information makes them easier to retain than if you are just passively rereading your notes. Writing questions about what you just read can also ensure that you were actually engaged and understood what you were reading.

Here are some examples of active notes about endocrine hormones: 1) What is the glucose transport protein called? What type of transport do they use? 2) What are the thyroid hormones? Which amino acid are they derived from? 3) What step does T3 inhibit? 4) What class of hormone has the longest half-life and why? 5) What does gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) stimulate? 6) Which two anterior pituitary hormones have hypothalamic release inhibitors? 7) What is the difference between a primary, secondary, and tertiary pathology? 8) What are the 3 types of hormone interactions?

You may notice that these questions are fairly simple memorization questions. I also recommend writing scenario questions where you have to dig deep into the concept you learned.

Example (from Vander’s Human Physiology): In the laboratory, if an isolated skeletal muscle is placed in a solution that contains no calcium ions, will the muscle contract when it is stimulated (1) directly by depolarizing its membrane, or (2) by stimulating the nerve to the muscle? What would happen if this were a smooth muscle?
Memorization 🧠

I’ll admit it. Biology is a lot of memorization. While the advanced stuff requires you to have analytical and applicational skills, you need memorization to build a strong basis.

Here are potential tools and my review of them:

Anki Cards

Anki is an app that uses spaced repetition via flashcards to help you memorize terms. The way spaced repetition works is that depending on how well you know a term (again, good, easy), Anki will show you that word again after a specific amount of time. For example, if you find a term is easy to recognize, Anki would show you the term again after 10 days (the time interval can be customized). On the other hand, if you choose “again,” Anki will show you the term after 10 seconds (also customizable).

One con I have with Anki is that you have to use the app consistently to make use of the spaced repetition. That means bad news for people who have trouble committing to a habit. Learning to use the app to its full extent is also somewhat time-consuming.


While the UI is a little difficult to use, using the flashcards themselves are pretty simple. You can also find pre-made card decks online!


Quizlet is another flashcard app to help you memorize terms. Though Quizlet lacks the customizability and spaced repetition aspect of Anki, it makes up for it with a user-friendly interface and many ways to test yourself. I personally like using the Write feature to test myself.


While flashcards are useful for memorizing terms, they’re not as effective for lists. This is where Memorizer comes in!

Memorizer guides you through memorizing the order and terms of a list with just 3 simple steps.

Analysis ⚗️

Analysis is, by far, the hardest thing to master when it comes to learning biology because it is a skill that takes training.

Analyzing passages on lab experiments may seem daunting at first, especially with all the complex names. Hence, here is an example with tips to help (from USABO Semifinals 2018)

  1. If you see a lot of repeated terms, for example, CFSE, OVA, and LPS, figure out what the term stands for. In this question, CFSE refers to a dye that increases in intensity with cell division. OVA is the protein with MHC1-SIINFEKYL. LPS is lipopolysaccharide.
  2. Now that you have all the unfamiliar terms figured out, here is where your analysis skills come in. You are measuring the CFSE in CD8 T cells, which is basically measuring the proliferation of the CD8 T cells. The column of data with only OVA injected is the control that you are comparing to OVA + LPS. Therefore, the data portrays how LPS affects CD8 T cell proliferation.
  3. Now comes the biology!
    1. Right off the bat, you know A is correct. The table confirms this statement.
    2. The question states that triggering apoptotic events increases the CFSE signal. But you know that’s not true because CFSE increases with cell division, not cell death! Therefore, B is incorrect.
    3. The data is not measuring how efficient dendritic cells are in presenting OVA to CD8 cells. Therefore, you cannot conclude C from the data.
    4. While the TLR pathway does induce cytokines, and cytokines do promote CD8 cells, the data does not show this information. Therefore, you cannot conclude D from the data.
    5. Once again, the data does not measure the favorability of OVA in different pHs. Therefore, you cannot conclude E from the data.
  4. Voila! Using your analytical skills, you can conclude that A is the only correct answer!

Step 2: Specialize in 2-3 Topics

Now that you have surveyed the main branches of biology, you have a strong understanding of the different types of biology you can learn.

Visit the table of specific biology-related Science Olympiad events below.