For students aspiring to the best colleges, high school can be an incredibly trying time. Balancing sports, extracurricular activities, a social life, and a full load of the most challenging class can seem next to impossible. High school science, in particular, can prove to be a time-intensive, intellectually demanding sequence of courses that rewards hours spent with lab reports or preparing for rigorous exams.
High school biology courses typically focus on the core ideas that join very different disciplines. Evolution by natural selection, for example, unites the DNA and protein dynamics of molecular biology with directly observable phenomena in ecology and conservation biology. For this reason, it is critical to master the basics early on in your course, well before you delve into the details of each discipline. For instance, understanding the role and structure of DNA in the first weeks of your class will make studying genetic mutations later much more straightforward.
Such an approach demands the ability to identify what is important in every lesson. You may not need to spend much time mastering the detailed structure of each nitrogenous base in a nucleotide; however, because these nitrogenous bases have polar groups, they are oriented away from water, toward the inside of the DNA double helix, where they hydrogen bond to each other. This structure explains why only certain bases are able to pair with each other, and is a critical aspect of DNA structure for future studies of molecular genetics.
Many teachers have been studying biology for so long that they no longer consciously make decisions about what is important and what is not; it has become second nature to them. As a result, you may become frustrated that your instructors seem to know intuitively what is important and may not clearly communicate why certain facts need to be internalized over others. For this reason, you can often find success working in groups with other students, or with students who have previously succeeded in biology coursework.
Success in high school biology is important not just for college-bound students, but for students who see careers as registered nurses or medical assistants, as well as students who want to succeed on standardized military exams such as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). For college-bound students, the ACT Science exam presents prose passages and data about biological topics and asks students to read them in a short amount of time, meaning that being comfortable with reading and understanding such material can be a first step toward success. Furthermore, biology as a core general education requirement is widespread in American universities.
What is most important about high school biology, however, is not the memorization of discrete facts. Standardized exams and college-level coursework demand a capacity for critical thought, something that high school biology helps you develop. Developing the ability to recognize what is important, think analytically about challenging concepts, and apply those concepts to unfamiliar scenarios are the keys to success in careers, at college, and on exams. High school biology is likely among the first exposures you will have to these concepts; it can therefore serve either as a solid bedrock for further development, or a serious complication of later efforts.
When studying high school biology, it is important to keep your focus on the larger picture, and understand that the most critical part of the course is developing how to think, not what to think. Varsity Tutors’ free High School Biology Help content can serve as a good first step in sharpening your abstract critical reasoning skills. If you find yourself confused by a particular scientific concept, consult our High School Biology Help page. We break High School Biology topics down into ultra-specific nodes and provide model problems complete with revealed correct answers and full explanations. Reading through model questions can help you identify patterns in approaching a given topic and help you identify where you may be going wrong in your own interaction with that topic. If you feel ready to tackle some practice problems on your own without immediately seeing the correct answer, you can do so by taking some of our High School Biology practice tests and diagnostic tests. High school biology is a subject that interweaves its ideas to a great degree, and misunderstanding one can result in you misunderstanding other elements of the course. Check your understanding by exploring the material available on our High School Biology Help page today!