Learning through diagrams

As I was researching for an upcoming post, I decided to look back through my college notes on the subject. Surprisingly, they were full of diagrams. I had forgotten just how much I relied on my visual memory for revision. During exams, my desk was scattered with colouring pencils and the odd sharpener. Examiners probably looked on in confusion as I drew illustrations in between writing frantically. Time to explore the visual side of science!

Final stage of programmed cell death where the pieces of the dying cell are eaten by other cells

Even after many years and a few fried brain cells, the diagrams brought my notes alive. It made the re-learning process a lot easier as the subject came flooding back without having to trawl through pages of text.

The main reason I decided to write this post was to give science students a few revision and exams tips. These helped me do well during my time in university. Diagrams won’t suit every science subject but they are featured in a high proportion. Here are a few tips for relevant courses:

  • Use diagrams everywhere… in essays, reviews, lab reports and exams.
  • Make them colourful and easy to understand.
  • Include LOTS of labels.
  • Increase your knowledge by drawing a subject summary / overview diagram.
  • Most importantly, give the lecturers a break from reading endless words!

Use them to illustrate steps of a simple process e.g. my lovely blob showing the last stage of programmed cell death (above right). Move on with extra colours for more complex multi-stage interactions (below) where a single diagram can be a reminder for many pages of text and scientific papers. This type of overview is especially useful for last-minute nerves outside the exam hall.

What have you found helpful when preparing for exams? If you have any other exam tips to give budding scientists, comment below.

PS: If you pay close attention to the (old & possibly out of date) diagrams in this post, you’ll have a clue about the topic I was researching (published here next month).

An overview diagram demonstrating the activity of a family of proteins called caspases during programmed cell death

Reminder - Next week (Monday to Friday) on Science Calling there will be a week-long special on Gender Stereotyping featuring guests posts and personal stories. Pop by!