Failing Biochemistry But Now Ahead in the Class

by Jason

What would you do if you’ve failed 3 of 6 exams in your biochemistry class and you couldn’t drop it because you’re a senior who needs to graduate?

I got on a Skype call with a student from Texas who was in exactly this predicament.

He was putting all this time and effort into this studies, meeting with the professor, doing all the assigned reading and problems but it wasn’t paying off for him on test day. The grades would come back and it would be the same thing, no matter what he did or didn’t do.

The professor said to study harder and do more problems but he already knew that.

Here’s my thoughts on the study harder do more problems approach. It won’t get you far at all.

It’s equivalent to you playing against an NBA all-star where you’re taking potty shots each time you get the ball and the professional is taking a jump shot. I don’t care how good your potty shot is, it will never outperform even the ugliest of jump shots.

The moral of the story if you’re doing the wrong stuff in your studying approaching doing more of the same will never get you the outcome you want.

Peter was really in bad shape academically.

He told me he had recently met with the pre-health advisor at his college who after looking over his grades said, “You don’t have what it takes to get into medical school.” Peter told me he was crushed because he wanted to be a doctor ever since he was a little kid.

Peter has a slight neurological disorder himself and this was the reason why we wants to be a doctor so bad to help others and also people like himself who have been patients.

After hearing the words from his advisor, Peter told me he was very upset and angry. But he decided he wasn’t going to let one person crush his dreams which is why he reached out to me.

You Have to Schedule

I asked Peter some questions about his study habits and daily routine just to get a better sense of what is going on with him. It soon became apparent he didn’t have a consistent plan or routine in place from week to week.

This can account for many of the problems students have academically. They are unfocused and typically study what they feel like studying each day. This is not how you’ll get into or survive medical school though.

I’m a student of learning myself and I attended a weeklong workshop geared towards medical students and physicians when I was in grad school and it totally opened my eyes on how to be more efficient and a better student.

But what stood out was the director stating, “Those who hate the schedule the most, need it the most.”

I saw myself in that statement because why would I want to be beholden to a calendar that detailed what I should be doing and when. I felt it’s grad school I’m busy enough, let me have some freedom to decide how I should spend my time outside of the classroom.

Have you ever thought the same yourself?

Here’s what I told Peter he needed to do immediately.

On Sunday, he needed to set aside time to go ahead and plan out his schedule for the week. He should begin by scheduling in all the times he had class into his calendar. Once that was complete add in all the appointments which he couldn’t miss.

If there were extracurricular, religious activities and volunteering put that in the calendar.

Then he needed to schedule time for personal hygiene, sleeping, eating, etc.

Once this was done his weekly schedule looked pretty full, but something was missing. He hadn’t put in any study time yet. Now was the time for him to find the holes in his schedule, between class, in the evenings and weekends where he could study.

Since Peter is new to the system I told him just put in what subject area he would be studying and not the specifics of a study block.

I need to point something out.

With this calendar system you want to break out your calendar into 15 minute increments for each day. And write down to the quarter hour your obligations as I mentioned above.

Therefore, if you have 30 minutes somewhere on your calendar you’d put in, “study biochem.”

Students actually are amazed at how fast their calendars fill up before even getting to studying and that’s one of the purposes of using a calendar you become accountable to how much time you actually have and won’t fall into a false sense of security that you have more time than you actually do.

Self Test and Review Model

This is where you’re going to make a huge strides in what you accomplish academically.

If you’re like most students you read whatever is assigned to you, then do some problems and feel that you know the material for the most part. Wrong.

You need to follow a completely different study routine.

Constantly self test on the material before reviewing it. So if you read over the Electron Transport Chain (ETC) on yesterday this is what you should do. Before opening up any of your study materials see how much you can recall about the ETC. If you find you’re struggling and can’t make sense of it then it means you don’t know the topic well and need to spend additional time with it.

That last part becomes your review time.

If you do this with everything you have to learn, you’ll find you progress a lot faster because now you are forced to identify with what you don’t know.

The name of the game is simple, don’t read something and then be, “Oh, I know it,” instead self-test on a topic and then review the material you actually didn’t know.

I’m doing a lot of talking about self-testing, maybe a few examples will help.

Ways to Self-Test Yourself

One of the easiest ways to self-test is with the 3-minute lecture.

What you do is with all of your sources closed see if you can give a 3-minute lecture on the topic you have been studying. If you cannot or what you mention doesn’t flow or come together it is time to go back to the drawing board and review more.

Another easy way to self-test is by using a whiteboard.

Simply write out as much as you know about a topic either with words, graphics or a combination of the two. Then when you’ve done all that you could, return to your primary source and see how much matches.

I won’t get into too much detail about the hierarchy of learning. But you learn the most when you actually have to teach topics to others.

Even if you like to study alone take time to teach what you’re learning. This could be as simple as talking to yourself in a mirror, giving a lecture to a stuffed animal or maybe you have a younger sibling at home to teach it to.

The goal is to hear yourself speaking out loud and ensuring it actually makes sense. You will know if it doesn’t because you’ll throw in a lot of “ums, ahs, and long pauses.” Getting the hang of speaking out loud will serve you well in medical school too.

Once you reach your clinical years, no more classroom it’s hospital time and the doctors will ask you questions and expect an answer on the spot or they will say, “Pick a topic and give me a 5 minute presentation by the end of rounds.” Yes, it actually happens.

Peter’s Success Story

I worked with Peter at the beginning of November.

He was in a bad place academically but I told him the advice I just shared with you albeit in more depth since we were on Skype and he said, “My mind is blown, I would never have considered that, wow that makes complete sense. I feel much better about things.”

Three weeks later I got an email from Peter.

He wanted to share he was unable to get back to me sooner because he was focused on his studies which I told him had to be his sole focus, but he had been following the plan I had made for him. He was excited to share what with just a one hour call everything had changed for him academically.

He was now ahead in the class having taken another exam and he was feeling really good about finishing the semester strong and not failing.

I didn’t do anything groundbreaking for Peter, he just needed some expert guidance and strategies he could implement immediately and look what the results were. He went from failing to ahead with just 60 minutes of my time.

The same can happen for you when you implement what’s found in this post.

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Nov 22, 2019
Difficulty Teaching What I Learned to Others While Studying
by: Jason


Thanks for writing in.

It's very hard for me to pinpoint what is holding you back from having success academically especially from a brief comment without knowing all the details of your background and study strategies.

In your case 60% of your exams have already been taken and then you have to determine will the final two exams be weighed more heavily so that you at least walk away with a passing grade for the class overall?

That's one main suggestion or calculation I'd have you do immediately.

As I feel you may be in a bind because you need to protect your GPA and do not want to have a failure in a science course especially one you will see repeatedly in medicine.

Matter of fact when it comes to biochemistry and medical school your professors will expect you to have known most of basic biochemistry and they will say, "You students know this already I'm going to skip this and focus on the clinical relevance or what they find interesting." However, those details they skipped over will usually be what they test you on their exams so you want to have a strong foundation in biochemistry.

You don't want to rush and just move faster for the sake of moving faster.

You actually want to learn the material and have command of it.

Are you trying to learn all the details? Are you having trouble determining what are the main concepts? Is there an issue with test-taking?

These are all factors that need to be considered.

Also what learning modulaties are you using? Textbook, Powerpoint, videos, independent learning, study groups.

You want to get to the point where you can teach what you are learning to a high school student. If you have trouble doing this then it means you have not learned the biochemistry well enough.

Now you don't need to get super fancy and have a powerpoint or full on lecture in testing yourself. It's kinda one of those things where either you know it or you don't when you are teaching it.

Simply get a dry erase board use your phone and record yourself lecturing and drawing things out. Then watch your lesson.

If it is very choppy, not understandable and doesn't make a lot of sense then it means you need to revisit that specific topic within biochemistry until you do know it well.

Continue to plug away and do your best to get a handle on how you study for the sciences because you will see this material over and over again throughout your medical career.

If you have more questions shoot me an email and I will do my best to point you in the best direction possible.

Nov 21, 2019
Failing biochem
by: Anonymous

Any advice? I actually know and follow everything in above article,what I am missing is how to get to the point where you can give presentations or teach someone, recite what you learned etc. Faster?

In my case, it takes me 3 weeks minimum of daily repetition to get 70 percent maybe of biochem.
That is why I fail, because I dont have enough time, and I have not learned how to speed this up, excellent students I see learn to somehow pickout what is relevant, are quicker to make sense and comprehend,,make connections and links. I am extremely slow to do this, and have failed 3 out of 5 exams. I have my 4th after thanksgiving, I am plugging away and would appreciate any step by step advice

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