With a new quarter or semester starting, there’s always a feeling of uncertainty about how difficult your classes will be. I remember in college, I was super nervous about taking physics and organic chemistry since I never took those classes in high school. A few days ago, someone reached out to me to see if I could write a post on helpful tips for studying biochemistry since this would be her first time taking this class. Since I’ve survived 2 biochemistry classes, am reviewing this subject for the MCAT, AND am a biochemistry major, I definitely have some helpful tips on how to ace this course. If you’re taking biochemistry this semester, I highly recommend that you keep reading! I’ve even included a free Quizlet and free downloadable worksheet to help you learn the 20 amino acids, as well as some examples of my past biochem notes!
If you aren’t taking biochemistry this semester, definitely save this post for later. I’m always open to writing advice posts for other subjects, so just let me know which ones you need help with in the comments below, via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or DM me on Insta! Fun fact- I’ve tutored general and organic chemistry for over a year in college and have tons of helpful notes and tips on those subjects. Just let me know if you want them! 🙂
Here are 5 Extremely Helpful Tips for Studying Biochemistry:
1. Topics build on each other, so you should nail down foundational concepts as soon as possible.
Biochemistry is a very content heavy class because the topics build on each other. For my school, biochemistry was split into two separate classes: structural biochemistry and metabolic biochemistry. In structural biochem, we went over the 20 amino acids, DNA, and the structures/functions of molecules in the cell. Metabolic biochem emphasized more on the metabolic pathways that exist in the body. The whole class was basically memorizing the molecules and enzymes involved in cellular respiration, the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex, the citric acid cycle, and the electron transport chain. Again, for both structural and metabolic, the concepts build on each other so it is important that you learn things as soon as possible, otherwise you may get lost in future lectures. Since structural and metabolic focus on unique topics, I approached each class differently.
For structural, I made flashcards on Quizlet with the powerpoints after each lecture since I knew the test would be heavy on memorization. Then, I would review the flashcards whenever I had time each day. For metabolic, I rarely used flashcards. I actually would learn a bit of the pathways each day by redrawing/rewriting them on my iPad until they were completely memorized. For both structural and metabolic, weekly practice problems were assigned, so I also made sure to do those as soon as I learned the content for that week.
It’s so important not to procrastinate since you are required to memorize so many things in biochemistry. Learn, memorize, and review topics a few hours each day so that when the test day approaches, you aren’t cramming last minute. I’ve talked about my workflow in a previous post where on Sundays, I would assign tasks for each day of the week. This is exactly what I did for metabolic biochemistry. I split up what I had to learn/memorize each day so that by the end of the week, I would have memorized a whole pathway or two.
Related: Read This If You’re Losing Motivation to Study (8 Tips on How to Feel Motivated to Study Again)
2. Use flashcards to learn the 20 amino acids.
Most biochemistry classes require you to memorize the structures, names, and abbreviations (3 letters and 1 letter) of 20 amino acids. The best way to go about this is to just use flashcards and draw out the structures everyday until you have completely memorized them. I’ve made a Quizlet set and a free worksheet that you can use to study! The worksheet also includes some mnemonics/shortcuts that have helped me remember a few of the amino acids.
(click customize to copy the flashcards to your own account!)
Worksheet includes drawing portion, naming portion, and helpful mnemonics/tips for memorization! Print it out or edit it on your iPad!
3. Rewrite pathways everyday until you’ve memorized them, and understand the significance of each step.
Everyone learns differently. Other people may find it easiest to look at a pathway and just learn the steps right off the bat. For me, rewriting pathways everyday helped so much with memorizing the steps as well as the names and structures of molecules and enzymes. Like I said earlier, I literally blocked off half an hour to an hour each day just rewriting a part of a pathway. The next day I would learn a bit more of the pathway until I had mastered it.
Now, part of memorizing pathways is also understanding what is taking place and why. If you understand the “why” of each step, it will be easier to memorize! This is completely different from memorizing the amino acids since they’re just structures. For pathways, there is always a reason for why it takes place, and most of it has to do with energy favorability. Keep that in mind!
For example, in the first step of glycolysis, ATP is used to phosphorylate glucose. Why? Because the attached phosphate group prevents glucose from leaving the cell so that glycolysis can take place. In the third step of glycolysis, a second ATP is used up to phosphorylate fructose-6 phosphate. What is the significance of this step? Since 2 ATP’s have been used up, the cell has already given up so much energy, so it MUST continue to the end of glycolysis. There is no going back. Your professors will definitely explain the reasons behind each step, and it’s important to pay attention when they do! Whenever you are rewriting the pathways, I encourage you to write down the significance of each step as well!
Here are some examples of my iPad notes. Obviously, when I’m rewriting/redrawing my notes everyday, they aren’t as pretty as the ones below. But notice how for most of the steps, I included why they’re significant or what exactly is occurring.
4. Mnemonics are your best friend.
Sometimes rote memorization is not enough. For facts that I tend to forget, I like to either come up with my own mnemonics or search for pre-existing mnemonics on Google or Reddit. For example, I always end up forgetting the characteristics of different type of enzyme inhibitors. After a quick search, I found the following mnemonic for competitive inhibitors. To this day, I haven’t forgotten it!
5. Use Youtube to your advantage.
There are times when the concepts and pathways for biochemistry can get really confusing, especially if you don’t have a good professor. Whenever I needed clarification, I would see if the following Youtube channels have covered the topic: Khan Academy, The Organic Chemistry Tutor, AK Lectures. Here’s a pro tip: watch the video at 1.5-2x speed in case they’re talking too slow or you’re on a time crunch!
Thank you for reading! I truly hope this post helped! Biochemistry is intimidating, but if you put in the work day by day, I guarantee that you’ll do well in the course. Always feel free to email me or DM me on Instagram if you have any questions on biochemistry or any subject! I am always so happy to help. Best of luck to you with the start of the new quarter/semester. You got this, and I believe in you!