How to Succeed in Upper Division BIS series

All College of Biological Sciences (CBS) students who are pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree have to take our core BIS upper division series. Depending on your major, you may choose to take BIS 101, 105, 104 or BIS 101, 102, 103, and 104. Let’s briefly discuss each class:

  • BIS 101- Genes and Gene Expression: In this course, students will learn in detail about nucleic acid structure and function, gene expression, replication, and regulation. Many students have previous exposure to the topic from a general Biology class but this class will guide students beyond introductory level genetics. A special feature of this class is an optional 1-unit, P/NP discussion section, BIS 101D. The discussion creates a space for approaching problem-solving and is highly recommended for students to enroll in.
  • BIS 102- Structure and Function of Biomolecules: The class focuses on the many aspects of proteins, lipids, and membranes. Key concepts from general biology, such as weak bond interactions, amino acids, the different levels of protein structure, and pH/buffer calculations, will constitute a substantial amount of the course. Additionally, students will learn new concepts, such as enzyme kinetics, enzymatic assays, as well as protein purification.
  • BIS 103- Bioenergetics and Metabolism: The student will be exposed to enzymes and substrates of the major metabolic pathways, such as glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, fermentation, Kreb’s cycle, Electron Transport Chain, and the Pentose Phosphate Shunt.
  • BIS 104- Cell Biology: Course content includes membrane receptors and signal transduction, cell growth and division, extracellular matrix and cell-cell junctions, and the immune system.
  • BIS 105- Biomolecules and Metabolism: This one-quarter course includes select topics from both BIS 102 and BIS 103, ranging from the fundamentals of biochemical processes to energy metabolism. Hence, some CBS students can choose to take BIS 105 in place of both BIS 102 and BIS 103. ***Note: Cell Biology majors and Biochemistry majors have to take both BIS 102 and BIS 103.

But how are these classes different than the general Biology series?

With few exceptions, professors that teach upper division science often have high expectations from their students. Professors generally lecture solely on concepts/facts and then expect you to solve problems based on integration and application of that lecture material. Hence, a lot of students get frustrated since they are not in the habit of thinking “outside the box.” Those students usually have a mindset of “just tell me what to know, and I’ll learn it.” To maximize your chance of succeeding, students should make an effort to:

1) Time manage! For each hour you spend in class, expect to allot at least two hours for studying. This rule of thumb exists for good reason and helps you practice good-studying habits. With the amount of content that you will be responsible for, allot time to review old material since exam-content is generally cumulative and concepts build upon each other.

2) “Cover all your bases.” Make sure you understand all the major concepts first and then tackle the finer details. If the lectures are recorded, re-listen to the podcasts to clarify any topics that may have been initially confusing or unclear. Students who make an effort to know their notes inside and out will be rewarded. (Pay attention to graphs, charts, experiments etc…)

3) Practice! Professors assign homework to get their students thinking, and much of the time exam questions are based off of homework problems. Practice exams, if provided by the instructor, give big hints as to what you can expect to be on your test. Creating your own set of notes independent of the professor’s slides can be a good source of additional practice. Recreating images or flowcharts for the purpose of note-taking will definitely give you an edge on the exam!

4) Seek help! Since problem-solving may or may not be covered in lecture, students usually have a multitude of questions about assignments. To address their concerns, professors/T.A.’s/ tutors have office hours on a weekly basis for open discussion. Try to think of office hours as an integral part of your learning experience and less as an “optional” resource, especially for the upper division sciences courses. The Student Academic Success Center also offers drop-in tutoring for BIS 101, 102, and 103. More information may be found here:

5) Help others! Don’t underestimate the learning potential from explaining concepts to your colleagues. Your classmates will quickly detect the holes in your understanding of the subject, to which then you can explore and address. This ties in directly with tip #2 since having a comprehensive and thorough knowledge of the material is crucial to your success.

In addition, forming study groups is advantageous  so that you and your classmates have a chance to debate about core concepts and help each other get on par with the material.

A final note is to just have fun with and enjoy these classes. Although it is challenging, the coursework is designed to prepare you for graduate programs as well as for your future career. In hindsight, all of the hard-work that I invested into my upper division classes paid off because I became detail-oriented and learned to think both globally and critically. With the concepts of the lower division courses serving as a foundation for those of the upper division, your educational journey with CBS will open your mind to the fascination of modern biology.


Wilson Ng
BASC Peer Adviser 2014-2015


5 Tips on Developing Impeccable Studying Habits

Let’s face it: these science classes are no joke. Cramming is often an issue because CBS students often have to juggle a multitude of extracurricular activities simultaneously with their academics. However, we all know cramming is likely not the best approach to getting the grade you want and doesn’t help us retain information in the long run. Hence, it is important that we should explore ways to work/study efficiently (but not necessarily longer). From personal experience, I recommend the following approaches:

1. Be Organized!

At the beginning of each quarter, allot some time to use the given syllabi from classes to fill in your calendar. Write down explicitly all assignment deadlines and examination dates. In addition to being an overview of what your quarter entails, doing this will allow you to prepare mentally for weeks that may be more rigorous than usual.

Now that the quarter schedule is in front of you, the most important step is to plan your studying sessions in advance! Being consistent in sticking with these planned sessions like you would for an actual class and you will reap the awards. Don’t forget to include a session to review all the material you have been studying before any examination.

2. Stay up-to-date

Reviewing your progress every week can let you assess what you have done, but, more importantly, what you have not yet done. Be realistic and flexible in making up missed-work from the previous week.

Staying up-to-date also applies to material covered in class. During lecture, be able to follow along by reading assigned text before. Doing so will take a lot of discipline but will ultimately be rewarding.

3. Use Your Resources

There will be a point when you are confused on a certain subject. Don’t be shy and go seek help! Attend your professor or teaching assistant’s office hours and get clarification. Check out the Student Academic Success Center ( for tutoring and workshops.

Lastly, your colleagues are sometimes under-utilized as a resource. Get study groups going to quiz each other on the material. A certain topic might cause confusion for you, but your friend might be able to explain it in a way that makes sense. These groups work best when kept small (no more than 4 people).

4. Get in the ZONE!

Rid all distractions. How can one expect to study effectively with the television on, iTunes playing, and Facebook right in front of you? Put your phone away and disconnect yourself from multimedia during your studies. Taking short breaks (say, 5 minutes for every half hour of studying) can keep you sane.

Identify an ideal location to study and don’t settle for a mediocre spot. This location can serve you for many quarters and helps you get in the mood easier each time.

5. CHALLENGE yourself.

Tackle the subjects that you find the most difficult first. Push yourself to look at your notes whenever you can (I like to do this on the bus). Compete with friends to see who can draw the Kreb’s Cycle faster.

These are just some of the basics. For more information, check out the SASC’s study-skills workshops ( Every student can and will find a way that works for them. Know your goals and let them motivate you.

Good Luck,


Wilson Ng

BASC Peer Advisor