How To Learn Biochemistry

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How To Learn Biochemistry

Here are six useful tips to keep in mind before starting a biochemistry course:

  • Start memorizing structures from day one: as soon as you see a new pathway, molecule or reaction; note it down and start memorizing it. That goes for things like amino acids, glycolysis, lipid metabolism, the pentose phosphate pathway, nucleotides, and all cofactors and enzymes. Check out this post if you need help on memorizing things fast.
  • Review basic and organic chemistry: just for a quick overview and to refresh your memory. It will help with understanding the more challenging topics! Don’t worry about going too deep.
  • Research your professor: figure out what they ask for in exams, what their lecture/class notes are like or whether the class is worth attending (some biochem lecturers can be really boring!)
  • Draw things out: this is the best way to get metabolic pathways down from scratch. Visualize the reactions and the changes to molecules. Make sure you understand each step of the process. (Hint: this is one of the best reasons for using a tablet or iPad over a laptop. A whiteboard could also serve you well. Anything that can be drawn and erased easily.)
  • Read assigned texts: if it’s from a good resource (or one that’s likely to be tested). Review lecture notes after class.
  • Make/use flashcards for the facts: the best way to learn and recognize each amino acid. Make your cards more memorable by using mnemonics (i.e. KREB’s cycle;  Citrate Is Kreb’s Starting Substrate For Making Oxaloacetate)

How To Succeed In Biochemistry Class

With those basics out the way, let’s go a little bit deeper. Let’s look at how you can succeed in any biochemistry class – no matter what your degree or field of study.

1. Focus On The Core Topics

Biochemistry can be pretty dense. To survive it you’ll want to strip it down to its essentials. Think 80/20 and the topics worth most of your attention.

Here’s a list of those:

  • General Chemistry
    • Kinetics (Michaelis Menten)
    • Redox reactions
    • pH
    • Hemoglobin/myoglobin metabolism and oxygen saturation curves
  • Organic Chemistry
    • Basic reaction mechanisms
    • Acid-base relationships
  • Biochemistry
    • Macro molecules
    • Enzymes
    • Metabolic pathways

If you absolutely have to cram biochemistry and don’t have time? Start with these subjects first!

2. Understand First

I probably shouldn’t have to say this (I’ve written about it plenty of times before) but surviving this subject, as it is any science subject, is best done by first trying to understand it.

That means avoiding rote memorization and actually thinking about why these concepts are important.

Try these things to help here:

  1. Study with your lecture slides and a good reference source (or textbook) side by side. Cross reference and check anything you’re unsure of
  2. Use the Feynman technique to explain the hard-to-grasp concepts. Act like you’re explaining something to a 5-year-old. That way you’ll understand it better.
  3. Work out how to group and categorize things. Understand the reasons for this categorization.

This video on amino acids is a great example of this last one…

3. Learn The Vocabulary

Biochemistry has a very specific language. Understanding the suffixes attached to enzymes – the lyases, hydrogenases, oxidases, reductases etc – can really help get a fix on things.

Spend some time doing this in the beginning and things will make much more sense later on.

4. Focus On Structure And Function First

Don’t skip the small details if you can avoid it in biochem. A lot of the time the professors like to test them. 

Prioritize learning the structures and functions of molecules and compounds. Doing this will help you better visualize what’s happening to them as they move through pathways; what’s happening to carbons etc.

Get these core fundamentals down by picking one review resource and sticking with it.

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