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Department of Biochemistry


Study Skills

Here are some rather informal hints and comments that may be helpful in different degrees to most of you. Remember that Medical and Veterinary Students’ Handbooks also include advice about learning. You need to integrate for yourselves all the ‘wise words’ (that’s the intention anyway) that you get from many sources. Remember your Director of Studies will be happy to help you. The University Transkills portal gives access to  lots of useful resources

To state the obvious – the University is not like a school

The transition from secondary education to higher education has to be anticipated and worked at. You, the student, have responsibility for your learning and work patterns outside the set timetables. Your college supervisors will provide guidance and encouragement, but only you can actually do the work needed to attain the necessary knowledge and understanding of your subjects. Your supervisors will set you some tasks, but don’t regard the week’s work as over once you have completed them. It’s not a good idea to do the minimum during term in the hope of catching up in the vacations: that simply doesn’t work. You sometimes need to take comments from second year students with a large pinch of salt! It’s important to keep up with the courses as they develop, and continually to review how new material relates to topics already covered – biomedical sciences are highly integrated.

The medical and veterinary courses cover a year, and are not modular: there is a University examination (MVST Part IA) at the end of this year, which will require you to write essays as well as to answer multiple choice questions and to analyse and interpret data. Copies of the MIMS examination papers from the last three years are included in this handbook.

Time management

Procrastination: I’ll do it tomorrow - really!

Well – you might – but if you don’t you get chased eventually. Edward Young, an 18th century poet, wrote ‘Procrastination is the thief of time’. Make a start today, decide how to go about it. Make a plan. Then you’ll feel better, and get off to a good start – tomorrow. Here’s another quotation: ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’ – today’s problems are enough for today!

The essay crisis

A rite of passage. Everyone has at least one. Supervisors will be understanding, provided it doesn’t become a way of life. Don’t let a backlog of set work build up, supposing you can catch up in the vacation. You’ll have consolidation to do then. Do a decent job on the essay, but don't spend ages trying to go for total perfection. There is a ‘law of diminishing returns’ that anyone tempted to spend their resources on a high-end lap-top computer should be well aware of.

But I’ve got to – train, row, rehearse, go home/Oxford/London, make up, break up etc

Yes – life has to be lived. But work is part of life. Plan and prioritise. Sometimes unexpected urgencies have to be coped with, and people will understand. But try to plan your commitments – keep a diary / appointment book (and don’t lose it!).

It was only 5 pints…

The statistics on ‘substance misuse’ by Doctors are alarming – especially if you are a patient. Don’t start young to form a pattern that you can’t get out of. In particular, beware of binges!

Learning and Understanding

Do I need to know this?

It is very common for beginning students to ask ‘do I need to know this?’ - after a lecture that may seem to have delivered a term’s worth of ‘A’ level in 50 minutes. You shouldn’t see lectures and practicals as giving a list of items that have to be ‘learnt’ in the sense of memorised in totality. Often lecturers will include topical examples of general principles, or mention a recent discovery that’s just been published – this is not for you to ‘learn’, but to excite your interest and transfer their enthusiasm to you.

Your first priority should be to concentrate on ‘understanding’, on building a mental framework that you can tie ‘facts’ to. That will help you prioritise what you really do need to know well, as part of the vocabulary of the subject – whatever it may be. After a while you’ll find that ‘facts’ stick to the framework without conscious effort on your part to ‘learn’ them.

Lots of stuff will be useful in many contexts. It’s much easier if you can relate new material to a framework of understanding. Tie information and understanding together.

It’s not like ‘A’ level!

Nor should it be! ‘A’ level is an important step towards higher education, not a final parking place for the mind.

Is there a syllabus?

More an agenda – not all of whose items have equal weight. We have included the ‘Aims and Objectives’ of the course in this handbook, but not as a tick list of factlets.

How do I know that I know?

Try it out. Talk to each other. Imagine explaining signalling or genes to your relations. Write down six important things about DNA (or whatever) on the back of an envelope, and then check them. Ask your supervisors. Be alert to feedback from supervision written work.

There’s too much to learn!

If it seems like that, assess your priorities. Understanding is the thing! Try to communicate your understanding to others. Nothing like having to teach something to get you to understand it: students ask very sharp questions!


Lift your eyes to them from time to time. What would you like to do in your third year? As you move through the course, you’ll become more intellectually self reliant and an image of what sort of Vet or Doctor you want to be will gradually come into sharper focus.

Fear of calculations

Sometimes encountered! It’s seldom difficult, for example, to convert raw data into a useful format. But there may be many steps to perform. Be clear about what you have to do, and why. Understand the algorithm (look it up - it’s not a typo for logarithm!). Make sure that you keep track of the units that you are using (see Appendix 1 in your handbook), that you don’t confuse amount with concentration, and can deal with dilution from stock solutions into mixtures. Practice helps of course, as do the yellow sheets. Seek particular and timely help from your supervisor if you have problems with numeracy and calculations. It’s very important for clinicians to be numerate. You don’t want to prescribe or administer a therapy with incorrect doses (drugs, radiotherapy etc.).