Improving your exam score
I put together the following suggestions in response to student questions after some low exam scores. You should also review my general suggestions for how to succeed in this course.
1) Take the "preliminary exam" seriously. Students in this course have traditionally done poorly on the first midterm, sometimes because they are not accustomed to the types of questions asked. The preliminary exam is a low-cost (but not low effort) way to familiarize yourself with the exam style and the kinds of answers I am looking for.
2) Do not leave studying until the end! It is much easier to synthesize information if you study and learn information for a particular group before being presented new and contrasting information about the next group. Otherwise the information quickly begins to blur.
3) Pay close attention to major themes that I develop and return to regularly. For example, I regularly mention: the materials that different animals use to gain structural support; the relationship between body size and surface area-dependent processes (like respiration); the use of muscles or cilia for different kinds of body movement or water movement; in what pattern growth is accomplished; how different organ systems are coordinated in their function; why different structures may be used by different groups for the same function; how cilia are recruited to achieve different kinds of processes; which processes rely on fluids being placed under some kind of pressure, etc.
4) Study in groups. Quiz each other as you read through notes and try to contrast the answers you give about one group with what you know to be different about other groups. Brainstorm to come up with your own questions that help to draw the information together.
5) Know the taxonomy up to the level given at the top of the handouts, and learn the major characteristics that distinguish major taxa. More importantly, view traits according to the history of when and where they appeared--think about phylogenetic patterns that would explain why some groups have certain traits while others do not.
6) Know the important terminology. It is difficult to talk through the wealth of information and compare animal body designs without knowing the terminology.
6) Be able to explain concepts, research results, and illustrations from the lecture notes in your own words. This will test whether you understand the material or are simply familiar with material that has been given to you. You may be asked to apply your understanding to a new set of information rather than to simply restate what you've been told.
7) Use the textbook as a reference to gain a better understanding of concepts or structures that were mentioned in lecture but that did not receive adequate time.