Neuroscience: tips for studying and revising, by Dr Isabella Vainieri

Neuroscience: tips for studying and revising, by Dr Isabella Vainieri

Neuroscience is undoubtedly one of the most challenging topics for psychology students. One of the reasons is that it includes concepts derived from various disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. Furthermore, the brain is the most complex and sophisticated organ in our body as it does not only keep us alive, but it is also responsible for receiving, transmitting, and processing information, and, ultimately, shaping our behaviour, cognition, and perception. Given the complexity of the subject, experiencing challenges while studying and revising Neuroscience concepts is completely normal. 

Despite its complexity, Neuroscience is a fascinating and rewarding field of study with numerous applications for psychology. For example, through neuroscience research, we can understand the underlying biological basis of neurological and psychiatric disorders (e.g. the role of serotine in depression), develop new treatments (e.g. drugs, brain stimulation etc.), as well as unlock the secrets of the human mind and develop technology to enhance brain function.  

In this post, I have collected some suggestions and tips on how to study neuroscience and, ultimately, make your learning experience more enjoyable.   


Start from the first lecture

With Neuroscience, concepts are introduced gradually and will follow logically one after the other, do not attempt to study Lecture 4 if you have not fully understood Lecture 3. 

First understand then memorise

Understand the concepts before attempting memorisation. For example, do not try to just memorise the action potential but try to understand what is happening first and why we have all those ups and downs of depolarization and hyperpolarization. If you understand concepts, it is then easier to remember and memorise them.  


Divide each topic into smaller chunks, this will allow your brain to concentrate into smaller sections of information allowing better comprehension and memorisation. You will feel less overwhelmed! Try to understand and memorise concepts for each chunk rather than try to memorise the whole lecture at once.  For example, the topic of neurotransmission can be divided into four chunks: electrical synapses, chemical synapses, neurotransmitters, and neuromodulatory systems. Start with learning about electrical synapses, then, when you feel you have understood the topic, move to the next chunk and so on.   

Research for foreign or difficult words

If you are unsure about the meaning of a word e.g., because it comes from Latin or because you have never encountered it before, don’t ignore it! Try instead to find the meaning of the word in the dictionary or neuroscience glossary online. Sometimes concepts can be hard to understand because of language issues that can be easily resolved with a quick search.  

Focus on definitions

Try to approach the subject as if you were learning a new language. Write down the definitions of new terms and test yourself, e.g., by using flashcards. To memorize difficult words, try to break the word into its smaller parts and understand the meaning of each of the parts. For example, the word Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) can be broken into Adreno-CorticoTropic Hormone. This hormone stimulates a gland in the Adrenal Cortex (Adreno Cortico) and it is a Tropic Hormone (a hormone that stimulates other glands). Try also writing the words (by hand) a few times to memorise them.  

Try Drawing

Take out some blank paper and try to draw the things you are learning about (e.g., draw a chemical synapse). Even if you are not good at drawing those are your notes no one will see them! Label everything and explain the concepts to yourself as you go along. Peek at your notes when you have to but keep repeating the process until you don’t have to peek anymore.  

Test yourself using the exam format

For example, if the exam format is short answer questions (SAQs), you can try to create some SAQs on the key topics discussed so that you can try and respond on your own. You can also work in pairs or exchange questions with other students and practice.  

Use the spaced repetition strategy  

Try to space out your study. Regularly reviewing materials over a longer period of time allows for better memorisation. Also, the more you get exposed to key concepts (e.g., by attending lectures, doing readings, revising, etc.) the more you will understand them.  

I hope these suggestions will make your study more enjoyable and effective. Please remember that everyone learns differently so it is important to find out what works best for you!