I have been tutoring a student in a General Biology course over the last few days and I've been thinking about how our Biology Lab tests are set up. I think that very few people would argue that no test is perfect and making a test that can actually measure how much you've learned is incredibly hard; but there are a few things that I think need to change. First and foremost is that memorizing the names of individual species seems like a waste of time. I know there are a lot of professors that would disagree, but we have to remember; in "General Biology," we are teaching to "Non-Majors." Forcing them to memorize a species name will do them no good, they will only forget it a day after the test. Instead, we should use individual species that display the common characteristics of the group to which they belong. This way you can use the specimens you have, and the student may actually remember something about a general group of organisms.
This is how I started teaching this student. He had a hard time with the species names, so we made up some easy rhymes and alliteration to help him remember based on the characteristics, and by the end of the hour, he was recalling almost everything we had gone over. I was very impressed with this student and have full confidence that he will do fine on his upcoming Lab Final.
This experience has also helped me as a teacher. By organizing each group of organisms into an easy to read tree, it becomes so much easier to learn. So as a recommendation to all you Bio students out there, if you ever need to learn a whole Phylum broken down to Genus and Species, lay it out on a few tables and scratch in those hints and tips to help you remember which is which. Maybe some hand drawn pictures will help if you are a visual learner. And once you've written out your tree, start reading them out loud. "Phylum Chordata is broken down into Cephalochordates and Urochordates". Believe me, it will help.
Well, that's enough on this rant. Good luck on all your exams, and Happy Studies!