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Anatomy and Physiology is a life science event that tests your understanding of the human body. This event will require you to know the anatomy of different structures in your body, but also how these structures work together physiologically to keep our systems running in unison. This year's focus is on the cardiovascular, lymphatic, and excretory systems. In the end, I hope this event leaves you in awe of the human body and at the same time realize how much we don't actually understand about it yet, ultimately motivating you to be the person to make those future discoveries.

How to study for the exam - Preparation

Let me just start this off with: MEMORIZATION IS NOT THE KEY. Whoever told you that biology is just a bunch of memorization is straight up WRONG. Studying for this event is like studying for any other event: to excel during the test, you will need to make connections and understand the deeper concepts. That said, Anatomy and Physiology is also infamous for covering an immense amount of information that can be really scary to navigate at first. I'll split this section into 3 parts: 1) General advice about studying for the event, 2) Specific topics to pay attention to within each system, and 3) Cheat sheet advice.

1) General advice about studying for the event

  • Start with the anatomy, then physiology, then diseases: you need to know the parts before you can understand how they work together before you can understand what can go wrong in the relationship
  • Splitting topics with your partner: I would not recommend COMPLETELY splitting the topics with a partner, as in if your partner needed help with his/her section during the test you'd be useless. However, I do recommend picking one or two systems to really study in depth while both partners have a general understanding of all 3 systems. At the least you should be able to decipher your partner's section on the cheat sheet.
  • Identifying anatomical structures: Be sure that you're not only able to identify anatomical parts in a cartoon image, but also what it looks like in real life too! Structures can look surprisingly different in cartoons and in real pictures, so don't be caught in that position on the test!
  • Diseases: Diseases are important! Although you are not required to know the treatment and prevention for the disease until Nationals, knowing other in-depth information about the diseases in each system listed on the rules is important. Event supervisors like writing questions about clinical cases, so don't lose points on those questions just because you were too busy study the anatomy to care about diseases!

2) Specific topics to pay attention to within each system: These are just things that I would keep in mind when studying each system; the official list of topics are in rules. Nonetheless, remember: don't limit yourself to what is said on the rules or in my advice. Use the topics only as a guide. If something seems like an important topic but isn't included in the rules, I would still learn about it!

  • Cardiovascular
    • Remember that blood is closely related to lungs and the respiratory system; while the system is not being tested this year, knowing the basics of how respiration works will probably be very useful.
    • Have a in-depth understanding electrochemistry/EKGs. Proctors love real life applications and case studies, so make sure you not only know how to read an EKG but also understand exactly what it tells you about the electric signals in the heart and how those electric signals work.
  • Lymphatic
    • Similar to the cardiovascular system's close relationship with the respiratory system, the lymphatic system works closely with the immune system. Again, technically the proctors will not test specifics on the immune system, but knowing the basics will definitely not hurt.
  • Excretory
    • The kidney is not the only organ in the excretory system! Many people get caught up in the kidney and the nephrons and filtration, but don't forget about the other very important components of the system, because they will definitely also be tested on.
    • On the topic of kidneys, when do you study this topic, it is very important not only to know the different parts of the kidney, but also understand the role that each part plays in the filtration process. This also includes the different hormones and ions that are at play. Physiology is just as important as anatomy.

3) Cheat sheet advice

  • This goes back to memorization point: don't try to cram everything on one sheet. If you can't read it during the test, it's not going to be useful. By the time of the competition, you should have a deep understanding of the processes so that your cheat sheet will only include necessary names and details.

What to expect during the test - During the competition

Competition day can be stressful. But technically, this should be the easy part: you've already learned all the information, now you just have to apply it. Here are a couple of pieces of advice for the big day:

  1. The first thing you should do during any test is quickly analyze how long the test looks. This will help you better pace yourself. Keep in mind: just because the questions are multiple choice doesn't mean it won't take a lot of time!
  2. Always split the test with your partner. If the test is short and you have extra time, check through each other's problems, but initially splitting the test usually is the most efficient use of time.
  3. Don't freak out if the question isn't in a format you're familiar with or doesn't directly ask you what you learn - ANALYZE, DON'T REGURGITATE. Apply your knowledge and understanding to the question, and worst comes to worst you can get partial credit :)

Some helpful resources

While you can learn a lot of biology off of Wikipedia, I would always recommend using textbooks to study for this event. Below I've listed a couple of textbooks that I've found useful is studying:

  • Campbell Biology: This is always a good textbook to start with. Though it doesn't have very high leveled information, it's great for getting a general overview of each system. This textbook is not available online however, but honestly any high school biology textbook will be a good place to get the basics.
  • Anatomy and Physiology by Openstax: I found this textbook to be a really nice medium between the basic high school biology textbook and the more advance specialized anatomy and physiology textbooks. It does have more complex and focused information, but presented in a way that is not overwhelming. You can download a pdf for free online.
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology by Elaine Marieb: This textbook is more advanced and will give very in-depth information about the systems. You can download a pdf for free online.
  • Holes Human Anatomy and Physiology: This is also a higher leveled textbook that goes pretty in depth in each of the systems. This textbook is particularly good for studying physiology and diseases. You can download a pdf for free online.

That being said, websites are sometimes helpful in looking up a specific process or clarifying a certain point. provides a list of internet resources for this event this year, which I've linked here. I haven't looked at any of these links so I can't vouch for how useful they are, but more resources are better than none!

About the author

Evelyn Zhang is an undergraduate at Stanford University, majoring in Human Biology. She is a national champion in Disease Detectives.

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