How to Study for Science Classes

Previous students have found the following ideas useful.  These suggestions are based on research into the habits of "successful" students.  Many of the suggested techniques apply to courses outside of the sciences as well.

I. Sciences are hierarchical (each chapter depends on many of the previous chapters).  It will be easier if you don't get behind.  

A. Read chapters before they are lectured on, then you will have seen all the special vocabulary making it much easier to take notes.

B. Take notes while reading as well as in lecture.

C. Reread the chapter after lecture, preferably the same day. This can help you avoid having to cram come exam time.

D. Review your notes after lecture (same day), making annotations, corrections and lists of questions for the instructor..

E. DO ALL THE HOMEWORK a little bit at a time plus extra problems of the types you find difficult. If necessary, try to make up extra problems, e.g. turn around a problem you've done and solve for something else.  Practice really is important, just as in athletics.

F. For each college class successful students allot 2.5-3 hours outside of class for every hour (credit) spent in class. This time is evenly spread throughout the week.  For 3 hours of lecture, 1 hour of discussion and a lab this is 12-15 hours per week studying. Typical studying schedules with three lectures each week are 2-2.5 hours the day of lecture and 1.5-2 hours every other day of the week.

II. You will find science courses quite similar to taking a foreign language.

A. Vocabulary items: names of materials (elements, compounds); familiar English words which have special meanings in the context of the particular branch of science; specialized equipment; concepts and processes.  Make vocabulary lists. Some sources are: in text section headings, boldfaced words; italicized words; and the summary/review information found at the beginning and end of the chapters in most texts.

B. Grammar = logic and math.
1) Logic: you should be looking for similarities (categories) you can use to organize the information and interconnections between different concepts. (e.g. categories of matter).

2) Math: you will be using math to construct models of the world and make predictions and deductions about the world.

a) Most science classes have specific math prerequisites.  I strongly recommend that you do not take classes for which you do not meet the math prerequisites.
1. Introductory college level science classes usually require some algebra, but mostly you need to develop problem solving skills, which come with practice.
2. More advanced classes often require some statistics or calculus as well.

b) When practicing applications of math remember there is not one correct way to approach a problem.  Many techniques will get you to the same solution.  Practice will help you develop the most efficient technique for you.

C. If you do not practice speaking a foreign language you will not learn it or will forget it.  Likewise REGULAR PRACTICE is the best way to master the material covered in science classes.

III. Quizzes and homework should be treated as indicators of what you must master.

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Last updated:  February 2, 2004
Expires: When I next update it...