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How to Succeed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Classes!

September 12, 2017
 Over the course of my college experience, I’ve found that science and math classes are the most difficult to study for and excel in. Maybe it’s just me, but these classes tend to forgo general textbook information and definitions and ask you for much more than information regurgitation, and that can be seriously frightening.

However, due to the unfair amount of courses I’ve had to take in these technical fields, I think I’ve gained some pretty useful knowledge in how to navigate these classes. I find that these classes are a different breed, but when approached properly, are more than possible to excel in!

1. Prioritize examples & questions when taking notes (+ make sure you go to class!)

Yes, this goes for every kind of class – it’s no secret that class periods exist for a reason, and the time spent doodling or watching Grey’s Anatomy (guilty!!) is more often than not time wasted when your prof is spilling some serious knowledge.
However, taking good notes in these classes does not always involve copying definitions – most of the time it requires a lot of example work. As working through problems is probably important in doing well on your exams, it’s important to work out every single example problem that your professor goes through. Even if it takes you a little bit longer or you have to save it for later, this makes for amazing study material later down the road.
Examples are literal study gold because they not only enable you to look back at your work and look for gaps in your knowledge, but also serve as a jumping off point for doing your homework.
Additionally, for those classes where practice problems aren’t as large of an emphasis, pay attention to the kinds of questions that your professor asks you. If it is something he/she wants to emphasize, most of the time your prof will test your knowledge on it first before diving deeper into the important stuff. Therefore, listen carefully when your professor asks you a question – you’ll never know where it might pop up next!

2. Do your homework!

Okay, well this might go without saying, but it’s crazy how often people don’t do their math homework! Sure, problems can be extremely tedious and complicated, but there are only so many types of problems that exist within your subject – do you catch my drift?

Whether it is in mechanics or in chemistry, there are typically a set of standard problems that are used to test your skills (i.e. physics always has that “ball falling from the sky”, and you’ll always have to balance chemical equations), and most of these problems will come out of your homework questions or the practice problems your professor assigns.

During one of my signal processing study sessions – that class is the worst!!

 

Therefore, it’s probably in your best interest to complete every practice problem that you can, especially before an exam. Plus, doing the problems makes it easier for you to identify questions to ask your professor during office hours. Speaking of which…

3. Go to your professor’s office hours/tutorials/recitation

I used to hate going to recitations, especially in the mornings, and my professors always scared me so I steered clear of office hours. Little did I know that I was missing out on valuable information and quality time with my professors, which would have helped me do much much better on my exams.
Last semester, I was taking a difficult mechanics course, and instead of going to just my friends to study, I went to my professor. She helped me figure out better ways to understand the concepts surrounding the course, and I ended up getting an A as a final grade. It’s always good to establish a strong connection with your professor – it shows that you really care about the class, and it honestly could be what separates you from an A and a B.

4. Don’t take the theory for granted.

When I first started in these courses, I thought that the most efficient way to handle things was to simply memorize how to complete the problems. This mindset, though effective initially, proved to be insufficient for my college classes (big surprise, huh?) – a lot of these courses at higher levels expect you to apply your knowledge to problems that aren’t seen every day, and this requires you to understand the concepts behind the math.
Before moving on from a study topic, make sure you really understand the concept behind the topic – why can the particle move from A to B? What is making the program react to that command with an error? It seems a little tedious at first, but it’s important when your professor throws that question at you from left field and you have to back up your answer with accurate detail.
Plus, actually understanding a concept vs. memorizing has proven to me to be a more effective way of remembering the content!!! This is because even if you forget the exact steps of a problem, if you understand what each component means you can figure out what your next steps will be without having to memorize anything.

5. Review, review, review.

I’ll admit it – I am guilty of being a late-night crammer. The premise of cramming is alluring, but I promise you it does not feel nearly as good as being prepared days before your exam. Not only do you lose precious sleep time needed to keep your brain functioning, but it’s absolutely no fun at all.
That’s why I highly suggest going over your notes at the end of the day, or even starting your homework as soon as you get out of class. Constant exposure to the material will make you much more comfortable with it, and it eliminates the need to stay up until your 8:30am class to study for your Calculus III exam (guilty as charged…).
This is also a great way to ensure that you have adequate time to get all of your questions answered – professors appreciate a prepared student, and are more willing to help you if you are studying in advance as opposed to asking a million questions the day before the exam.

Final Thoughts

More than all of these tips, it is the most important to identify the study habits and practices that work best for you – do you like to study with a group of people? Do you prefer studying alone? What method do you use for taking your notes?
The answers to these questions are imperative to identifying your study system, and it will help you to really succeed in all of your courses. I hope these tips helped you, and I know you’ll ace that class!

What is your favorite study method for STEM classes? Do you have any tips on conquering classes such as that? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • I love this post, Katrina! In my STEM classes, I find that doing example problems helps a lot. Going to office hours is also very helpful if you’re stuck on a certain concept.
    -Aly (welcometoalysworld.com)

    • Thanks so much for reading, Aly!!

  • I always write down all the examples in class, so when I’m doing homework I have something to base it off of if I get stuck!

    • Yes, that’s what I do too!! It’s super helpful because the homework tends to mimic my lectures a lot depending on the class!