Study Skills Again

I’m getting a little obsessed with strategy as it relates to study skills. I don’t want to waste my time. I was talking to my boyfriend last night, and he said he would help me do flashcards. A sweet thought, but I explained to him how I was struggling to figure out exactly the best way to “grab” all this information and store it in my head. There are some concepts where flashcards won’t do.

So I decided to search again and compile everything I could find that concerns studying for non-technical science exams.

I got this from Dartmouth College’s website, which has a word doc on how to study for the sciences:

III. Test Preparation

A. Condense the material.

1. Make flash cards over your notes.

2. Write out answers to your cards.

B. Reading should be supplementary.

1. Use the reading to supplement all concepts covered in class.

2. Know all the figures that relate to the lecture.

C. Apply the material.

1. As you study, think of applications of the material.

2. Use old exams as guides to applying the material.

This seems a little scant to me. I’m definitely not a fan of B.1. because I think class lectures ought to be supplementary to the reading, rather than the reading being supplementary to class lectures. I think my biggest mistake in college (I got great grades, but in terms of really learning) was not relying on reading to supplement the lectures. I was mainly interested in figuring out what was on exams. Science is very different than learning economics. Studying for a standardized exam is very different — you have to be really thorough about the material. So, therefore, I don’t believe in relying on professors to learn everything. That’s really unrealistic. I’m not sure I would have done as well blind answering review questions on the PCAT quiz in the early part of the Kaplan book if I hadn’t essentially taught myself biology and A&P because I was taking/am taking courses online.

Though I’m not going to take one aspect of Dartmouth’s approach as gospel, I do like that they have a page for students to hone their study skills. I like these (haven’t yet reviewed) in particular:

worksheets provide specific strategies for staying motivated, improving your memory and active review.

I’m going to pay particular attention to looking carefully at the suggestions they have for “How to Retain Information” and “Ways to Increase Memory.” The only way I can do that now is cold reading the material over and over again. It’s not time efficient, but maybe it’s not meant to be.

A ton of universities have tips on improving study skills freely available on their websites. I hope this doesn’t change. Before I started taking biology 101 last summer, I did a few google searches to figure out how people studied for science exams. I was terrified about how I would do (especially in a self-taught, online environment).

I’d found this page from Cornell University’s Learning Strategies Center that really helped me understand that my previous attempts during course shopping periods to take on biology weren’t successful because my whole approach to studying non-technical science was wrong. I was trying to read my bio text like it was a novel or a math book. Cornell has study guides for biology, chemistry, and physics available on its site.

It’s a really good time to be a student, frankly, particularly because there are so many (free) resources on the internet. If you have the desire, you can do it and do it well.

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