-I wouldn’t follow this advice, its just random ideas that worked for me in the past, alot of em don’t work anymore. I’m making a new post about advice in school.
The general rule for every class is simply to listen to your teacher. Don’t shortcut their methods and listen to the advice they give you. Do the homework and reading they recommend to you, and most importantly, do it on time. At the end of the day, they aren’t trying to take you down because they hate you, as sometimes it would seem, they’re trying to take you down to challenge you to achieve your full potential.
To rise up to this challenge, I modified and polished up my studying techniques. Every class I took in college taught me something different. I’m going to share with you all of what I learned. Now the advice I give primarily applies to Biology related majors, specifically something related to Molecular Biology, but try to think how this would apply to you.
I’m going to skim over the basics:
1. Always Attend Class
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not attending class. You might be dead tired, wanting to sleep in, hung over like your head is going to explode. You should man it out and go to class. As you hear things in class for the first time, whether you understand them or not, they will register in your head as things the professor said. When you go back and study the material, these random details will pop into your head and you’ll be thanking yourself for going to class. You’ll find it much easier to understand material the second time around, however half-ass the first time around was.
2. Make an attempt to listen
As I said, whether you understand the material or not, keywords and phrases will register in your mind, and you’ll know later on that the professor mentioned it and so you should probably know it. Random phrases the professor says will pop into your mind as you study for your midterm as well. If you can understand the entire lecture on the spot, then it will probably cut the studying time outside of class in half, and it will make it so much less stressful.
3. Take Proper Notes
Write down everything on the board, anything the teacher says, and anything you’re thinking. Don’t rely on others for notes. You’ll find that most people don’t take good notes, and even if they do, it’s hard to decipher other people’s notes sometimes. If you write it down yourself, you’re far more likely to remember what you’re writing, and you’ll have an easier time understanding the material.
Its important to build a note taking strategy that you are efficient with. I have found that the best note taking strategy for me is to be organized and color coded. By organized I mean, I write the date and lecture number before every lecture, I begin a new lecture on the right side of my notebook, and I take notes neatly leaving alot of space in my notebook. Don’t squeeze things. The teacher might look to make a small diagram and it might turn into a 2 page drawing, you never know. If you think you’ll run out of paper in your notebook, don’t worry about it, you can just get another notebook and call it Part 2. I also color code all my notes with 4 colors. I will have black, blue, red, and green pens ready to go. Usually black is what the teacher writes on the board, blue is what the teacher explains, green is notes to myself, and red is if the teacher specifically says something is important.
Ok, all that is pretty obvious stuff, now these are the things that helped me in some class:
Most teachers will podcast, I recommend going back every weekend and listening to the podcast, while taking notes in your notebook. I usually write these extra notes in pencil. I’ll usually write down all the details that the teacher explains that seem to be common sense on the spot, but end up being difficult and important. Always make time to podcast, you’ll find listening to it the second time around makes it stick in your mind like glue. Many of my fellow pre-med students do this as well. These are the guys that set the class curves and take all the A+’s and A’s away from everyone else. I recommend speeding up the podcasts, which you can do on Windows Media Player. Depending on how fast the professor speaks, you can speed it up anywhere from 1.5x to 2x the speed. I began to do this in my upper divison classes mostly, where reading the book was less important than listening to the teacher.
This seems like common sense too, but you’ll be surprised by how little people use the internet as a resource. Sometimes common words are not always what they seem. A really simple example is lets say your professor is talking about ADH and suddenly starts calling it Vasopressin, a word you’ve never heard before. If you wikipedia it, you’d know that they are the same thing. In one molecular biology class, I was literally using Wikipedia to look up every protein name. So when the teacher throws out a bunch of CDCs, CDKs, Cyclins, with random numbers associated, what seems like complete gibberish and confusion, can be broken down and organized simply by wikipedia. Out of all the times I’ve used wiki, it’s been inaccurate on my a few times, usually only because it cites certain evidence that our professor overrules with the latest research, usually because he does the research. You can’t really complain about that. I use this in mostly upper division classes where some of the nomeclature gets very complicated, but I wish I had used it throughout college in all of my classes.
6. No Study Groups, Yet
I’ve learned that its best to study everything on your own. If you don’t understand something, power through it, do research, go to office hours, and figure it out. When you feel like you are done with all of the material, then join a study group and try to help others. If you can teach the information you self, it proves you really understand it, meaning you’ll probably ace the test.
7. Go to Office Hours on Off Days
I have been on both sides of the table in office hours, as a student and as a TA. I can tell you this, from a TAs perspective, we wait there every day for students to come and ask questions so we can help you. We want to be good TAs and we want the students who actually come to us to do well. This means, if a student comes in and asks me a simple question, I’ll give him not only the answer, but I’ll explain the reasoning behind it better than the professor. Not only that but since I have most likely taken that class before, and TA’d it before, I know what type of questions are likely to appear on the test. We usually sit there bored for most of the days, until about a week before a midterm, then students rush in for practice test answers. At this point theres so many kids that its hard to give any single student full attention, but rather I have to give quick and concise answers to keep everything moving. So go to office hours on the first week of class, go on random days, go after the midterm.
8. Do All Homework and Practice Tests
This is the best indication of what information the teacher wants you to know and in how much depth. Theres many angles you can take at certain material, some teachers simply test for memorization, others tests critical thinking, and some take critical thinking a couple steps more and ask you to do some serious problem solving where you really need to know the information. Homework and Practice Tests get you in that critical thinking mindset that is necessary to do well on test day. Getting as many of these angles down is key to developing your critical thinking.
9. Study to Learn, Not to Pass Tests
This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give. It’s all about understanding the material. If you study to pass tests, you’re limiting yourself on test day. Teachers will always put curveball questions on tests to create a standard distribution. With proper understanding, you can take these questions down with ease. If you only studied to pass the test, these questions might be beyond your scope, leaving you complaining like most other students that it was unfair. At the end of the day, your complaints are probably useless. Beat the system at its own game, instead of trying to take the system down, because thats impossible. Plus this is your major, you should probably find it interesting.
10. Study Early
Start studying on day 1. There is always something to study. You can read ahead, read wiki, read extra, whatever it may be. Start as strong as you can. In the first 2 weeks of school, study every hour you can during the day. You might be the only fool in the library on the first day, but you’ll be laughing once test day comes around. The average student will probably be playing video games, sleeping in, watching TV. Doing something productive during this day time will give you lee-way to free up your nights, as well as your weekend, and nights and weekends are the best social times. This way you can manage having a life and doing well in school, something thats becoming rare, especially with tougher majors.
11. Manage Your Supplements Wisely
Coffee, Soda, Energy Drinks, Adderall. All of these can help you stay awake and focus while you study. I can tell you this from personal experience, this is a slippery downhill road. Once you start coffee, you’ll become dependent. Eventually you’re going to need to increase your caffeine intake as your tolerance increases. This might lead you to energy drinks, and this might eventually lead you to adderall. Now most important here is your health, so I don’t recommend any of these. Energy drinks are notoriously bad for you, I would stay away completely. But the day will come when you ended up slacking and become piled up in work, and need to pull an all-nighter. At this point, coffee and energy drinks are your friends. I would highly recommend going with the sugar free ones or black coffee. In my opinion, energy drinks from weakest to strongest are, Sobe Energy, Red Bull, Monster, Amp, Rockstar. My personal favorite is Rockstar Blue. Now if you’re in a worst case scenario situation, and its the day before your final and you don’t even know what your class is called yet, then you might want to consider Adderall. I will make another post later detailing how I would use it, and exactly how it effects you. But this is the easiest to become dependent on. Tolerance builds surprisingly fast. Most important with all of this stuff is, drink alot of water with it. For however much coffee or monster you drink, I would recommend drinking 3-4 times that much in water throughout the night. You’ll be pissing every half an hour, but it will keep your body from turning into a raisin.12. Its All About Your Mindset
College is about thinking outside the box, this is what your teachers are going to try to get you to do, its what you should do on your own if you want to reach your fullest potential. Your mindset while studying is one of the most important things. Approach the material with an open mind, map things out in your mind or on paper, and how they connect with each other. Always ask WHY, and make sense of everything you learn in a real life perspective. In Medical school, sometimes teachers will take the first lecture just to talk about this, because really, your Mindset will determine everything. So for example, A causes B, C causes D, now upon further research you realize B = D, now A causes D and C causes B, etc. And beyond that, why and how does A cause B? Etc. The connections might be different but you get my point. This is the path to truly understanding the material and having it stick with you forever, instead of it fading away after a year.
If all of this stuff seems obvious to you, at least understand why it is obvious, and understand why it is not as easy as it seems. That is the point I am going for in this article. Not doing well in school is one of the most stressful things for a college student. You will find that putting in the work to do well in school and not being lazy will pay off big.