How can I study for my science classes? I'm trying really hard to figure out how to do well

May 19, 2014
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I really screwed up undergrad and graduated with a sub-3.0 GPA. The thing is I don't understand WHY I did so poorly.

I refuse to believe I'm completely stupid. And I am definitely not lazy. I put in a LOT of time studying but when I take exams I just don't do well on them.

Does anyone have any tips for science classes? I get everyone learns differently but I appreciate any ideas. I'll try anything.

Studying in groups never helps me, so I know that won't work. I like writing things out from my textbooks when I'm reading, but it is VERY time consuming.

I review my slides thoroughly and the notes that I've taken on them, often writing things out. But this is extraordinarily time consuming and doesn't seem to be helping all that much- if it were my grades would have been better.

I start studying decently early before an exam, about a week or so. But what I've seen is that I cover the early material in extreme detail and have to cram towards the end because I never get through it all. I've tried starting earlier but the same thing happens really.

My undergrad professors weren't that helpful honestly. I never got much useful feedback to help my studying.

I study for around 8-10 hours a day. I put the time in but I don't get results.

Does anyone have any ideas for things I can try to help me study well and also efficiently?
 
May 19, 2014
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I'll do the readings from the textbook and pay attention and take proper notes in class. I'll begin reviewing everything on an exam roughly a week before we have the exam. I'm not sure what else I should do to do well..
 

desdes

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I always took notes and looked for supplements have you looked at khan academy or chads videos?
 
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Khan academy yes. I use the videos for concepts I have a really hard time with. I remember using it for the Loop of Henle
 

doyouhaveaflag

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Sorry to hear that studying 8-10 hours a day is not getting you the results you want! I don't know which science classes you are studying now, but I will say that once I got to med school, I had to completely change the way I study. Just going over notes didn't cut it anymore. For things that are pretty much rote memorization, I've started making flashcards to cram stuff in my brain. For things that are more conceptual, I've been trying to come up with questions I think the prof might ask for a particular topic and make flashcards with those questions. So far, it has worked well.

In addition, I think the thing that has helped me understand the material the most is doing practice problems. Almost all science textbooks have practice problems and I find them to be extremely useful in helping me integrate concepts. When I get one wrong, I make sure I try to understand their reasoning of why another answer is correct. If you're not already doing that, you might try it. Hope that helps!
 
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Hmm I could try that. I haven't really done much stuff from the book.

How do you study now that you're in medical school, if you don't mind me asking?

I'm studying for upper level science classes like physiology and cellular biology, biochemistry, genetics, etc.
 

QofQuimica

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Three thoughts:

1. Studying a week in advance for a test isn't "early." You should be studying a little almost every day for the entire semester rather than trying to cram for a week before tests.

2. Start slow. You're not ready for 12 credit hours. Take one class to start, and work on doing well in it. As you develop better study skills, you'll be able to increase your load.

3. If your math skills aren't good, consider taking college algebra/trig prior to taking any physical science classes.
 
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doyouhaveaflag

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Hmm I could try that. I haven't really done much stuff from the book.

How do you study now that you're in medical school, if you don't mind me asking?

I'm studying for upper level science classes like physiology and cellular biology, biochemistry, genetics, etc.
Sorry, I should clarify - what I put above is how I study in med school. In addition to what I already mentioned, I use BRS (board review series) books for practice questions and Firecracker, which are kinda like online flashcards that are technically for board prep but I find them useful for my classes. I do about 5-6 hours a day unless that day's lecture was particularly beastly. I try not to do more than 8 though. That's a good way to burn out. I hate to admit it, but I kinda didn't study in undergrad. I did maybe an all-nighter the night before an exam. I can't recommend that :)

All those topics you mentioned should have practice questions in your books. Try them out, I think it may help.
 

doyouhaveaflag

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Three thoughts:

1. Studying a week in advance for a test isn't "early." You should be studying a little almost every day for the entire semester rather than trying to cram for a week before tests.

2. Start slow. You're not ready for 12 credit hours. Take one class to start, and work on doing well in it. As you develop better study skills, you'll be able to increase your load.

3. If your math skills aren't good, consider taking college algebra/trig prior to taking any physical science classes.
I agree with QofQuimica on point #2. Start slowly and make sure you do well. If you don't ace your post-bacc classes, it will be counter-productive. Get your feet wet first and find a study method that works for you before diving in. Taking an extra year to do it is much better than not doing well in my opinion.
 
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A person tends to remember things studied last better than things studied first and in the middle of a study session (I hope that made sense). When you prepare for a class, read through what is to be discussed that same day. After your course is finished for the day, review what you learned. If you are studying things in the same order, mix it up. Don't ALWAYS study Class A first, B Second, and C last. Also, don't always study the same chapters in order. Mix up the courses you tackle and the chapters you review. Like QofQumica said, you're supposed to study the material every day so that it is still fresh enough to understand what you're studying rather than having to re-learn it and THEN practice it.
This is the way I study. I hope it works for you.
 
May 19, 2014
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I don't cram a week before a test. I do pay attention in class and take notes and do the reading afterwards to help it set in. I do those things as the semester goes on.

By saying that I begin "studying" a week before a test I mean that's when I start going over all of the material that will be on an exam. I don't read the book again but I'll begin reviewing my lectures and the notes I've taken on them.

It's not like I just go to class and do nothing at all up until test week lol. Then it would be obvious why I don't do well.

How do you guys recommend I study the material every day then? Is my going to class and taking notes and reading the book thoroughly with notes not good? It's clearly not what is getting me a good grade so something is wrong here but I'm not sure what to add to my routine really.
 
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KaBoom'd

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I'm surprised no one has mentioned Anki. I'm relatively new to this, both Anki and a full time class load. I'm a non-trad (mil, still active duty) and I'm taking Bio, Chem, and Physics with labs at the local state university. I'm living and dieing by Anki and OneNote. The notes I'm taking in OneNote are great - 6 different pen colors to emphasize different points, with 3 different highlighters, all over the imported ppt slides. I'm using OneNote on a Surface Pro 3, so not a small investment.

Anki though... game changer. Anki has to be the most efficient tool I've ever used. The PC/Mac version is free, and you have to make the cards on a laptop. The mobile version is $25, and easily worth much more just for the convenience. Instead of pulling out/up notes and opening the books to review content that is purely memorization, I can blast through flash cards anywhere. 5, 10 or 15 minutes of flashcards throughout the day provides way more repetitions and I think the spacing between viewing them, rather than sitting down for hours on end, really helps with fast memorization.

I use the cloze and image occlusion addons for Anki, both free. Cloze is a fill in the blank type card that can produce multiple cards for one sentence. I use image occlusion to make a card for each label on a diagram. There are some great Youtube videos on both. The interface looks dated at first, but it's a simple and awesome design. Youtube is your friend. An hour and you'll be killing it. Good luck!
 

keitaiKT

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These are studying mistakes I used to make a lot:
1) spending time studying stuff I already knew (cuz it was easy and I was lazy)
2) wasting time on busywork (creating time-consuming outlines from my textbook)
3) reading without reviewing/re-reviewing the material to make sure I actually remembered it

My post-bacc days made me realize I had to give that up. Here is what worked for me:
1) Re-writing notes from class, making use of colored pencils to re-draw important diagrams/structures, filling in a little more detail from the text to help understand the concepts
2) nagging all my professors for copies of old exams (as many as possible) and doing them, then reviewing the answer key and making sure I understood why my wrong answers were wrong
3) I would even make free use of office hours and go over homework assignments and old tests with the professors or teaching aides, again making sure I truly understood all the concepts
4) Review, review, review with whatever method works. Flashcards really are the best but are time consuming to make. Sometimes in a pinch I just made lists of things I had to remember and would review them during down time (waiting for the bus, waiting in line at the bank, etc)
5) Agree with others who say to study a little every day rather than cram at the end. That being said, I still would study pretty intensively the weekend before an exam, just to really reinforce the material.
6) Get AT LEAST 8 hours of sleep before your exams and eat a balanced breakfast the morning of your tests (protein, fat, and carbs). Get your caffeine balance just right (not so much you are wired, not too little that you are sleepy - but that nice, focused spot in between).
7) I once went to a talk given by a sports psychologist who had advice for students with test anxiety. They said something that stuck with me through medical school and beyond, "trust your training". Remind yourself you studied as hard as you possibly could have studied, and you know the material! Don't doubt yourself.

Good luck!
 

keitaiKT

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Is it ironic that I spent the last 15 minutes writing in a desperate attempt to put off studying for the boards?
 
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Sep 18, 2014
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To chip in. Sometimes, anxiety could cause havoc when taking an exam. If you are the type that get all nervous during exam then you need to find a way to calm your nerve. Anxiety has an annoying way of impeding your recollection rate and can also cloud your judgment. Just and addition. Goodluck
 
May 19, 2014
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Hmm okay. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone.

I'm thinking I'll try Anki and making more flashcards, also.

I think what I can do is review all the lectures thoroughly and gradually review concepts from previous lectures up until the exam. Then I won't be trying to review everything on an exam the week before. I need to make my studying daily more efficient so I can get more done in each day.. I have to figure out how to review effectively and efficiently. Hopefully I can get the hang of it with practice.

I do get really bad anxiety which makes me freak out when I'm studying or even taking an exam. It does make things really difficult.. Does anyone have any anxiety calming tips?
 
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It's all a matter of opinion, but in my experience nothing prepares me more than doing practice problems and tests. This was especially true for physics and chem/o-chem. Re-reading material is only going to get you so far.
 
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Hello. It depends on the science course. You should study the way your exam is going to be. See if you can find the professors previous test. My biology class was just powerpoints and we had assigned readings. The teacher's exams were all multiple choice. So I memorized all his slides for every exam. I would start memorizing a week before the exams and I aced his class. Later I took a biochemistry course for majors this was the toughest course for me. The teacher taught the same way. His previous exams showed that he had some conceptual questions and problems. I memorized some slides and worked through the problems at the end of the chapters he assigned. I did not understand the word problems so I used the text book examples to help me complete the problems. It's ok to struggle through problems because that's how you learn. I scored above the average on every exam including the final. I used to same technique for organic chemistry and physics and did well.

1) figure out the teachers exam style: multiple choice, essay, short answer, part multiple choice and part short answer
2) study accordingly: multiple choice=memorization, short answer=reading and memorizing slides, word problems=textbook problems.
3) Start Study at least a week before the exam

Also some teachers have learning objectives. Get a hold of those and make sure you can answer and understand all of it.
 
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Jewels86

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Here's my thoughts...

"I really screwed up undergrad and graduated with a sub-3.0 GPA. The thing is I don't understand WHY I did so poorly."

This you need to leave behind and move on. The attitude you need now is, "What do I do now to get the grades I need". You may have been too young for school or you chose a major that was difficult for you. That's okay...let's move forward.

"I refuse to believe I'm completely stupid."

Again, this is where you need to completely stop believing that. Everyone falls at some point; those that say they don't are not telling you the truth. You'll be fine.

"Studying in groups never helps me, so I know that won't work. I like writing things out from my textbooks when I'm reading, but it is VERY time consuming."
"I study for around 8-10 hours a day. I put the time in but I don't get results."

You mentioned your professors didn't help you...please let that go too. Yes there are some gifted teachers, absolutely. Then there are others. What you need to do now is stop the madness and figure this out.

Teach the material to your puppy, BFF, plant, mirror, what ever helps you. If you can explain it in a way that only you understand, then do it. If you associate whatever course you are taking currently with prior knowledge, then do it. A long time ago, they used to have the School of Rock Saturday morning teaching moments on tv. They associated "It's a bill, only a bill, on capital hill". Do that. Rhyme, make a poem, a song, joke, dirty joke, something that'll rock your world to help you recall the info. No one on earth is going to condemn you for coming up with a goofy way to recall info. And if they do condemn you, they're jerks that "think" they're cool. They're not.

You'll be fine. I'm thankful you're figuring this out now before arriving to medical school. You can take your new learning tricks and apply it.
 
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As a previously non-science student, I had to totally change the way I studied for pre-med. Here are my biggest winning study tips:
  • Read the material before lecture. DO NOT take notes on the book material. This creates much more busy work early on. Highlight or underline important concepts in the book that you can easily access later.
  • Attend lecture. Link together what points in the text were reviewed in the lecture. These are the most important concepts according to your professor. Make notes of what he/she explicitly says are important, should be memorized, or spends extra time reviewing.
  • Color coded pens will change your life. I'm not joking here. If you're making notes on powerpoint slides, print them out, use colored pens for your notes and important concepts.
  • You've collected all the necessary concepts now, make sure you have a firm understanding of them. Ask your TF's for clarification on concepts. Make flashcards for memorization or naming. Make a "cheat sheet" with all the most important concepts of the assignments up to the exam.
  • The Single Most Important Thing to Know: Math and science are not like typical courses. The application of the concepts is key. You must first understand the concepts and then apply them to practice problems. The fundamental understanding will help you complete these problems but no amount of book/lecture learning will replace sitting in front of a set of problems and solving them.
  • Do the practice problems. ALL of them. I can't stress enough that when I stopped trying to memorize the book and finally sat down and did the 20+ pages of problems, everything started making sense. You need to become an expert at utilizing the information you've learned and not necessarily knowing the information. Even in biology, there are word problems at the end of the chapter - do those over and over and over again.
  • Pick out the central theme in each problem. Usually each problem has one or two take home points from the concepts presented in the reading/lecture. Why is this molecule hydrophobic? Why does the carbocation react this way? Pick out the idea the problem wants you to understand, apply it to the specific scenario, and increase your comprehension of that topic. If you don't get the idea, review it, try again.
Here are some other mini-tips I use daily:
  • Talk to yourself when you study. Reason things out aloud.
  • Study your flashcards when you can - daily, on the commute, on lunch, at coffee break, etc.
  • Reinforce your learning everyday, small steps. Cramming, waiting, marathon sessions, etc. are a terrible idea. You may have heard this referred to this as "eating pancakes everyday". You need to eat a little everyday or tomorrow you'll have to eat twice as much. Do the work. Eat the pancakes. Video: Eat pancakes every day.
  • Ask your TA all the questions. Bug them. They are your link to insider knowledge.
  • Don't look at the answers to your practice problems until you've investigated the answers yourself.
  • Don't study in large groups - do your work then check your work with others. Make sure you can explain why you chose the way you did. You'll reinforce your learning if you can explain it to another person. If you're wrong, seek to understand why.
This is literally how I went from a Theatre degree to being proficient at Physics and Organic Chemistry. Hope it helps!
 
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May 19, 2014
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Those are some really good ideas. I can try doing my reading before lecture and doing more book problems- I haven't really tried book problems before.

I also like the idea of making a cheat sheet before an exam. And I love color coded pens lol, I always use those!

Hopefully some of these new strategies work for me!
 
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Gauss44

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1. Study in layers. Read chapter or review notes for main points (big picture) first. Then start adding details. In math, look for patterns or the "central theme" as you do practice problems, and do them all!
2. Prioritize the information presented in lecture, and on the topics your professor talks about most.
3. Consider hiring a tutor and supplementing with Youtubes.
 
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