College science courses are much more difficult than high school courses for a number of reasons.
- College courses require more analytical thinking and more self-learning than high school courses.
- There is less instructional time for college courses than high school courses and less assistance with homework and projects.
- In high school, your course grade was composed of homework assignments and examinations. Sometimes these two components were weighted fairly equally. However, in college, your course grades are mostly composed of exam scores as opposed to homework assignments. This means that three exam scores can determine your grade for an entire quarter or semester (12-16 weeks of hard work!).
- Many college science classes are “weeder” courses that are intended to eliminate lower performing students.
- Some science departments have strict rules about what percentage of students are allowed to receive A's in a particular course.
- Classes that are graded on a curve can force a majority of students to earn less than an A even if the class performed well as a whole.
- Many college professors are required to teach as part of their contract even if they would rather be in the lab doing their research. They may not have been hired for their teaching skills.
For all of these reasons, it is important that you address your study skills prior to taking your first college course.
There are several strategies that we recommend to improve your study skills.
- Read the course syllabus prior to your first day of class. The syllabus will outline which books are required or recommended and may outline specific projects or assignments that will be due. Start to think about how you are going to complete these assignments from day one and keep your syllabus handy so that you can reference it frequently throughout the quarter or semester.
- Never miss a day of class. When you were in high school, you were nearly forced to attend all of your classes. However, when you're in college, you will realize that no one is forcing you to go to class. You're more likely to perform well in a course if you attend it regularly. You're also spending $20,000/year on your college education (or more). You're wasting your money if you don’t actually go to class and receive the education you're paying for.
- Read before your classes. Most of your science classes will focus on a specific topic that is associated with a reading assignment in your textbook. It is imperative that you actually read before you go to class. The lecture will make a lot more sense since you have already gone through the material once. The information you learn in class will more likely be ingrained in your mind for future recall on exams.
- Repetition is key. Review your course materials (lecture notes, reading assignments, practice problems) as many times as possible before your exams. The more you repeat the better you will perform.
- Go to office hours. Professors are getting paid to sit in their office and answer your questions. Go to office hours to discuss topics so that you can gain a deeper understanding. Sometimes professors will (subtly) discuss questions that may be on future exams with students who attend office hours. You should also attend office hours to develop a professional relationship with your professor. This will help break the ice when you need to ask for a letter of recommendation when you apply to medical school.
- Find tutors for your classes. Most universities offer free tutoring for core science courses. These tutors may have access to previously administered exams or practice questions. Additionally, most tutors have recently taken the course they are teaching. As such, they may actually remember previous exam questions or styles. Again this serves as yet another form of repetition of the course material.
- Do as many practice problems as possible. In high school, you were tested in a simplistic way about the subjects you studied. Reading the textbook may have sufficed to allow you to perform well on your exams. In college, you will need to apply the textbook information to a much higher degree. This application can only be mastered by doing practice problems and thinking critically about the material you are learning. You will find on your exams that many of your college professors are asking you to apply the material in ways that you have never been asked to before.
- Group studying is not for everybody. Find out early on if group studying is actually helpful for you. If it is, then find other students with a similar educational background to form study groups with. If group studying is not for you, then stop trying to make them work – you are just wasting time.
- Make an effort to study at least one hour for every hour of class you have. This is a good rule of thumb to follow. If you're not able to study that hour during the week, you should try to make up for it on the weekend (but remember, this might cut into your party time).
- Work hard, party hard. Don’t do it the other way around because you will never do well in your classes. If you make a study schedule, stick to it and get all of your work done. Then, you can enjoy a set amount of free time to relax with friends, play sports, or watch TV, etc.
Now that you've learned how to hone your study skills, read about the academic strategies you can use to maintain that high gpa!
- Academic Strategies
- Choosing Your Major: Science vs. Non-Science Majors
- A 4 Year vs. 5 Year Academic Plan for College
- Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)