STEM is an acronym that stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics”. While you may or may not be a STEM major, you will have to take at least a few STEM courses in order to satisfy the requirements of your degree. Many liberal arts and social science majors feel intimidated by STEM classes, because they don’t see themselves as “math” or “science” people. And, even if you are a technical major, you may find that STEM courses require a different type of approach than your high school math/science did. In this post, I’m going to give you 6 tips for being successful in STEM classes:
1) Understanding vs. Memorization
In high school, I received pretty good grades in courses like chemistry and math. I knew all my formulas. I could tell you what scientist came up with what theorem. Still, when I got to college, I struggled with these same subjects throughout my freshman year.
In college, professors do not want you to simply memorize facts about the subject. They want you to be able to APPLY that knowledge to solve problems. In fact, in many courses, you are given all the formulas you need during tests and quizzes.
2) Find Alternative Explanations Online
We all learn differently And, sometimes, even after hearing a professor explain a concept multiple times, you still do not quite grasp it. If you find yourself in that situation, remember that you can always seek clarity by searching online.
In a previous post, I discussed internet resources for college students. On Youtube, Khan Academy, and a number of other sites, you can find tutors working through various scientific and mathematical problems. Whether you’re learning to perform algebraic computations, write out chemical reactions, or graph an equation, you will definitely find plenty of help online.
3) Visit Office Hours
Even if you are doing great in class so far, make sure you are a regular in office hours. Drop by once every other week or so to let the professor know you are actively engaged in the course. This goes for non-STEM classes as well. You can say “Hey Dr. Allen, I know we just finished discussing XYZ. I think I understand it pretty well, but do you mind looking over the work I’ve done on this problem just to make sure I’m not missing anything?”. Your professor would certainly be glad to take a look.
If there is a concept you do not understand, try not to just show up at office hours and ask “how do I do this?”. Professors like to see that students have already put effort into figuring out solutions. So try to work a problem all the way through on your own, even if you know you’ll get an incorrect answer. Take your work to the professor and let him/her advise you on where you are going wrong.
Often, you will find that you are not as far off the mark as you may have thought.
4) Find a Small Study Group
In STEM classes, I have found group study to be extremely helpful. You get the opportunity to explain your thought processes out loud to others, which further cements them into your own memory. You can also watch as peers work through problems you may find more challenging. This highly interactive method of study is good for completing long homework assignments and preparing for upcoming exams.
Group study is also good for reviewing material you may have missed because you were late or absent for class for some reason. Many professors begin lecturing as soon as the hour begins, so even being 5 minutes late can cause you to play catch-up. If you have formed a study group, each member of the group can share notes with any member who needs them.
5) Practice Practice Practice
My computer programming instructor said it best: “The more time you spend doing complicated things, the better you get at doing complicated things”.
He taught us that the only way to learn to write good code was to WRITE and WRITE and WRITE until it became second nature.
This will be true for your classes as well. Whatever subject you are studying, do not simply complete the work assigned to you and move on. Repetition will serve you well in STEM courses. Go over problems and processes until you can do it in your sleep.
Some skills will not come quickly. For me, I did not REALLY start getting comfortable with programming until the last couple weeks of the semester. So, if it takes you a little while to hit your stride, that’s okay. Just keep at it.
6) Ask For Help ASAP
In college, classes move quickly. You may cover multiple chapters each week. And professors may or may not review old material. That being said, it is up to YOU to ask for help when you need it. Do not get left behind. Here’s a simplified example:
If you do not learn to add, then you cannot multiply. If you cannot multiply, you cannot divide. If you cannot divide, you cannot understand fractions.
If you find that you are struggling with addition, do not wait until the professor is teaching division to finally raise your hand and ask for help. By then, you may be too far behind to catch up.
As soon as you feel yourself slipping, go to office hours, get a tutor, find a different textbook to learn from. Do whatever it takes to keep up.
Whether you are a Physics major, or an English major fulfilling a Mathematics elective requirement, you will need to know how to find success in STEM courses. The tips in this article will help you get started down the right path. Do not work in isolation. Work with groups, professors, and tutors to ensure you are getting the proper understanding of each concept.
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If you have additional tips that have helped you be successful in STEM courses, share them below in the comments. Don’t forget to share this article with any friends you know who might benefit from the tips shared here.
As always, you can reach out directly to me with questions or comments at Jonathan@CollegeKidNowWhat.com or via the Facebook group.
Thanks again for reading,
Stay Curious, Stay Motivated!
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