Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

Let’s get down to business.

I like to think that I worked hard in high school: I was that girl in high school, got the grades, did varsity sports, and presided over some ridiculous number of clubs. Fast-forward to six months into college: I have never worked so hard in my life.

Don’t let me scare you! I mean I know I’m awfully terrifying, but…

I jest. Many a college freshman will probably tell you the same thing – not that we’re all frightened, but that we’ve never worked so hard, and at least for me, I expect for things to get harder. As the classes move out of intro levels, as we add on jobs and internships; the thing is, we should also expect to get better at working harder. (Following me?)

It was too easy to think you’re all set after graduation; that, as so many people say, high school was your warm up and where you developed your “skill set” for college. The overzealous freshman? We probably won’t admit it, but most of us had that fantastic outlook walking into new classrooms with pristine notebooks (if I could harness that energy, we’d end global warming). And it was great! And there’s nothing wrong with it! But time and experience as our teacher, we learn our limits: one of the first “real life” lessons we get our butts kicked with.

As a part of the pre-health profession program, all of the program’s freshmen took a symposium that covered various topics and lo and behold: The Unwritten Rules. These were presented as the difference between high school and university chemistry classes, but I’ve seen these manifest in every subject I’ve taken so far. Even a month into classes, it was surprising to finally pinpoint what it was that differed college work from high school work – regardless or your college type, size, major, or program. One of our chemistry professors gave this lecture with a handful of key points that I still have taped right above my desk. Prospies, take note.

1. “Little to no class time is devoted to you doing problems.”

High school classes – science to language art and everything in between – specifically devote time to practice. Doing practice worksheets, reviewing last night’s homework troubleshooting new topics with example problems are present to a far lesser extent, if anything, in college. Your classes aren’t daily hour-or-so blocks anymore, but meet twice or three times a week for far less time, and are focused on presenting content and progressing with new information. Some courses (especially STEMs) will have small recitation or discussion classes that are designated for review or troubleshooting questions, but meet less frequently.

2. “Speed at which material is presented.”

College lectures, unlike high school classes, usually are twice or three times a week, sometimes with a co-requisite discussion class, and lab class if applicable. Unless students take the initiative to ask their own questions in class, again, there aren’t repetitions or big “checkpoints”, like asking the class questions or having periodic quizzes.

On that point: it’s common to have classes that will base your entire grade on a few major tests or papers, and the final! No “filler” grades, and a few points on a major assignment means the difference of entire percentages for or against your grade. This semester, I began tracking my theoretical scores: took all of the grade breakdowns from each class syllabus, put it into a spreadsheet, and update it as I get assignments back, to see where my grade stands. Does it seem a little much? Yes. Does it make me a little nervous? Yes. Does it help put each assignment into perspective? Definitely, and above all the other stress, it helps ground all the other worries.

My grade tracker template.  Image from my archives.

My grade tracker template.
Image from my archives.

3. “Little explicit repetition.”

Reiterating the change of class structure between high school and college, without part of a class or even entire classes being spent reinforcing a topic, you can understand how this changes the speed of the course. New content is delivered every day, with little to no backtracking.

4. “Expectation of outside time spent on learning in university is ten times greater.”

A culmination of all the other points: What does this all mean? Time “studying” isn’t just doing the assigned homework (if there is any), but spending the time outside of class to do that reinforcement. I made the sorry mistake of believing that if I took meticulous notes in class and reviewed them, I’d be fine. Midterms rolled around, and cue scene: Jo on a campus bench, crying on the phone to her mother over stress and disappointing grades. While I spent a great amount of time taking solid notes and reviewing them, I wasn’t reinforcing them, just repeating them. To reinforce content, I now know, means taking different angles at problems and content, redoing practice, and asking deeper questions: how does that work? Why does that make sense? What’s that step?

Study set up for my recent sociology midterm: writing, and rewriting, definitions and examples for key terms. Image from my archives.

Study set up for my recent sociology midterm: writing, and rewriting, definitions and examples for key terms.
Image from my archives.

Bottom Line

Going into college soon? I won’t promise anything, except that you can expect things to change: including how you’ve learned to, well, learn. Keep these in mind, and you’ll be ready to tackle these changes the way you see fit: whether it be new ways of notetaking or starting a grade tracker.

Citation: Friedrich, Jon. “How to Study for Sciences.” Pre-Health Symposium. Fordham University. Keating Auditorium, Bronx. 18 Sep 2013. Lecture.



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the author

Jo is in her first year of studying biology at Fordham University, with interests in the social sciences, business management, and world domination. Recently returned to New York from 12 years in California, you'll most likely find her adventuring around the city. Residences include the science and humanities departments, running trails, and every coffee shop from here to Narnia. Nobody’s quite sure if she has a heart, but she’s got some sort of pump that moves around the black sludge that is espresso through her veins.

3 Readers Commented

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  1. Kate on March 31, 2014

    Can you explain your grade tracker template a bit? It seems like something I’d love to get into, but I don’t see how you can have something like 3 midterm grades for one class.

  2. acagedrising on September 2, 2014

    I’m not the author obviously but I have three midterms in my econ class this semester. In college, all is possible.

  3. Adam Vincent on August 30, 2015

    Excellent comparisons – and I want to add to the second point. In my liberal arts experience, increased class speed often manifests itself as increased reading homework. It can get to the point where the professor can’t possibly cover everything, so an important (if cynical) skill to learn becomes deciding what parts of the material are most important to read. For me, in high school, it was much more important to read all of the material than it has been in college. (And I’m told this trend continues into graduate school.)

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