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Math & Science Courses

Even students who have done well in high school math and science courses can find it difficult to adjust to the expectations that university professors have of them. Here are some strategies to help you meet the challenge.

Focus on Problem Solving

College professors expect a high level of independent thinking. While high school courses and tests are largely factual in nature, tests in college focus on problem-solving. It isn't enough to know that a formula works; you will want to know why it works. It's the interconnections between facts that are important

In most science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses (STEM), you will need to study at least two to three hours a day per course. Also, there is usually less repetition in college homework problems, so focus on understanding the process for solving practice problems.

College lectures repeat very little, and they are cumulative. You must concentrate fully during lectures, because if you miss something, the rest of the lecture may be incomprehensible. If you do miss something, find out what it was right after class, and review your lecture notes the same day. As one mathematician puts it, "Math isn't necessarily more difficult than other subjects; it's just less forgiving."

In Class

When taking lecture notes, write down all the professor's examples. Next to each step of a solution, write the professor's explanation of that step. When reviewing your lecture notes at home, fill in any part of the explanation that you missed. One trick is to try looking at the problem backwards.

Preparing for Tests

In college, you will see things on tests you haven't seen before. In other words,  you should not see new principles on a final exam, but you will see the material you've learned presented in new ways. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you study for STEM classes: 

Try this: When working math problems, don't substitute smaller numbers to work the equation. Stay with the algebraic symbols as long as you can, until you have "x=___ ," and then plug in the numbers.

On-Campus Resources

Find a study partner whose skill level is comparable to your own. If you can't solve the problem together, talk to your TA or professor. Here are STEM-focused study centers on campus you can use:

Adapted from Active Learning: A Study Skills Worktext by Rory Donnelly (1990).