Study Strategies for Science

Chromosomes? Chemical equations? Laws of motion? Say what? If science isn’t your strongest subject, you may fear these terms — but that’s not necessary! With with a few good study strategies, you can train yourself to become much more comfortable with science, and in turn, develop a stronger aptitude for it.

1. Know your way around text features

Do you ever look at the students who are naturally good at science and realize they’re often pretty good at math, too? That’s no surprise, considering the skills involved in math are actually very similar to those needed in science. Science is largely about reading the data — which, yes, means you’ll have to face numbers, equations, and charts/graphs. Familiarizing yourself with these features, however, means you won’t feel as bogged down during class, homework, or readings to relearn how to use them.    

  • Establish how you’ll record data. If you are in a science lab or doing an experiment in class, the first step to analyzing your data is to make sure you’re recording the data in a way that makes sense to you. This doesn’t just mean taking notes clearly or tracking all the information you can, but it includes organizing the numbers in a way you personally understand. Your data should be concise and clearly labeled for later reference.

  • Understand the specific types of data. If the data is provided to you, don’t even start looking at the numbers until you look at the labels. You need to understand what the data is going to tell you before you begin trying to analyze it. Don’t be afraid to rewrite the data in your own notes or even consider talking the data through out loud. Both of these tricks can help you slow down your thought process to gain a better understanding.

2. To fully understand the topic, put in work before and after class

If you limit your efforts to your 55-minute class every other day and nothing else, you may have a tougher time refining your science skills. To better understand abstract concepts, it may take a little pre- and post-work as well.

  • Review lesson plans beforehand. Before your science class, look through your syllabus and see what you are going to be studying that day. Then, skim through your textbook so you at least have a vague overview of context. Note vocabulary words that you will need to know, and make it a point to look them up before class.

  • Bring helpful materials. Ever feel like you’re falling completely behind taking science notes as you try to label all of the parts and copy down all the numbers? You aren’t alone. If you can’t write in your textbook, consider making photocopies of the pages you know you will be going over before class. Then, you won’t have to copy down all of the charts and graphs, and you can focus on labeling and writing supplemental notes to help you understand.

  • Re-read your notes right away. As soon as you can after class, review and add to your notes. Was there anything you missed? Any part that was confusing? Remember that the longer you wait to take to look at your notes, the harder it will be to remember what was taught. If you have post-class text assigned, try reading it that night. The concepts will still be fresh in your head and you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to check your notes every two sentences.

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3. Actively read for the details

Reading a science book is very different than reading in English class. Typically, science books are full of text features and new terminology with a large number of new facts and details you need to comprehend. Reading for science takes different skills than reading text for other subjects because you aren’t reading between the lines, but sometimes it can seem like you’re reading a different language if you aren’t sure of the content.

  • Consider reading through the text twice. Once for a general understanding, the next for comprehension. Often, since science can cover such large (or such specific) topics, it takes one read-through just to wrap your head around what the text is even talking about. That first read isn’t about memorizing data or getting overwhelmed by details, but to find the main ideas and to begin to understand the relationships in the text.

  • Keep it slow. No matter how many times you read the text, read it at a comfortable pace; try not to rush. There is so much information packed into each paragraph that skipping a sentence or two can leave you completely lost. Carefully pace yourself by summarizing after each page, highlighting, or following along with a pencil as you read — and don’t forget to take frequent breaks!


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