Study Techniques for Different Subjects

By Alyssa Laffitte on January 5, 2020

Studying is a big part of being a college student, especially when you are trying to balance many different subjects. Various subjects might require various studying techniques, so in this article, we will discuss study techniques for different subjects.

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Math, Physics, and Chemistry

Solve practice problems…

The best way to study for a math test is to solve practice problems. You should try to solve as many of the problems in your textbook as you can, and you can even look for other problems online if you feel you need additional practice. When you solve many kinds of practice problems repeatedly, you will begin to pick up on how to approach the solution to each type of problem. In other words, you will begin to recognize patterns. This will be helpful during the test since you will know which “pattern” to follow in order to solve each question. Solving many practice problems will also help you pinpoint the mistakes you are most likely to make, which will allow you to be more careful on those types of problems. (For example, if you know you are prone to making negative sign mistakes, you will know to double-check your work on a problem that requires negative signs.) In short, the best way to study for your math class is to solve as many practice problems as you can.

…In test-like conditions

Solving practice problems will benefit you even more if you solve them in test-like conditions. This means you should solve them the same way you will be expected to solve them on test day. For example, if you will not be allowed a calculator or a formula sheet on test day, solve your practice problems without those things. You will be glad you spent your time-solving problems without a formula sheet when you are easily able to recall a formula during the test. Conversely, if you will be allowed to use aids during the test, use them as you solve your practice problems. This will ensure that you will know how to use your calculator and your formula sheet on test day. There’s nothing worse than starting a test with a fancy new scientific calculator and not knowing how to use it! Similarly, if you will be timed, try to solve as many problems as you can in that amount of time. Before the test, ask your professor what your test conditions will be (for example, if you will be allowed to use a calculator or a formula sheet) so you can study under those conditions. If you solve your practice problems under test-like conditions, you will be even more prepared for the test.

Reverse engineer solved problems

If there are problems in the textbook where the solution is written out, try to reverse engineer the solution. This method will help you understand why the problem is solved the way it is. In other words, it will help you understand the mathematical concepts behind the solution. Once you understand the mathematical concepts, you will be better able to solve problems during the test. For that reason, reverse engineering solved problems is a great method to study for your math class.

Science and Biology

Create diagrams

If you are a visual learner, drawing out your own diagrams is a great way to study for your science class. There is a reason there are so many figures in science textbooks! For example, if you need help understanding a cell, you should draw your own diagram of a cell with all the organelles. Along with it, leave spaces to describe each organelle’s function. You could also try to recreate the diagram from memory once every day, as this will train your mind to recall the diagram (rather than simply being able to discuss the diagram). When you create diagrams, you will better understand the processes you are trying to study. In and of itself, the process of actually creating the diagram is a fantastic learning experience that will allow the concepts to stick in your head. It’s a great way to study!

Use mind maps to help you understand processes

Continuing off the previous point, mind maps are great diagrams to create to study for your science class. Science involves many processes, from chemical reactions like photosynthesis to life cycles to the carbon cycle to mitosis. You will need to be able to explain these processes for your scientific tests. The best way to ensure you understand these processes is to draw mind maps. A flow chart would be especially helpful in these cases. With a mind map, you will easily be able to see the stepwise progression of each process, and what happens at each step. You will know where all the molecules go, and how to go from step A to step B. Bonus points if you learn to draw your mind map from memory, so you can quickly reproduce it during the test. Clearly, mind maps will help you break down the many processes we see in science.

Use other sources of information

Sometimes, science textbooks can be confusing, wordy, and just plain hard to understand. Thankfully, your science textbook is not the only resource you have access to. You can even take advantage of online resources. For example, YouTube videos on the Khan Academy channel are fantastic. YouTube videos, in general, are great sources of information to turn to if you’re confused. If you are a science major, you can even look up scientific papers on Google Scholar, as this is also a good way to practice reading scientific literature. When you use other sources of information, you are more likely to find a better explanation for the concepts you are trying to understand. In other words, it’s a great way to study for your science class.

Connect the material with something you already know

Science is all around us. It’s how we study the world we live in! One of the best ways to study for your science class is to try to connect the material with something you already know. For example, if you are learning about the water cycle, connect it with your knowledge of rain and the ocean! If you are learning about physiology, try to imagine how the process happens in your own body. When you put your science class material into the context of the world around us, it will be easier for you to understand.


Draw out a timeline

The same way that diagrams are a great, visual way to study for your science class, timelines are a great way to study for your history class. It will be a visual representation of how the various events happened in relation to each other. For example, you will easily be able to see which events came before or after, and how much time had passed between two events. Again, just as you should do with your science diagrams, you should try to recreate your timeline from memory every day. Every time you recreate your timeline from memory, it will be easier for you to recall it on test day. For that reason, drawing out a timeline, and then drawing it again from memory, is a great way to study for your history class.

Foreign Languages

Practice vocabulary with flashcards

Vocabulary is a large component of your foreign language class. The best way to study vocabulary words is by using flashcards. You could either make paper flashcards or use virtual flashcards or quizzes like Quizlet. The more you practice the flashcards, the more you will learn the vocabulary words.

Practice speaking with native speakers or your classmates

If your exam will have an oral component, a good way to prepare for it would be to practice speaking your foreign language. You could practice with native speakers since they can help catch any mistakes you might make. They might also be able to give you some tips on how to improve pronunciation or conjugation. If you don’t know any native speakers, you could even try speaking with your fellow classmates, which is a great way to help each other out! You could even go to your professor’s office hours and practice speaking with them (I have done this in the past!) since this will also show your professor that you are genuinely trying to improve your speaking. Practicing consistently will help you improve your speaking, and it’s a great way to study for a foreign language class that will test your speaking.

Speak up during class discussion

Similar to the last point, practicing your speaking is important. Speaking up during class is another great way to practice your speaking. Although it’s hard enough to speak English during class, it’s still important to speak up during class discussions in your foreign language class. This gives your professor an opportunity to correct you, and for you to improve your speech. It’s much better to be corrected during class than during the test! For this reason, it’s a good idea to speak up during class discussions.

Consume media in your desired language

Aside from speaking, your foreign language class will obviously require you to understand the foreign language. To better understand the language, you could consume media in the language you are studying. You could watch movies or TV shows (with subtitles!), read books, or listen to music in that language, as it will immerse you in the language. Plus, it’s a great way to discover media you would have never otherwise discovered. In other words, consuming media is a great way to study for your foreign language class.


Take note of your professor’s interpretation of the text

During your literature class, your professor will likely discuss their own interpretation of the text. Take note of this, and the quotes/ideas they use to back up those interpretations. For example, if they think that a line of the text is symbolism, write that down and explain the symbols. If they think something is a metaphor, take note of that, too. You might need to reference this list later, and it will also help you come up with your own interpretations of the texts.

Use quotes from the literature to back up your own interpretations

Similarly, if you need to come up with your own interpretations of the text, keep a list of quotes to support it! You will need to provide evidence for why you think what you think about the text. Using quotes from the text will definitely help you make a stronger case. For that reason, it’s important to keep a list of quotes!

Get some background on the text

When you read a written work, it’s a good idea to get some context. Context will help you understand the piece better. For example, you can read about the author’s life, since you might find some parallels in the text. Additionally, you can read about the time period in which the piece was written, or where the piece is set. Again, it will help you visualize the text better.

Do not rely on Sparknotes

Sparknotes can be a great resource, but you should not rely on it. You can use it to get some guidance and ideas, especially if the text is hard to understand. Still, you should actually read the text, since that’s the best way to understand it.

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General tips for all classes

Ask for help if you need it

For any of your classes, you should definitely ask for help if you need it. Most professors will be glad to answer any questions you might have. Visiting them during office hours is a great time to ask them for help. This way, they will know that you genuinely care and are trying.

Be on top of your work

One of the best ways to do well in your classes is to avoid getting behind. Don’t let yourself drown in schoolwork! Instead, keep track of your assignments, and do them in time.

Studying is a big part of being a college student. If you follow these study tips, you will do well in your classes.

23, ISFJ. Biology student. College lifestyle blogger. Avid reader and writer. Dog lover. Nerd. Boyband enthusiast. Superhero in training. Here to help you become the best you can be!

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