How to Study for Non-Technical Science Courses

In some of my previous posts, I talk about the importance of a refined technique in regards to studying.  In this post I will be responding to a post in which Cal Newport gets into the nitty gritty of how to study for what he calls a non-technical science course.  This would be a course like biology or psychology there is a ton of information but the test are primarily multiple choice.  The post can be found here

The challenge with these courses is that you have to remember so many details and often can’t simply do practice problem after practice problem.  Newport brings up a point that is a staple of his and many others’ advice in regards to studying; you have to learn the material the first time.  He specifically mentions a rule he calls the 48 hour rule.  This rule states that you ensure that you understand everything that you go over in class within 48 hours of covering it.  This rule defines a specific goal in regards to keeping up your understanding that helps hold you accountable.  I question if this rule should change based on whether you have the class on Friday or Monday.  It can be more difficult to hold yourself accountable over the weekend when there or so many things more interesting than studying going on.

I think the 48 hour rule is definitely something would help me in an area that I could do a better job.  It is really easy to just go to class and then push off actually sitting down and understanding the material until closer to the exam.  Covering material sooner definitely takes some of the pressure off in regards to the studying you have to do right before the exam.

In addition, he states that reviewing is the only thing that should be taking place right before the exam.  As mentioned, you shouldn’t be learning material for the first time but you also shouldn’t have to rewrite your notes.  Make an effort to write your notes in a usable form the first time so when it is time to study you don’t have to waste time with rewriting them.  It is hard to stay that attentive and on top of classes but I can see how beneficial it would be if you were.

Newport breaks down how you can actually do this into 3 steps: process, polish and perform.  Process means going to class and being attentive capture the material so you can understand the concepts as the professor teaches them.  He offers a technique although not everything works for everyone so I think it is just as critical that you are mindful of your technique and use something that will help you be most efficient. Polish means that you mark areas where you don’t understand and find ways to learn these things.  This is where the 48 hour rule comes into play.  Perform does not just mean the test but also during your studying right before.   Make sure to use an efficient method to help ensure you know the material.  If you can truly do all these things I think you can ultimately be successful in these courses.


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