How to succeed in a science class

This information is suggested as a guide. It should be used to improve your studying habits. These techniques work very well for most classes, especially science classes. None of these ideas are any more important than any other but the more of them you use, the more likely you are to succeed.

What We Learn

  • 10% of what we hear
  • 15% of what we read
  • 20% of what we see and hear
  • 40% of what we discuss
  • 80% of what we experience and practice
  • 90% of what we attempt to teach

What to do Before You Come to Class

  • Read or at least scan the textbook material BEFORE you come to class.
  • Many instructors will go through the chapter in the same order as the book. Knowing about how far the professor will get in one lecture, you can make a good guess as to what they will cover that day. When you read a section for the first time, you might not understand it all. That is not the goal, if it was you could skip class. The point is to get a feel for the material such that when the instructor lectures on it, you have some idea about what they are talking about, and this will make the lectures MUCH more productive for you. Reading the chapter AGAIN after lecture is a good idea as well, emphasizing the same sections your instructor did.
  • Make sure you have all the appropriate materials needed for class.

What to do While You are in Class

  • Don’t tolerate the distractions of other students. Direct your attention to receiving and absorbing the information.
  • Ask for clarification whenever the material is unclear.
  • Take organized, clear notes. Note taking is how you will gather the information you need to study. Notes provide the major source of information to study for exams.
  • Be alert and on time. Regular attendance is a sign of a serious student.
  • Pay attention whenever the instructor references the exam or describes parts of the exam.
  • Pay attention to announcements, dates and deadlines.
  • Demonstrate that you are responsible for your own learning. Search for your own answers first and then ask questions when information is not clear. Many have the same questions but are afraid to ask. Get involved.
  • Ask questions in class when you aren’t clear on something. Professors respect good questions and use them as feedback to see how well students are getting the material.

What to do After Class

  • Re-read your notes the same day. Make sure that you got everything and didn’t miss something important. This gives you an opportunity to put the entire day’s lecture ‘together’, since the memory of the actual lecture is still in your mind. If you wait a couple of days before looking at your notes, you won’t remember the lecture and you will be relying on your notes alone, instead of your memory.
  • Re-write your notes in a condensed form. This is best done right after you have re-read your notes. Condense your notes into a smaller space (short and sweet). It has the concepts (in YOUR words) that you need to understand. These will make great study sheets for the exam.
  • Look at the problems soon after you have done one in class. Each day after lecture, look at the back of the chapter and find the types of problems you did that day in class. Do those problems then; don’t wait until right before the exam, because there are too many problems to do in a short amount of time. If you do them that day, you will still have the method in your mind.

What to do With the Help of Your Instructor

The instructor knows the material that you are trying to learn, and more importantly, the test. Your instructors chose to teach at Jackson Community College for a reason. They like to teach. They all have the same desire to help you learn new and interesting material. They all have hours each week that they are in their office for your benefit. You are paying good money for this education; you should make the most of it. No instructor dislikes students who come for help; it shows that you care about the material and your success.

The purpose of the meeting with your professor is to better understand the material. Prepare for your meeting by having:

  • Reviewed your notes and textbook up to that point to identify issues that you don’t clearly understand.
  • Written down three or four good questions, such as a point needing clarification, potential topics for a paper or presentation, questions about the most effective ways to study the material, etc.

Other notes:

  • If you do contact your instructor, have a clear purpose for this communication.
  • Don’t be late for scheduled appointments. Write down your questions.
  • Ask your professor for studying tips. Don’t wait until the end of the semester.
  • Check the syllabus for the instructor’s available times. Remember that teaching is not your professor’s only responsibility. Don’t expect that she or he will always be available at your convenience.

What to do During an Exam

  • Make sure you eat a light balanced meal about 45 minutes before. Your mind will be clearer.
  • Be on time – especially the day of the test. Come prepared.
  • Be clear on your instructor’s expectations about which material will be on the test.
  • Accept the fact that perfection is not necessary. Getting a 4.0 is not necessary.
  • Breathe fully and relax. Regain control. Be positive. Remain focused.
  • Go with your first instinct when answering.
  • If you have difficulty with a question, make a mark in the margin to return to that one later. This way you avoid losing time for the questions that come easily to you.
  • For a chemistry or physics exam, skim the entire exam over quickly before you answer any question. Find the problems that you can answer with little or no effort and do those first. It will boost your confidence when you move on to more challenging problems. The easiest question may not be question #1.

How to Study

Find a place to study that is free of interruptions and distractions. This is necessary to master information.

Self direction
Establish your own behavior patterns of what, when, where and how much to study. Establish your own directives, or discuss other’s suggestions. Use what others have found helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek encouragement from your classmates.

Self -discipline
Develop your own study rules and stick to them. You must motivate and remind yourself. You must establish your own study times, listen to lectures actively, conscientiously do the lab exercises, etc.

Study in 1 hour blocks
The amount you need to study for a class differs from person to person. You never want to study in blocks longer than 1 hour. If you sit with a textbook for 4 hours, you will gain information during the first hour; after that your brain leaves. After an hour, take a break. You can spend 10 minutes drinking a pop, talking to your friend about the weather, whatever, just don’t study. Your brain can only handle 50-60 minutes of work, then it needs a break. After a break, go back and focus.

How to begin
Every time you sit down, quickly overview all of the material then choose what needs your most attention. Figure out what you don’t know and concentrate time on that. Then return to what comes easier. Keep practicing each day or you will lose information.

The only way to learn is repetition. After you initially memorize information and do nothing to reinforce it, within 24 hours after you have been exposed to the information you will have only about 35% of the memorized information. Only about 10% remains after an additional 24 hours.

Teach someone else or pretend to; study with a partner; re-do drawings; write memory songs/poems; link with applications; study in a group; get a tutor; draw it; symbolize it; write it out; speak the words out loud; explain in sequence a list of events; make a little story out of the information; make flash cards for terms or symbols. Imagine what questions you would ask if you were the professor. Learn the new terms and symbols. Relate the information to what you already know or to experiences you have had. Teach someone in your family and have them quiz you. Find the techniques for study that work best for you and make time to focus on those.

Study in groups
Find fellow members of your class to study with, not necessarily your friends. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. In a good study group, for every concept there is usually someone who understands that concept. Your strength might be someone else’s weakness. If you can explain a concept to someone, then (and only then) do you understand it yourself. Study groups work best with 4-6 people.

Exams with problems to solve
When studying, look at potential exam problems and mentally solve the problems. After all, this is what you are going to have to do during an exam, since you have a time crunch. Don’t pick up a pen until you know exactly what you are going to do. Know the steps you will do in what order, what information you need and what equations. When doing chapter problems (as well as exam problems) method is the important thing.

Study Effectively
Make your study time as uninterrupted as possible. Pick a good time. Keep stocked up on things you need so there is no reason to interrupt your studies. Use the same place. Be efficient with your time. Study in seclusion, (when the kids are at school). Turn off the phone, TV etc. Put away all other distractions. Even make it a luxury for yourself. Every time you get interrupted, you lose information. Make a regular study area – no clutter around you.

Test Yourself
Develop a method of testing yourself to make sure you are retaining information. (Index cards, study notes, study tapes.)


  • Learn how to deal with stress. First realize that you have little or no control over your outside world. Focus on what you CAN change. The most influence you can have is over your own reaction. Focus your limited energy on places where you can make a difference and for things out of your control, you will need to learn to let go! Second, make priorities and then live your life as if those priorities actually mean something to you. You may have to make yourself a priority. If you burn out, you are no good to anyone else. Rebuild your energy and your stability. Then you can give to others.
  • Time is a resource you never get back. Priorities become even more important. Model = “WINNER”. “What’s Important Now? Never Ever Regret”. Be mindful of the present priority.
  • When you make a priority list and then CHOOSE what to concentrate on; that gives you power. Goals add spice to life. Many who are depressed lack priorities and goals. Clear priorities and goals will give you a better attitude.

How to reduce overstressing:

Do the right thing; Share your burdens with someone close; Learn to say no; Stay positive; Make life fun; Plan to succeed; Stop procrastinating; Make life regular and organized; Balance time for work, play & rest; Set goals and prioritize; Take care of you; Have friends; Write; Manage anger; Avoid pick-me-ups like caffeine & sugar; Stop put-me-downs; Get outside; Exercise even if you simply take a walk; Take care of your spirit.

Other Factors Affecting Learning

  • Make time for exercise. The time it takes will be compensated for by increasing your ability to learn when you sit down to study. Exercise reduces stress. Reduction of stress will help your immune system fight off illness. Better fitness increases oxygen supply to the brain.
  • Get at least 6-8 hours of sleep. Your brain files information away during REM sleep therefore REM sleep is essential. A regular pattern of sleep each night is also critical.
  • Use planners (write everything in it). Prioritize: 1 = things that must get done, 2 = what you should get done and 3 = what can be done at other times. Do the unpleasant things in the morning and get them out of the way.
  • Keep a positive attitude. An education is a gift to you.