How Studying is Different for Different Classes

I think the different methods of studying was what I found the most difficult to adjust to  when I first started college. In high school, in addition to being supervised for longer periods of time and having less dense material, memorizing and reciting the material (chew and pour) was enough to get an A. Here’s some differences I’ve picked up since starting:

Before Lectures:

Humanities: Sociology, History, Diaspora studies

Lots of Reading. And I mean A LOT of reading. I’ve been expected to read a book per week for each of my seminar classes since I’ve started the semester. How do I keep up? It depends on the book really.

Some books are extremely dense and benefit from skim reading the book first then going to class. Others books are easier to digest and practically read themselves. Others have helpful Spark Notes that take the edge off of reading the whole book (wink). Whichever type this book is, make sure to read majority of the assigned reading before class.

Arts: Music, Art

Time commitment. Neither of these subjects are practically difficult to wrap your head around, but each takes HOURS of time to get right, especially if you haven’t grown up being trained in these disciplines. For my music class, my professor suggested that we use flash cards to memorize the important structures that make-up jazz music, and that has helped immensely.

For art, in free time is every time. You need to capture the moment when you feel inspired or at least jot down the idea to work on later. It’s a very in the moment type of learning.

Science: Psychology, biology, chemistry, neuroscience.

Critical thinking. In my first semester, my professor (bless her soul) would say that we should sit under a tree and think about these big concepts. That’s a great piece of advice. Do the reading assigned that week, then ponder its meaning.

This isn’t really needed for simpler topics, but quantum chemistry, genetics, and the physiological affects of hormones on human behavior all deserve time to ruminate in your head before class so that you have questions to ask.

Technical Subjects: Math, CS

Experiment. Code a webpage or try your hand at a couple of questions from your textbook before class. These are the only two subjects that I’ve found few resources that explain the abstract topics they teach well. You need to walk through the material by yourself and bring questions on your ‘experiment’ to class.


During Lectures:


Discuss. The book you just read doesn’t need to be told page by page to you through the words of your professor. Get involved in the discussion of the book and listen to the gist of its worth in relation to the topic at hand. Your professor will likely see something and weigh it more heavily than you do in your final papers.

Arts and Sciences

Listen. Actively listen and take notes. In music, literally listen and note the cadences and chords that inspire you. In science classes, try to catch the points of the lecture that relate to your readings.


Technical Subjects

Ask. You’ve done your experiment, and your professor is now open to questions about the material. Bring concrete examples of problems you’ve faced in the abstract world and get assistance in solving them.

After Lecture:


Wait for your papers. The wonderful thing about the humanities is that they stick in your mind because they describe the world around you. Don’t get hung up on the details; talk to your professor in office hours, or discuss in layman’s terms with your family and friends.

Arts and Technical Subjects

Practice. You have the tools, but you need to practice to make them stick. No software coder was allowed to get rusty on his way to the top, and Charlie Parker practiced his axe every day to be the legend he is now. Go wild!


Review and re-write notes. Science is boring the fact that even at undergrad level, you will still have little access to research opportunities to ‘practice’ your skills. Many things in the sciences at this point have been accepted as fact, and need no experimentation. Be thankful for that, it’ll save you a couple of fingers!



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