How to Study Better for Your Science Tests
Studying science isn’t easy for everyone. Unlike English, which we study from the time we’re in kindergarten, subjects like physics, chemistry and biology are often completely new to students, with lots of new terms and abstract concepts that can seem completely overwhelming.
And because these subjects are new to us, it’s no wonder that students don’t always know how to approach studying for them.
Luckily, according to Kayla Mendel, who tutors students in physics, chemistry and biology for Educational Endeavors, there are some easy strategies you can use to help you do your best on science tests.
First, let’s look at how the three main science subjects differ:
- Physics: A lot of the time, taking physics is similar to doing many, many word problems in math class. The name of the game is being able to analyze a scenario and determine the correct equation to use in that circumstance.Types of questions you’ll see on tests: word problems, equations, labeling diagrams
- Biology: Unlike physics, which closely resembles math, biology is more similar to English or history class because you are expected to do more reading and critical thinking. Usually, you’ll learn about broad concepts, such as evolution, the human body, or how a cell works, and you’ll have to learn the terminology associated with each section as well as be able to explain how different processes work.Types of questions you’ll see on tests: multiple choice (testing your knowledge of vocabulary and processes), short answer, labeling diagrams
- Chemistry: To study for chemistry, you need to use math skills similar to what you need in physics, as well as the vocabulary skills you need in biology. And chemistry can be the most abstract of the sciences, making it hard to grasp if you’re a visual person.Types of questions you’ll see on tests: Multiple choice (testing your knowledge of vocabulary) and equations
Tips for studying:
- Understand the big picture
“For any science, you’re not just memorizing facts or regurgitating things from books; you’re understanding broad concepts,” Mendel says. For example, in physics, Mendel says you don’t only have to know how to do problems using specific equations, but you also need to understand why you use different equations in different scenarios. In biology, you won’t need to just be able to identify parts of a cell, but you should also be able to explain how a cell functions.”Even if you pay attention in class and complete all of the homework, wrapping your head around the big picture of each unit will help you do better on exams and get a better grade in your science class,” Mendel says.
- Explain questions to a friend
A great way to make sure you understand the “why” behind what you’re learning is to try to explain it to someone else. “Doing a lot of practice problems is good, but being able to explain to a friend how you got to the answer is even better,” Mendel says. That’s why studying in a group can be helpful (as long as you actually study!)
- Go over the questions you got wrong on quizzes
Usually, all of the concepts on your quizzes will also show up on your test, so if you got anything wrong on a quiz, make sure you understand why. “You need to understand anything you got wrong — even if it’s a silly mistake and you actually do understand it — because you need to know what to look out for,” Mendel says. And if you’re still confused about a question or a concept, make sure you get help quickly before the class moves on to a new topic.
- Make flash cards
They may sound old-fashioned, but writing out flash cards by hand on notecards is still a very effective studying tool. Write out a vocabulary word on one side and its definition on the other. Test yourself first by looking at the vocab words and coming up with the definition and then vice versa, and take out the cards you get right as you go. You can even do these with a friend to make it more fun.
- Review your labs
If you did any labs in class, try to figure out what the main takeaway was from each lab so you understand the main concepts your teacher wants you to understand. Before the test, Mendel says it’s a good idea to write down all of the main concepts that you think will be on the test and ask your teacher if you’ve missed anything.
- Use mnemonic devices
Whether you have to memorize the periodic table in chemistry or the order of domain, kingdom, phylum, etc. in biology, using mnemonic devices is a great shortcut to help you memorize. Come up with a phrase where the first letter of each word corresponds to what you’re trying to memorize. Trust us, they work!
- Do your homework
Homework can seem annoying, but by doing your homework consistently you have a better chance of retaining the information you learn in class. Plus, by staying on top of your homework, you can realize more quickly when you come across a concept you don’t understand so you can ask for help.
- If you don’t understand, ask
Speaking of asking for help, do it sooner rather than later. As soon as you find yourself struggling with a concept and not understanding something fully, go to your teacher and ask him or her to explain it to you, or hire a tutor for additional clarification. Don’t wait until the day before the test!
If you follow these tips, you’ll find that learning science can actually be fascinating and even fun once you learn how to tackle it effectively!