Studying for the sciences is no easy feat! In this article, I will share some seemingly ‘unconventional’ methods I used, they were really helpful in allowing me to better grasp my 2 HL sciences – Physics and Chemistry.
The 4 tips are ways to switch up how you study from the usual method of reading through your notes. Of course, these tips are only meant for you to use when you are studying and preparing for examinations. Do note that going through course material is just one aspect of studying. I also spent a lot of time doing practice papers. This really helped me identify the concepts that needed revision.
In the following tips, you will realise that memory work is something I barely touch. I am personally quite bad at memorising things, so these tips involve a complete understanding of key concepts. In the process of understanding, there will inherently be things you will remember, but the reverse process may not reap the same results. Ultimately, there is no use having a lot of floating facts but not being able to apply them to the paper. I do understand that for some people, memorising things might be easier so do understand that every student will have a different relationship with various revision techniques. Use this article as a guide for you if you feel that your current study method is not working well.
1. Skimming your Sciences notes
I know some of my friends who would spend 2 hours just on one sciences chapter to master the concept. However, they just could not finish studying everything. Try to force yourself to just skim through your notes/textbook, giving yourself very little time (e.g. 30 seconds per page). Glance over each page just to get the gist of what is being said, ignoring smaller details or any memory work. What you can focus on should just be the keywords and concepts.
By doing so, you can potentially finish studying an entire subject in a single day albeit you may not have a very detailed understanding. But if you repeat this process 3 or 4 more times, you will begin to realise you remember something new each time and by the end, get a very good overview of the entire subject.
During each round of revision, you may find that there are certain parts which need more time for memorising or concepts you are unclear about. Just mark them with a post-it then go through those parts of the chapter in detail at a later time.
The idea behind having a good overview of things is that many sciences papers do not just cover 1 topic per question, but rather you may see a combination of related topics. When you cover many chapters within a short time frame, you will easily be able to see the links between some of them and aid in your general understanding of the subject, not just treating each chapter as isolated entities.
2. Reading your Sciences notes backwards
This was a method I used a lot in the second year of the IB programme. For many of the topics I learnt in the first year, I found that there were certain parts I would have forgotten or just did not have as clear of an understanding as I did the previous year. I would take these chapters and read them from the back. E.g. if a topic had 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, then I would start from 2.3 then move to 2.2, finally 2.1.
Many textbooks will arrange notes chronologically because that is how you will learn it and make sense of the chapter. (NB: not all schools will teach the Sciences’ syllabus in chronological order, please check your internal syllabus order beforehand). Generally, the chapters start with the basic concepts before going more in depth, or expanding on the concepts in the previous sections. Since you have already covered the material, going backwards forces you to form the links before you revise them. Going back to the example perhaps in 2.3, there are certain ideas you needed to understand from 2.1. By reading backwards, you force yourself to remember these more basic concepts instead of passively absorbing them had you read your notes chronologically.
What you are basically doing is testing yourself to see if you can remember what the core ideas of that chapter are and this will ensure that you are clear about all concepts.
3. Mind-mapping from memory
This method can be especially helpful if you are running out of time to study for the exams. For each topic, glance through the contents page of the textbook and write down the subheadings of each chapter on a piece of paper. Then use a blank sheet of papers for each topic and draw a mind-map of everything and anything you can remember from that chapter, using the subheadings as a way to organise your thoughts. Things that you should write include key concepts from that chapter and the explanations in point form, examples that you have learnt, even certain exceptions you remember with reasonings for them. Other things would be scientific formulas (with each term defined) and definitions of keywords. Even if you can only remember parts of a point, it is fine to leave it half blank, leaving some space for the next step.
After you have written everything you remember, go back through each chapter with the textbook by your side and fill in any important points you missed out or any mistakes you have made in a different coloured pen (do not erase the errors!). Now all you need to study will just be whatever you missed out or made mistakes in. This will greatly decrease the time you need to study, and you get a quick topical revision in the process. Personally, I used many of these mind-maps as my revision material since they already contained all the information about the topic and they were personalised to what I needed to focus on. I find that making notes can be very time consuming and often not very useful. Mind-mapping provides both: a review, and condensed notes for future revision.
4. Study randomly
Finally, try not to read through your Sciences notes in order. What I mean by this is to jumble up your notes starting with the harder topics so you get them out of the way and ensure that you are actually able to go through them, in the event you really do not have time to finish going through everything. I would recommend starting to study randomly when you begin your revision period because, in my personal experience, it can be very tricky trying to keep up with revision and all your other IB requirements. Getting tougher chapters out of the way will also make it easier to study as you would not be dreading doing work each time since you only have the easier chapters left. It will also help you deal with issues of procrastination and time management (also from personal experience).
As you should be doing practice papers alongside studying, by studying the harder topics first, you should be able to do more questions in the paper as you may not even need to go over the easier topics. This can be a big morale booster as from experience, it can be extremely stressful being days away from the exam but still not knowing how to do half the paper. Overcoming the initial inertia will get things going and reduce stress, especially important for your mental health.
One thing you need to remember is to make a simple checklist since you are not going in a chronological order. This ensures that you cover all the material and do not miss anything.
Hopefully, these methods I have shared with you have given you some ideas about how to begin your revision process for any upcoming Sciences examinations. These methods are just guides and please modify them as you see fit, even for other subjects. I hope that if you do use these methods, they will help you study effectively and efficiently!