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10 Tips to Excel in Math and Science


Contrary to popular belief, math requires creativity, as well as analytical thinking. Most people think that there’s only one way to do math. But in actuality, there are often a number of different solutions—you just need the creativity to see them.  We all have what it takes to excel in areas that don’t seem to come naturally to us at first and learning them does not have to be as painful as we might think!

Here are 10 tips that can help you get better at math and science (and everything else)

  • Switch It Up: Learning math and science requires two types of thinking modes: the focused mode and the diffuse mode. Focused mode is direct, rational, and being completely into the subject. A Diffused mode is more of a “big picture” way of thinking, where you are relaxed and let your mind wander. Struggling to learn something new? Try to switch between intense focus mode and relaxed diffuse mode then back again. Exercise, draw, paint, or play music between study sessions are great diffuse mode activities!

  • Take a picture walk: Before diving into the study material glance through the chapter or the test questions. This helps to create mental hooks to hang your thinking on and really understand the concepts. 

  • Ask for help: Stuck on a problem or having a difficult time understanding a concept? Ask a friend or a teacher to explain it to you. Their way of thinking may just be the solution to your problem! 

  • Write it out: If you are struggling to remember information, writing it out will help to more deeply encode what you are trying to learn.

  • Spaced Repetition: Go over the subject for a few minutes every day for several days after you have studied it. 

  • Take a step back: When you find yourself getting frustrated take a mental step back. Frustration is a sign that you need to take a break!

  • Think like an actor: Actors tend to memorize scripts by understanding the characters emotions and motivations rather than directly memorizing the lines. Try to understand the concepts before you try to memorize. 

  • Practice interleaving: doing a mixture of different kinds of problems requiring different strategies. Once you feel you know a concept, try to recall or practice it in different ways, not just the way you learnt it. Even trying to recall the material in a different order helps!

  • Take it outside: Try to recall the material when you are outside your usual place of study to help you strengthen your grasp of the material by looking it at from a different perspective. 

  • Don’t procrastinate: When you leave things until the last minute you end up with just enough time to do the superficial learning and it also increases your stress level. This means any brain connections made to understand the topic are faint and broken and will also disappear quickly. Give yourself plenty of time to study so you can understand and remember better!

Adapted with permission from A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D.  (Penguin Random House). This article first appeared in Smore Issue #13. Get your copy of Smore here (www.smoremagazine.com/subscribe)

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