Thursday, March 31, 2011

Random Advice for an Undergrad

I recently wrote an email with a bunch of advice based on my own undergrad experience and thought, 'why not share!' So here it is, my random and somewhat long list of what helped me be successful in undergrad:

  • For math classes, I took notes the whole class, and I worked in the library on the practice problems.  The only way to do well in math is to do all the assigned problems.  It's so easy to let it slip but it's important.  Especially with today's distractions, going to one of those study desks in the library and putting on music on headphones will help a lot.
  • In computer science classes (which are likely similar to a lot of your technical classes), I didn't really take notes because there were always slides, but I did try to read the textbooks in many (but not all) cases.  When reading or when in class you end up getting to the point of thinking "ugh, I've seen this before."  But that's exactly where you want to get! Without ever reaching that point, you never truly know the topic.  If you read the book and go to class and don't get to that point, you can find other ways to get there.  There are TA's, profs, online resources... (Though one tip is to learn to recognize when little details are less important and when it's a core topic you really really have to know.)
  • Speaking of TA's and profs, learn how to use them to your advantage.  It's a bit intimidating at first, but seeing the profs and coming with well thought-out questions will actually impress them, and you will get a ton of help.
  • Study groups can be good, but they can also be a bit of a time suck if it doesn't stay on focus, or if you work on problems you don't need help with.  I recommend getting together with the right people to work on particularly difficult assignments.  Take notes during these sessions but don't write the whole answer.  This will force you to think about it for yourself later on.
  • Here's what I do for studying for an exam and sometimes larger tests:
    • Make a hand-written summary sheet of all the important details.  This is very time consuming so it can't be left to the last minute, but just the act of writing is the first step to remembering it.
    • Go through the sheet and try to memorize what needs to be memorized, and understand the rest.
    • Ask a friend or parent or roommate to ask you questions based on what's on the sheet.  If you wrote it right, they don't even need to be all that knowledgeable of the material.

  • I guess the last major thing will be time management.  This is always tricky, but if you are having a hard time with it, you might try the time-sheet technique - I did this in my Masters and it was useful.

Another great resource from the CU-WISE archives is the Advice for Undergraduates document.

What else do you do to study and make the grade? Share your wisdom here!