Post submitted by Educator.com
STEM subjects are tough, especially right after high school. You’re already trying to adjust to college life, and you’re hit with an overwhelming course load, challenging math, and the sneaking suspicion that everyone is out to get you, even your fellow students.
This post-apocalyptic vibe is, unfortunately, somewhat by design. In order to find out who is truly committed, colleges will sometimes pit unwitting students against each other in a Hunger Games-esque trial known as: the weeder course.
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Nice, innocent-looking introductory math and science courses are often secretly “weeder” courses, designed to weed out people who aren’t truly committed to a degree in STEM. How bad is it? Well, you don’t need to pack your crossbow, but thanks to a combination of curve-grading (which forces students to compete rather than collaborate), large class sizes, and unnecessarily tough exams, even top students are likely to see Cs, Ds, or even Fs on their first exams.
A lot of students give up when that happens. But fear not! If you love science, you can survive the weeder course with a little help from the following five strategies.
1. Get to know your professor
Your professor is your number-one defense against the roving bands of marauding STEM raiders that want to crush your science-loving soul. Meeting with your professor during office hours shows that you’re one of the committed students the school wants to keep. Plus, the professor can do much more to help you if you’re not just a nameless, faceless extra sitting in the back of the class.
Take good notes during class and try to figure out where you’re stuck. Ask your professor to walk you through a problem from the textbook on the topic to see how it’s done. Also ask professors for advice about their courses—they have the inside scoop and can help you figure out what to prioritize. Ask what strategies successful students have followed in the past, and take their advice!
2. Build your academic arsenal
You probably know by now that college is different than high school. Material won’t be spoon-fed to you—you have to go out and learn things on your own on the wide and dusty road to the Green Place known as graduation.
Fortunately, there are many tools to help you do just that. Some are familiar: lectures, textbooks, advisers. Others may be new to you, but don’t be afraid to branch out. This is your education, and you are well within your rights to find the resources that will help you succeed.
If you just can’t seem to process the material, or your professor’s teaching style doesn’t seem to work for you, try checking out another textbook from the library, watching lectures online, or forming a study group so that you can hear things explained a different way. See if another university has posted problem sheets or lecture notes online, or even sign up for an e-course to help you when you get stuck on a topic.
If you find yourself googling less-than-helpful answer sites, consider joining a site like Educator.com that has videos of entire courses taught by top professors to save time (and guarantee that you’re getting real answers).
3. Develop good study rhythms
Being a STEM student doesn’t mean you have to give up your life, but you do have to develop healthy rhythms that make space for eating, socializing, sleeping, studying, hobbies, and, of course, running away from zombies. Getting out of balance in any one of these areas will cause you problems down the road, so try to integrate them all into your life early on. Throw in some positive strategies for coping with stress, and you’ll be set to tackle whatever your courses can throw at you.
When it comes to studying, there are lots of different tactics to help you be productive. But most experts agree on one thing: you’ll remember things much better if you spend a little time on them every day rather than spending a lot of time on them right before the exam, so make space for a reasonable amount of study every day. Think of it like a full-time job and prepare to invest 30-40 hours a week in your studies.
This is especially important in STEM, because you’re not just trying to pass a test—you’re learning skills and concepts that you will use for the rest of your life. It’s worth investing regular time into a solid study habit—and it will help you be less stressed when exams roll around.
4. Don’t give in to the cutthroat spirit.
The lone action hero may be popular in superhero movies, but in a zombie flick, survival is all about forming a solid team. Don’t be afraid to help your fellow students succeed. If someone is going to wreck the curve, they’ll do it with or without your help—and you have much more to gain from a solid study group than you do to lose.
Take the time to invest in your group. Ask each other questions, try to teach each other the material, and learn to solve problems together. These skills will set you up for success for the rest of your degree, in your career, and in the unlikely event you find yourself on the run from virus-infested mutants with a rag-tag band of antiheroes.
5. Don’t give up—or do if you’re not happy!
A career in a STEM field can be extremely rewarding—you get to be on the cutting edge of technological advancement and you can work on some of the most interesting problems facing our world, from climate change to space exploration.
Don’t let the cutthroat weeder courses make you give up on a dream you love—a lot of people have trouble with these courses, even when they’ve always been top of their class. Stick it out and later courses should get easier as you get a better handle on the material and class sizes shrink to reasonable numbers.
However, if you’re finding you just don’t enjoy the material, you’re dreading going to classes, you hate labs, and you never want to see another math problem again in your life, it might be time to reconsider your options and ask for some help.
Things will get better if you hang on, but if you’re losing interest, talk to an academic advisor. It might be time to take another path, and you can celebrate that you found out before you spent too much time on a subject you dislike!
There’s no shame in switching courses. But if STEM is your dream, with these five strategies, you’ll be well-equipped to survive the dreaded STEM weeders. Or the zombie apocalypse.
Whichever comes first.