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A guide to studying for difficult courses - tips that work

  • Everyone has a different idea of what a complex subject is. I don’t think it is possible to meet a student who can admit to enjoying all their classes. There is always going to be at least one class we wish we did not have to take. This makes us develop a biased way of studying for those classes.

    We find ourselves preparing for those subjects weeks to the test or exam. And sometimes not studying at all.

    There are several reasons why we consider some courses more difficult than others. Try to identify why you think a subject is challenging; it will help you figure out how to prepare for it and pass.

    Below we listed a few reasons why students tag specific courses “hard” or “difficult.”

    • You heard it was hard from someone else
    • You don’t understand the basics
    • The coursework is bulky
    • You tried studying the course on your own
    • You don’t understand the recommended text
    • You tried using an impractical approach to learning

    Because we all have different learning styles, we can understand certain subjects more effortlessly than others. This automatically makes us tag the topics that require more effort as complex or challenging. For this reason, we shared seven tips that make studying for such courses easier.

    Understand the basics

    When in university, you may notice that most courses have prerequisites. For example, Principles of Accounting precedes Financial Accounting, and Financial accounting precedes Advanced Financial Accounting. If you do not have a clear understanding of Financial Accounting, you will have a hard time moving on to Advanced Financial Accounting.

    Because many university courses follow this pattern, we advise you to study previous concepts relating to the subject. You can get some textbooks dedicated to clearing up these fundamental concepts—the advantages of reading these books speed and ease of understanding.

    They make it easy for you to learn essential concepts within a short period.

    After reading these, you can move on to your high-level books. When you go through the coursework for your class, you may notice a few familiar topics. Some of them may have been covered as far back as secondary school. The only difference between what you learned then and what you will learn now is that the subject is taught at a higher level. And because of that, the questions are more complicated. However, if you understood the basic concepts taught, the complex level shouldn’t be much of a problem.

    Skim through the coursework

    It is easy to get discouraged when trying to study a tricky subject. Yet, we must go through the course materials if we want to pass. On the first go, quickly skim through the materials. Don’t worry; you don’t have to understand everything at this stage. Your goal at this stage is to understand the framework of the subject; skimming is an effective way to achieve this.

    When you skim through any materials, you aim to get the general idea of what is being discussed. You may also scan it to know whether it is worth reading at all.

    By the end of your skimming exercise, you will have an idea of the topics and subtopics in your syllabus. You might even remember what exactly you have to learn under each topic. This is the first step to understanding a challenging course. Skimming makes subsequent studying faster since you already know what you have to learn.

    Check out these different reading strategies to help you speed up the process.

    Attempt past questions

    It sounds like a crazy thing to do, I admit. You’ve just finished going through your coursework and maybe a topic or two unwillingly. What are the odds you are ready to start tackling past questions on those topics? The truth is you are not. At this stage, your goal isn’t to solve these questions on your own. Instead, your first goal is to understand better how your teacher sets their examination questions on the topics tested. It will also give you an idea of what topics they tested repeatedly.

    Finally, this process will help you develop some interest in the course. At this point, the concepts are less alien to you. You have an idea of the semester’s coursework and how the lecturer examined these topics in the past.

    After you have completed this step, you understand the course better. This will play a role in making it seem less complicated, therefore making it easier to study.

    Read the topics again

    Immediately after you have finished attempting the past questions, reread the topics. Rereading the coursework is easier than the first time because of your newly developed interest. All thanks to the explanations you got from solving previous questions.

    When you reread the subject at this stage, you can relate the questions to the relevant topics they were extracted from. Your thinking level is increased. You also become more focused and attentive during the second reading. This will help you pick up any essential details you missed the first time.

    You also get a deeper understanding of the subject from the second reading because your mind will begin to develop questions as you read. As you create these questions, you answer them, and this helps you remember concepts better.

    It is essential to use study techniques like highlighting and underlining or sticky notes and flashcards in this stage.

    Pause, recall and understand

    Come back to that subject a week later and give it a third reading. Pause after reading a few paragraphs and try to recollect the questions you created and the ones you solved last week. At this stage, it is essential to develop short notes as you study. There are many benefits to doing so.

    Firstly, it will help you remember what you have studied better. Think of it as cementing the concepts to your mind. They also make revising for the subject less tedious. Rather than go through your bulky class notes, you can review your study notes as many times as needed to keep your mind fresh.

    Join a study group

    You may have been told that the best way to learn something is to teach someone else. This is more than saying. Joining a study group is an effective way to study any subject, especially one you find difficult.

    One benefit of joining a discussion group is that they make you think deeper and help you memorize better. When you study in groups, it allows you to learn one concept in many ways. You may end up finding one perspective more straightforward to understand than the next.

    Another benefit of joining a study group is that you get to beat procrastination. Groups have a regular meeting time to study, and students who attend these meetings regularly are also sure of learning consistently.

    A final benefit of joining a study group is you get to fill learning gaps. When you compare notes with other members, it is easier to spot mistakes you made on your own. Also, you can capture any details you missed earlier.

    You can either form a study group with your friends and colleagues taking that subject or join one that already exists.

    Solve past questions (again)

    Try solving the previous year’s questions again. At this point, you should be able to attempt them without looking at their solutions. This final step sums up your learning process.

    Valuable tips in preparing for difficult subjects

    • Never start preparing for a complex subject just before the exam. Always begin preparation for these subjects as early as possible. This gives you ample time to revise before the exam.
    • Avoid cramming. The only way to deal with any course is to understand it. Cramming will make you lose interest in the subject. And we know what happens during a test when we can’t remember a part of what we crammed.
    • Use a highlighter when studying. When reading again, you will be able to focus on the critical areas.
    • Feel free to refer to another book that discusses the same topic. This can help you understand the course from a perspective that is easier for you.
    • Always aim to understand what you are studying for. Refer to online lectures or study material to help you learn and not just read through.

    Conclusion

    We can’t guarantee that you will find all these steps helpful, and we also don’t expect you to try them all at once because you may find the process overwhelming.

    There’s a saying that urges us to take one step at a time. This is also our advice for you regarding this article. Try out these tips one at a time. Perhaps dedicate a week or two to trying one tip and noting how it works for you. If you find it helpful, continue with it and try to turn it into a habit. If it isn’t helping you make any progress, drop it and try another tip.

    You may want to check out these strategies for boosting exam performance.

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