It’s that time of year again: the end of the semester is here, which means final exams are coming up. How can you make sure you’re studying effectively for final exams in math and science?

The most common error when studying for exams like this is to try to re-memorize major formulas and concepts. However, part of the beauty of math and science is that there is much more to them than that!  During the tough climb of the semester, many students neglect to look back and see the view—how all the topics connect.

While finals period is indeed stressful, it can also be the time when some of the best learning occurs. While reviewing and studying, the connections between the various topics you have learned over the semester begin to reveal themselves. While the specifics of your classes vary, the general advice is the same whether you’re preparing for Physics or Algebra: your goal for studying for a test is to focus on understanding not only the concepts, but how they connect.

Math and physics both have a natural progression of simpler concepts into more and more complex ones, which is good news for you, since people remember concepts and ideas much more effectively when there is a connection between them. If you’re asked to recount your day, you can easily come up with a long list of actions, since they have a natural progression: I woke up, got dressed, went to school, had lunch, etc.  On the other hand, if you’re asked what you ate for dinner the past five days, it’s much harder to remember, as there may not be a natural connection among the dinners.

This fundamental connection between topics in math and science makes it so that you never need to memorize a large number of topics—in fact, you can tackle problems you have never seen before, as long as you relate them to ideas you understand already. So don’t panic, and don’t spend all night cramming with formulas on flashcards! Instead, take a deep breath,  look back at all of your hard work and the various topics you have learned over the semester, and spend time understanding the connection between them—the underlying beauty of math and science.

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