STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) classes play an important role in a student’s education.
While not every student dreams of becoming a chemist or a software engineer, all of us live in a technology-driven world. It’s important that students have both a fundamental understanding of the concepts that underpin the natural world AND the technologies we use every single day.
How STEM Classes are Different
STEM learning is different from other subjects in a traditional high school curriculum. It’s more objective, cumulative, and application-focused. And that can create some unique challenges for students:
- There’s usually one (and only one) right answer. STEM subjects are far less subjective than liberal arts courses. There’s one right answer, and “”close”” or “”almost right”” don’t count (although see below for thoughts on earning partial credit).
- The curriculum gets progressively more challenging. The foundations of math and science are learned in elementary school: addition and subtraction, or the fundamental structure of an atom. As a student advances, their coursework builds on those basic concepts and continues to add complexity. A student who misses something foundational can easily fall behind.
- Students are tested on their ability to apply concepts. Some subjects require straight memorization or an ability to interpret text or events. In a STEM subject, on the other hand, students are continually presented with problems they haven’t solved before; they must apply key concepts to brand new material.
Five Tips to Succeed with STEM Classes
There’s no doubt that STEM subjects are challenging, especially if students don’t grasp the concepts easily. Signet’s expert STEM tutors shed some light on how to build STEM-specific study skills.
- Have students identify and fix their own mistakes. Having the ability to fix a mistake once it’s pointed out is great. Being able to recognize a mistake (with perhaps a slight nudge from a parent, teacher, or tutor) is even better. It teaches students to double-check themselves and hones their attention to detail.
- Get students in the habit of showing their work. Although STEM subjects tend to have just one right answer to a problem, a student who shows their work may be able to get partial credit on an assignment or test. Documenting their process also allows students to pinpoint where they’re going wrong in their problem-solving.
- Solve different kinds of problems. Some students excel at straightforward equations but are thrown off by word problems with additional context. Other students benefit from being able to take an abstract scientific principle and apply it to something tangible in the real world. Students should work on multiple types of problems, especially the ones that are the most difficult!
- Get to Carnegie Hall. In other words: practice. Repetition is key to locking in STEM concepts and ensuring your student can use them to solve any problem they come across.
- Ask for help. Sometimes a confusing concept or idea needs more explanation or a different approach. Students who are lost can quickly get overwhelmed because STEM subjects are so cumulative and keep building on the same ideas. Seek help sooner than later to save time, effort, and frustration!
How to Help STEM Students Study Effectively
Now that we’ve covered STEM-specific study skills, let’s look at some more general strategies for helping STEM students study effectively:
- Find study buddies
In any challenging situation, it can be incredibly powerful to know that you aren’t alone and that there’s somebody else taking the journey with you. There’s a good chance that if one student is struggling with STEM concepts, others are as well.
We encourage students to get to know their classmates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes and form small study groups. Study buddies can learn from each other, keep each other accountable, cross-reference homework answers, and prepare for exams together.
- Maintain excellent notes
Most of the raw knowledge in a STEM class comes from lectures and class time. Getting the most out of those experiences facilitates everything that follows. Note-taking is crucial, but good note-taking does not mean frantically trying to write down every last bit of information.
Instead, students should take notes selectively to make the best use of their time. They can then revisit their notes after class to annotate them and extract the most important takeaways.
- Create a consistent study routine
Establishing clear routines helps busy STEM students maintain structure and control amid the chaos of their schedules and the rigor of their courses.
We recommend students set aside the same time for studying each day and know in advance how much of that time they will allocate to each subject.
STEM Tutoring for Your Student
Signet has STEM tutors on staff who teach both foundational and complex concepts in ways that are fun, accessible, and memorable. Subject tutoring in STEM areas can also benefit standardized testing, including SAT, ACT, and AP, IB, and SAT Subject Tests. Contact us for a free consultation!