How To Study Astronomy
Many of the same principles and tips for studying other subjects, including math and science, apply to studying astronomy. Below we'll explore the most important tips and strategies for studying astronomy, including strategies for improving your test performance, making the most efficient use of your study time, reading textbooks, forming study groups, and more.
So what is the most important strategy for doing well in astronomy? Well, according to a survey conducted by educators at a top university, the single most important thing a student can do to improve their grade, along with their text performance, is to attend class. Students who regularly attend class perform better than students who don't. More important than doing homework, than reading the textbook, or independent study, is attending class alert and attentive.
Don't Hesitate To Ask
If you've just begun to study a topic and are getting confused, ask your instructor for help. If you're struggling to understand a concept that you've been studying the entire semester, ask your instructor for help. Asking your instructor to answer a question, or to provide you assistance understanding a difficult concept, is the first and last step you should take in your studying. Ask for help understanding concepts before class, during class, or after class. Make an appointment to meet with your instructor during his or her office hours, if necessary. Most instructors are more than happy to answer your questions and help you understand difficult concepts.
Don't procrastinate! Common sense, right? Well, you can cram for a history test and get away with it. If you're good at memorization, you can even cram for an anatomy test. But there are certain subjects where cramming doesn't pay off – astronomy is one of them. Don't expect to start studying a week before the final exam and ace it. As with math, and a few other subjects, learning astronomy is cumulative. What you learn one week builds upon what you learned the previous week. Start off at the beginning of the semester studying and continue studying through the end of the semester. Do this and you ace your final.
Know Your Math
Honestly, if you're smart enough to get into college, you're smart enough to do well in an astronomy class. The math required in astronomy is pretty straightforward and basic. You just need to be able to work a simple formula to make calculations.
There is, however, a methodology for success when it comes to working mathematical problems in astronomy. Practice, practice, and more practice. Work all the problems you're given in class as well as those you find in your textbook. Then re-work them. Change the numbers around and work them again. If you can work the mathematical problems you encounter in class and in your text, forward and backward, you shouldn't have any trouble working the problems that appear on your test.
Use Your Textbook
The biggest mistake astronomy students make with respect to reading their textbook is not reading it all. Even reading your textbook isn't enough. The key to textbook study is to look for the (1) main ideas and (2) supporting facts as you read. Use the following tips to identify main ideas and supporting facts before and as you read each chapter.
- Preview each chapter before reading it
- Read section titles to find clues
- Pay attention to the order of section titles
- Read subtitles within section titles
- Skim each chapter before reading it
- Read chapter headings
- Review figure captions and tables
- Read topic sentences in major paragraphs (usually the first sentence)
- Read any text placed in paragraphs set apart from the rest of the text
- Identify keywords associated with main ideas to improve recall without needing to memorize all the details
- Underline main ideas in the text
- There is only one main idea per paragraph (usually found in the first sentence)
- Underline the main idea then underline key words that remind you of supporting facts
Read through all the review questions at the end of each chapter (or chapter section) before reading the text. After reading each section, answer the review questions at the end of the section. Make sure you can articulate the answer to each question in your own words. If you're unable to answer a review question, refer back to the text and re-read the relevant section.
Read your assigned textbook chapter(s) before each lecture. Coming to class having already read relevant textbook sections will prepare you for class and enhance your understanding of topics discussed. This is particularly true for faster paced college-style lectures. If you're unable to read your textbook before class, take good notes and refer to your textbook after class to better understand the topics covered during class.
Make sure your note taking during lectures focus on main ideas and supporting facts/details. It just isn't possible to write down everything your instructor discusses during class. Even if you could, it wouldn't do you any good. You'd never find enough time to review it all. Represent your main ideas using keywords, concepts, and labeled diagrams. Also, if your instructor presents any examples or example problems in class, include these in your notes.
Review your notes soon as possible after each lecture while the information is still fresh in your brain to make sure your notes are clear, make sense, and you understand the main concepts. If there is any part of your notes that don't make sense, fix it.
Use a note-taking format that leaves you extra space in the margins and allows you to fill in any additional details later on.
Preparing For Exams
Your study for astronomy tests will be most effective if you remember four simple steps:
- (1) Recall
The first step in your test prep is to recall (remember) the main ideas and supporting facts covered during the semester. These may include processes, methods, and theories.
- (2) Comprehend
Make sure you thoroughly understand each main idea including terminology, vocabulary, terms, and connections between supporting facts and the main idea(s). (The connections between the facts and main ideas are usually more important than the facts themselves.)
- (3) Apply
Apply your comprehension and understanding of the main ideas you've been taught throughout the semester to real life situations. If you're unable to apply what you've learned to a new situation, you probably don't have a good understanding of the main ideas.
- (4) Practice
Once you're able to apply the main ideas you've learned, it's time to practice. Work and re-work the sample problems provided by your instructor and that are found in the textbook. Based on the sample problems, create your own problems and try working them. Take the time to explain the main concepts (processes, methods, and theories) to others.
In preparation for your exam, go back and review all quizzes taken prior to the exam. Rework the problems and make sure you understand any problems you missed.
Create A Study Group
There are a lot of benefits to forming a study group. Astronomy study groups are effective when all members come prepared having worked all problems ahead of time. Learn more about developing effective study groups by reading Using Study Groups.
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