How to Study for Computer Science
In most elementary schools, high schools and colleges, computer science is still an elective course. However, a growing number of education institutions – at every level – are requiring their students to complete at least an introductory course in computer science in order to graduate. We live in a society driven by computer technology. From school to work to socializing, understanding how computers work and how to use them is becoming more essential in many areas of life. The field of computer science takes computing to the next level. More and more students are pursuing an education in computer science and turning their knowledge into lucrative careers in business, engineering, and health care, to name just a few.
If you're interested in preparing for career opportunities in computer science, we recommend getting started with your education as soon as possible. Most high schools now provide a selection of classes in computer science, and the majority of accredited colleges offer both undergraduate and graduate degree programs in computer science and programming. Whichever career path you choose, one thing is certain, learning computer science requires a lot of dedication and studying.
Below we'll explore tips, strategies and skills for learning and studying computer science.
Yeah, yeah, you've heard it a million times, don't procrastinate. We'll let us say it again, "Don't procrastinate!" Don't procrastinate studying, don't procrastinate completing projects, and don't procrastinate studying for exams. If you have any inclination to procrastinate, you may want to consider a different field of study. Procrastinating is the worst possible thing you can do in a computer science or programming class. When you receive an assignment or project, get started on it right away. That way, if you don't understand the logic or can't figure out an error, you'll have time to get help from your instructor or someone else.
Jump in with both feet... or don't jump in.
A student fascinated with video games, 3D animation or computer technology may decide to get into computer science, only to find that most of their time is spent programming – and that they're miserable. That's not to say that computer programming is by any means miserable, but if you're not interested in programming, then you aren't really interested in computer science and probably won't enjoy it. If you like computer games or animation, there are other career paths, such as Computer Game Design, Graphic Arts, Technical Writing, and even Business Management, that will allow you to work in these industries. Just know that if you pursue an education in computer science, you need to be ready – and eager – to start programming.
Learn your math.
Computer science and math go hand in hand. If you don't like math you may find computer science challenging. Software engineers for example rely on discrete math to work out algorithm efficiency and complexity. Computer hardware engineers will use discrete math and automata theory when designing computer circuitry and finite state machines. Computer science researchers use math-based probability and statistics to perform measurements and comparisons. Even video game programmers use math when developing 3D animation. If you want to learn and study computer science, you must also learn math.
As we already pointed out, procrastination doesn't work when it comes to studying computer science. The same holds true for cramming. All-nighters the day before a deadline, whether it be for a project or exam, will not work. Much of the work you'll complete as a computer science student will be practical in nature. It will require thought, energy, problem solving and time. If you attempt to stay up all night the day before a deadline, you'll get tired, your code won't work, or you'll end up failing your exam the next day. Computer science is a field of study where it's imperative that you stay on top of things and keep working throughout the entire semester. It's not to say you need to spend every waking moment studying computer science. It is to say that you need to study consistently throughout the year.
Don't be a loner.
It's important to be self motivated and have the ability to work independently, but it's just as important to be able to work as part of a team. Learning to study in a group and work with a team is essential. Studying with a group as you pursue an education in computer science offers a lot of benefits. One of the biggest benefits is that it will teach you how to work as part of a team and to be a team player. Once you graduate and enter the workplace, it's more than likely you'll work as a member of a team. Working with a team takes skills and it will require you to share the "awesome" ideas and the code you've written with others, but it's necessary. You're code and ideas are not always going to be right, and working in a team can help you improve.
Other benefits of forming a study group and working with a team while studying computer science include:
- ability to cover more material
- share knowledge and talents with one another
- improve notes
- more effectively study for exams
- get help with difficult concepts
- review each other's code for errors
- make learning fun
Learn to write more than just code.
Programming is at the core of computer science, but you also need to know how to write to be successful in this field. For starters, as you program you'll include comments in your code to help others understand what your code is supposed to do. This may seem simple, and it is for the most part, but really good programmers include consistent and clear comments that make their code more valuable to their team, as well as the companies that employ them. If you decide to pursue a career in software engineering, you'll likely be expected to write requirements, specifications, and test plans, in addition to developing top notch code. As you advanced through your career in computer science you may also be asked to develop technical reports, research papers, and more. To be successful in computer science you need to become a good programmer, but you also need to learn how to write. Take the time to develop good business and technical writing skills as you study computer science.
Take advantage of all resources available.
Don't throw in the towel the first time you get stumped or hit a road block. There is a plethora of resources for help learning computer science. In this day and age of the world wide web, the Internet provides thousands of online resources from forums to tutorials to virtual tutors that can help you work through even the most challenging computer science problems. So don't despair. The next time you have a computer science problem that is giving your trouble, just "Google" it. Google is your friend and is a great resource for finding information and resources that can help you work through computer science problems.
Many of the same strategies and skills used to effectively study business and other technical subjects including chemistry can also be employed for studying computer science. We highly recommend reviewing these study skills sections as well.