How to Study Geology

Geology is the study of the physical world we live in – the Earth and the processes that mold it. Geology addresses the Earth’s materials, structures, processes and organisms in the present as well as the past. Through the study of the history of our planet, we’re better able to understand the Earth as it exists in its present form and predict how it will exist in the future.

If you’re into history and enjoy geography, you’ll love geology. Geology combines the best of history and geography. Students who enjoy working outdoors, also tend to find the study of geology fun and fulfilling. Most high schools and colleges offer courses or majors in geology. Students interested in geology can prepare by taking basic courses in math, science and geography.

Geology is not any more difficult or easy to learn than any other academic subject. It is however a science and requires time and dedication if you want to achieve success in the subject. As with any academic subject, when it comes to learning geology, it’s not just about how much time you spend studying, it’s how efficient you are at studying.

Below we’ll explore proven study tips and strategies, that when correctly and diligently applied, will help you achieve success in studying geology.

It takes time

No matter how you slice it, studying geology requires time. If you’re attending college, as a rule of thumb you’ll need to dedicate one hour of studying each night per hour of classroom lecture.

For high school students, the time requirements won’t be as high, but nightly study will still be required. If you find your geology class a little challenging, you may need to devote 1.5 hours of study to every hour of classroom lecture.

This study time does not include the time you’ll need to dedicate to reading your textbook. Your study time should be focused on reviewing your notes from your lectures and previous readings.

Attend class

If you’re in high school, where class attendance is required and the role it takes, playing hooky may not be a temptation. In college, where professors don’t take roles, and class attendance isn’t required, it may be a bit easier to skip a lecture or two every once in a while. Either way, if you want to excel in your study of geology, it’s important that you attend class regularly and that you pay attention.

It’s also important that you arrive at class each week prepared. Reviewing your notes from previous lectures and making sure all assigned homework has been completed prior to arriving to class makes all the difference in the work. You’ll get much more out of class attendance and lectures, if you come prepared.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions… but ask good questions

It’s acceptable to ask questions and seek help when you need it – just make sure you really need help before you ask a question. Asking a question during class that you should have known the answer to if you had completed your homework, or read the assigned chapter, isn’t acceptable.

Also, don’t ask questions that you can easily answer yourself by referring to your textbook or lab manual. It wastes everybody’s time. If you don’t know the definition of a word, try looking it up before asking your professor what it means.

Asking good questions is not only beneficial to you, but to everyone in your class. When asking a question, don’t say “I don’t understand.” This question is vague and usually suggests you simply weren’t paying attention or didn’t come to class prepared. Ask clarifying questions about processes or concepts that will provide you, and your classmates, with a better understanding of geology.

An example of a clarifying question might be: “What characteristics of pillow lava cause it to be classified as an igneous rock?”

Take notes

When it comes to excelling in your geology class, taking good notes is the second most important thing you can do next to devoting adequate time to your studies. Effective note taking improves your ability to learn, remember, and recall what you read and hear.

Effective note taking prepares you for class lectures and enhances your performance on quizzes and exams. To maximize the effectiveness of your note taking, apply the following note taking strategies.

  • Make clear, legible and accurate notes that you can use later.
  • Arrive to each class prepared, having reviewed your notes from the previous lecture and assigned textbook readings.
  • Compare your notes with the notes from your classmates to make sure you captured all important concepts and information.
  • Organize your notes by date, class, and subject, to facilitate review at a later time.
  • Use symbols to abbreviate long words and use short phrases when possible to save time writing.
  • Include in your notes concepts you don’t understand so that you can review them with your professor after class, with your study group, or during your next lecture.
  • Review your notes after each class.

Keep your geology notes separate from your notes from other classes. Also keep your geology lab materials separate from your lecture notes. Unorganized notes that are in disarray will cost you precious study time.

You can learn more about effective note taking by reading Improving Your Note Taking.

Read your textbook and lab manual

If you want to do well in geology, reading your textbook is a given, right? Surprisingly, many students only read their textbook when trying to find an answer to a problem or when there is a specific reading assignment.

While this strategy might get you a passing grade, if you’re really interested in learning geology, reading your textbook, as well as your lab manual, is a must.

When you read, and how you read, is also just as important as reading itself. Always try and read the assigned chapter before coming to lecture or attending lab. You don’t need to understand all the material you read.

And you don’t need to spend hours reviewing your text before class. It’s just important that you’ve read the material, seen the words, reviewed the diagrams and tables, and have been introduced to the concepts that are going to be discussed. Once you get to class, you’ll discuss the concepts you’ve been introduced to through your reading in more detail.

Bring your textbook

In geology, you’ll use your textbook for a lot more than just completing nightly reading assignments. In geology, your textbook also serves as a daily reference resource for lectures and labs.

It’s very common for teachers and professors to routinely reference diagrams and tables found in your textbook as they lecture or conduct labs. As your teacher lectures, follow along in the textbook using the diagrams and photos presented to help you better understand what is being discussed.

During labs, you’ll use your textbook as a reference guide for completing exercises and experiments. As you listen to lectures and complete lab exercises, highlight diagrams, photos and tables that are referenced as they could easily appear on future quizzes and exams.

Form a study group

There are many benefits to forming a study group and meeting with your group each week. Study groups are particularly beneficial for reviewing and learning challenging concepts, enhancing learning, developing presentations and studying for exams. Study groups provide the following benefits.

  • They provide students the opportunity to teach concepts to one another, whereby enhancing their own understanding.
  • They enable students to prepare more effectively for quizzes and exams.
  • They provide opportunities to compare class notes and discuss what was covered during lectures and labs.
  • They allow students to cover more material than any one student could cover on their own.
  • They allow group members to learn from one anothers unique talents and insights.

So how do you develop an effective study group? Effective study groups share the following characteristics.

  • The most effective study groups have between 4 and 5 members.
  • Members should all be responsible and dedicated to contributing to the group.
  • Study groups should be held in areas without distraction such as a library study room.
  • Study sessions should be kept under 3 hours.
  • Group meetings should be held each week at the same time and location.

Prior to each study session, the group should discuss what they hope to achieve during the session. All group members should arrive prepared and every member should actively participate in each study session. To learn more about forming effective study groups you can read Using Study Groups.

Focus on learning processes and concepts

There are plenty of facts and definitions you’ll need to acquire in order to learn geology, but don’t get caught up in the thick of the thin. While important, facts and definitions do not define geology.

To really learn geology, focus on learning the primary processes associated with each major subject first. Then learn the key terms and concepts associated with each process. Focusing your initial studies on geological processes takes a top down approach to learning geology.

First you gain an understanding of the big picture, then you can see how individual concepts, facts and definitions fit into place. Using this method for learning and studying geology also makes it easier to understand and remember facts and definitions, as they’re acquired within the context provided by an understanding of the bigger picture.

Prepare for exams ahead of time

It’s a given, but we’ll say it again. Don’t wait until the night before to start studying for your exam. If you’ve completed all assignments on time during the semester, attended all lectures and labs, read your textbook, and taken good notes, we recommend that you start reviewing a week prior to exams.

This should give you plenty of time to refresh your memory and make sure you understand all major processes and concepts discussed throughout the semester. As tempting as it may be to cram, don’t do it.

Staying up late the night before an exam reviewing material causes you to lose precious sleep and usually doesn’t lead to better test performance. Don’t procrastinate your exam prep to the last minute, and the night before the exam make sure to get a good night’s rest.

Tips for geology lab

Labs are an important part of many geology courses, especially those offered at the college level. They’re also an effective means for learning geology and an important part of your grade – so take them seriously. Below are some tips for geology labs.

  • Don’t miss your labs. A lot of students look at labs as optional. They’re not, if you want to learn geology and do well in your geology course.
  • Labs give you hands-on experience that teaches important geology processes and concepts. Don’t think you can get everything you need to know about geology from listening to lectures and reading your textbook.
  • Come to your lab prepared. You’ll get much more out of the time spent in the lab if you arrive having reviewed your lab manual and are already familiar with the concepts and processes to be covered.
  • Take good notes. During your geology lab you’ll likely examine hundreds of mineral and rock specimens. You’ll also review topographic maps, land formations, and much more. Take good notes on what you discover and learn. Writing things down will help you learn and remember, and will prepare you for your exam.

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