Mastering the Sciences

We’ve gotten through the tough job of mastering History and English prep. The techniques that we listed aren’t just great for Finals prep, they’re really helpful to tackle as new units come up. With each new primary source and each new novel, preparing ahead of time with detailed notes on themes will help you avoid monster cramming. Now, let’s move onto the sciences and maths, shall we?




In math, you can of course sit and do all the problems you’ve already done over the semester, but it lulls you into complacency. Many students think that they can practice their review sheet and be ready for finals…here’s a more comprehensive and sure approach to doing well.


Step 1. Use the review sheet as a diagnostic test. Go through the whole sheet without seeking help from your textbook or class notes. Make note of which questions you guessed on, highlight anytime you made a careless mistake. When you’ve practiced enough to master the material, you’ll be able to see those inclinations for careless errors from a mile away.


E.g. In trig: if you’re asked to give a coordinate point based on a radiant angle…you know you better check and double check all of your negatives for sine and cosine, based on the quadrant, because it’s the last thing you add and it’s frequently forgotten. Competence is getting through the problem, getting to the end, and remembering that it’s a negative at the last step. Mastery is reading the question and saying right away “Hey! This one’s trying to trick me with the negative, but I don’t fall for it!”.



Step 2. Use the questions you scored poorly on to lead you in reviewing those sections in the text book. Do the problems from those homework assignments; use the review of that unit as a second diagnostic. Again, be wary of careless mistakes.


Step 3Think like a teacher: Try to come up with your own hardest questions;  What would you use to trip up your fellow students? How can you combine questions? Look for themes in types of questions assigned; in what sections do teachers give most difficult problems? Can you think of problems that you’ve been given that tested the entire focus of a section in a single question?


Step 4. Create a roadmap for the challenging problems: Write out your steps to answering the question. If you can’t figure out where to start, work backwards.







Science is a tricky beast to master; it’s a humanities and a math at the same time. The theme and idea have to be well understood to approach the problem with the right mathematical reasoning. You have to master the theory behind the problem and apply mathematics to practice of getting answers.

Therefore, it’s helpful to separate out the theory from the math, and study them separately. We recommend starting the the ‘humanities’ of science.


Step 1. As in math, create a roadmap for your problems; e.g. I know that I need to find the normal force in order to find the coefficient of friction, in order to then find the acceleration, in order to then find the mass. You need to be able to say it in words before you do it in numbers.


Step 2. Spot where your strengths and weakness lie. Usually, students focus on the math aspects of Chemistry and Physic. But for finals, many teachers are concerned about the understanding of concepts. They want to make sure you’ve understood the why of the science as well as the how.


Step 3. A great way to practice your conceptual understanding is to use a dummy; your parents, your brother, your neighbor (no offence, family and friends).


If you’re studying Chemistry, you need to be able to explain what a mole is (and why it’s useful) to somebody that doesn’t know what it is (besides a hairless animal.)


For Physics: Can you explain to your parents why a falling object reaches terminal velocity?


In Biology, can you trace the path of a neurological impulse through both peripheral and central nervous system…and back?


Step 4. Once you feel like you can explain the major themes and ideas in laymen terms to your ‘dummies’, make sure you have the necessary terminology to answer conceptual questions on your test. Many times, I see students miss points on a question, because while they have explained the concept correctly and have shown their understanding, they don’t use the appropriate terminology. For example, no matter how well you explain natural selection on your Bio final, if you don’t hit the words fitness and speciation, you’ll only get partial credit. Make yourself vocabulary flashcards, pair the words together by concept.



Step 5. Once you have the humanities aspect of your science work done, it’s time to work on the math portion of the subject. Read the steps above for math prep, rinse and repeat.


Step 6. Especially in Physics and Chemistry, finals will ask you to do a reverse of the problems you’ve been practicing in homework and quizzes. So if most of your work has concentrated on figuring out the chemical composition to find out the number of moles of the substance… then you know on the test you should be able to do it in reverse, even if your homework problems have not covered that. Go back through your problems and see how the answer could be turned into a question…and how you’d solve it from the other side.


Comments are closed.