College, above all else, is where you take control of your own learning. But many engineering students coast through primary and secondary school, hitting a wall when it’s time to hit the books.
It’s not that you can’t handle the work, it’s that your environment has changed. It’s time to take charge of your own education, dig deep, and learn how to study. You must learn time management, how to communicate, how to balance life and (home)work… It also means you have to set your own schedule and get yourself to class.
Go to your classes.
This is the first and hardest lesson many freshman need to learn. Even if some students skip this lesson in the first couple of years, the upper level courses will be unforgiving of this lapse. Start the habit early on in your academic career.
Having learned to go to class, it’s a matter of learning to study.
- If you had to work hard in high school, you’ll have to learn how to study.
- If you breezed through high school without much effort, you’ll really have to learn how to study.
There’s less time spent in class and more time outside of class where the real work is up to you. Seriously, go to your classes.
Just remember: the time spent in class is a more concise, time-compressed, and often very crowded and/or competitive environment in which you are handed the seeds of knowledge. What will you do with them?
Learn How To Study: Engineering Students vs. Everyone Else
For many Ivy Leaguers, good study habits are often ingrained form an early age. The takeaway for everyone else is that these are habits—regular, repeated actions that can become established. Ingrained.
Engineering students have their own unique challenges because of the range of technical and conceptual material you have to get into your heads. You’ll need to watch how you balance your class load. Be honest with yourself.
Aside from that, you’ll have to navigate how different professors approach their subjects. In order to understand the material, learn how to recognize what you need:
- More practical applications to understand theory
- More exercises to understand formulas and mathematical theories
- More visual representations (models, diagrams, flow charts, actual demonstrations) of data and formulas
- More explanation of the conceptual side—the how and why something works—rather than rote memorization of formulas
Knowing what you need will help you ask the right questions.
In order to thrive as an engineering student, you’ll still need to drill formulas, specs, and other technical or mathematical information. Consider using study tools in the digital space or borrowing notes from fellow students around the world (more on that below).
Online Study Tools for Engineers
You may already spend shameful amounts of time on the Internet, or you may simply be a digital native (we will kindly assume the latter). In either case, Internet tools are a natural extension of your learning. Here are two that are suited to learning engineering concepts:
- Memorize basic engineering and maths concepts while playing what feels like a simple game
- Also great for learning languages, sciences, and social sciences…
- Free-to-use website, upgrades available for additional functionality
Memrise works by using scientifically tested encoding methods to create vivid memories and presenting it in rhythm with a game-like feel. (There’s a high-score table if you’re into that sort of thing.) It’s an easy and engaging way to drill concepts into long(er)-term memory.
The mechanics are simple. Click or type answers – it switches up to prevent fatigue – as Memrise provides the learning mix.
- Pro Tip: If you need more stimulation, adjust your settings to Advanced or Super Advanced to customize the mix of concepts provided during each run. Go to your Dashboard then the “Learning preferences” tab.
Some Memrise topics in various engineering disciplines:
- Basic electricity & electronics – electrons, charge, current, potential, power; resistors, capacitors, inductors
- HTML5 – formatting, forms, lists, tables, styles & sections, etc.
- Resistor colors – resistance, multiplier, tolerance; theoretical and practical practice
- Electrical symbols – over 90 symbols so far
- MatLab – functions, equations
- Petroleum engineering figures – reservoir dimensions, oil-gas densities, viscosities, capillary forces, equations of state, etc.
- Hydraulic and pneumatic symbols – functional elements, pipes and connections, mechanical parts, actuation methods, valves, etc.
If you can’t find the drills you need, make your own. That in itself will be a great learning exercise, and you’ll be helping out your community of fellow learners.
- A “collaborative learning ecosystem” populated with user-generated study materials
- Can be used as an electronic flashcard system, notes organizer, and self-quiz generator
- Use flashcards and notes uploaded by other users or upload your own
- Search by topic, even find materials by school, professor, and class
- Free to use and available as an app for Android and iOS
StudyBlue is popular with college students but also with middle- and high-schoolers. This may indicate that this type of study system is a natural fit for digital natives. If you’re accustomed to using tools like Evernote as e-memory to complement our o-memory (organic memory), StudyBlue may prove useful.
Good Study Habits that Apply To Everyone
There are many resources on the Internet, like this collection of great advice from a professor (we also like his post about the nine kinds of students). If you conduct a ridiculously broad search for something like “how to study”, you’ll come up with 726 million results. There’s really no shortage of advice, and many repeat the same things. These are tenets of good study:
- Go to class.
- Read all the required reading – read it early, read until you comprehend, then read it again when the time comes for review.
- Take good notes. Review and copy your notes regularly. Learning to take good notes teaches you how to learn.
- Study in a place away from distractions. Somewhere quiet is a good start.
- Ask for help when you need it. Go to your professor, a writing lab, a student tutor…find a live person to help.
- Surround yourself with good students. Choose well and it will rub off on you.
- Take care of your health. Sleep well. Eat well. It’s easy to go for whatever is fastest, cheapest, or most convenient, but it’s a trap. You need quality brain fuel. Learn to cook or find options in your area. Have a memorable college experience, but watch your intake of parties, alcohol, and drugs.
Here’s a YouTube playlist (36 minutes total) of how to get the most out of studying.
One more thing:
Don’t be afraid to drop a class. Know when to adjust your schedule so you don’t wreck your GPA. If you’re on financial aid, be well aware of how dropping a class affects your aid package. You’ll lose aid if you go below the required amount of hours each semester, but you’ll also lose aid if you don’t get the required minimum grade in the class. Know the add-drop deadlines so you can make a class switch if you need to. Even if you’re not on financial aid (lucky you!), knowing the proper drop deadlines can ensure you get a full refund. If you’re confused, get advice from your counselor in the financial aid office.
Help the Engineering Student and Continuing Education Community
If you’ve got your own advice, hacks, horror stories, or something to brag about, sound out in the comments. Let’s demystify engineering school together.
Featured Image Credit: Francisco Osorlo