As is likely obvious to anyone who’s gone to school before, different subjects need to be studied in different ways. Studying a book for an English paper is very different than studying a theorem for a math test. There are times where this can get very granular – one class might be completely different from its prerequisite in terms of how best to study.

Sometimes though, articulating the differences between the different kinds of classes can be tricky. A class studying game design and a class studying algorithms don’t seem all that different at first glance to people with surface knowledge of both subjects, as many students may be when planning their schedules. But in practice, those classes might ask very different things from their students.

How can we use this to our advantage?

I think it’s a wise idea to create a taxonomy of class types, which is basically just a fancy way of saying you should identify what different classes have in common and give them a name. A biology, chemistry, and physics class may all have lab projects to do, so perhaps they all go together. But maybe biology asks you to write long papers like english class does, and chemistry and physics ask you to do equations like math does, so maybe sorting things that way makes a bit more sense.

There’s really no right or wrong way to do this. It’ll never be an exact science, and you’ll likely run into classes that fall outside of whatever system you come up with. But this is a system you’re creating for yourself and only yourself, so it’s okay to do whatever you want with it as long as it does more good than harm.

This sort of system can be useful in a lot of ways, especially if you get a lot of leeway and information for choosing your classes. It’s common sense to avoid taking multiple writing-heavy courses in a single semester, but it might be less obvious to avoid taking too many theory-heavy courses, or too many speech heavy courses, or too many courses that assign homework every single day.

It can also be useful for figuring out what study skills work best in unfamiliar territory. For instance, say you find yourself in a programming class with no prior experience. Figuring out the best way to study for this kind of course when you haven’t ever had to in the past can be tricky, and different courses will have different needs. But being able to figure out whether you need to learn the material by doing or that you need to memorize the minutiae can be the difference between a C and an A.*

Ultimately, this sort of a thing won’t work for everyone. But a little bit of clever planning can go a long way towards reducing stress and boosting your GPA all at once.


* Hint for anyone in this precise situation: ask your instructor what you’re allowed to bring to the exams. If it’s pretty open in terms of notes and materials, do a lot of practical practicing. If it’s pretty closed, absorb as much of the details as you possibly can.)

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