Studying in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Math, and Science

12. February 2017 Organization 0
Studying in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Math, and Science

Studying in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Math, and Science


Humanities classes are concerned with all areas of human effort-relationships, creativity, inventions-and include courses such as literature, drama, philosophy, music, art, religion, and many more. Although it may appear that these courses are “easier” than math or science, humanities courses can be challenging because they require students to interpret, evaluate, and critique their texts.
What strategies work best for studying in the humanities?

In the humanities you will not find many bold-faced vocabulary words. But you may find some unfamiliar use of words or dialects in your reading. In class it will be important to take notes on the discussion and to try to connect your notes to your reading every day.

  • Before class. Read the material carefully because many of these courses are based on class discussion. Professors will expect you to look for relationships between themes, metaphors, philosophies, and ideas. Therefore, as you read, think about analyzing and interpreting as you go. If you are required to write papers, it is a good idea to note interesting quotes, ideas, or other thoughts that can help you in your writing. In addition, think about ideas to add to your class discussion as you read.
  • After class. At the end of your notes for the day, jot down any ideas you have, thinking about the topics emphasized by the professor and by the class, and connect them to your reading. In many humanities classes you will be required to express your thoughts in writing-either through papers or essay exams. If you pull your ideas together on a daily basis, you will find your job is much easier. Many students find a concept chart helpful in organizing ideas. Think about the following as you synthesize and review:
  • What was the author’s purpose in writing?
  • How did the professor and the class respond to this piece of writing?
  • What themes, metaphors, philosophies, and so forth does the writer use? Are there any key quotes that show the themes?
  • How does this piece compare to other readings we have done?

Social Sciences

Social science courses are generally concerned with what happens in a society. This includes courses such as psychology, sociology, political science, education, history, and more. In these courses you will study the political, cultural, economic, and social aspects of society. Textbooks in social sciences tend to be arranged either chronologically (over time) or topically. This means that you can read the text in any order because the knowledge of later chapters does not depend on the ideas discussed in earlier chapters. Some social science classes are based on lecture but many employ a discussion format.

What strategies work best for studying social science?

In social science textbooks you will find many specialized terms that may seem familiar, but have different meaning in the context of the class. For example, the word “class” would mean very different things in a political science course than it would in an education course. Students may have difficulty in social science classes if they attempt to memorize these terms, because the social sciences are primarily theoretically based. So, you will be dealing with larger issues where there is often more than one correct answer.

  • Before Class. Read and annotate your textbook, looking for comparison/contrast or cause/effect relationships. These are often the focus of both class discussion and essay topics. In addition, try to predict possible test questions as you read.
  • After Class. Identify relationships among ideas, events, and trends. This can be difficult to do when there is so much information so you will need to use strategies that help you see the big picture without getting bogged down in the details. Try making a list of the important information and drawing lines between items to show relationships.


Reading a mathematics textbook is not like reading literature, or any other textbook. Math texts are generally well organized, but use few words to describe concepts, relying mainly on examples and problems to relay ideas. In addition to what we generally think of as mathematics courses, computer science, engineering, chemistry, statistics, and physics are also math-based courses. In math, you are expected to understand abstract principles and theories as they are presented. Math ideas are usually presented sequentially, which means that the ideas build on one another. Learning math is cumulative, so you need to be sure you understand one idea before moving on to the next.
What strategies work best for studying math?

Typically, math courses emphasize problem-solving. You will be asked to apply math principles and formulas in a variety of situations. Some math courses are discussion based, some involve writing, but often they are lecture based with the instructor solving problems and explaining concepts.

  • Before class. Preview the text to see what you will be discussing. Note the concepts and formulas and think about what you might already know about the topic. You should also review your notes from the previous class.
  • After class. Read the text. Take your time and be sure you understand each concept before moving on to the next. Annotate key ideas, formulas, symbols, and principles in the margin, to help you remember them. Do the practice problems after reading, to help you monitor your understanding. Then, pull the concepts together. Try to combine several concepts into a larger problem. It is also helpful to form a study group because talking through difficult ideas with classmates can help you see where your understanding is breaking down.


Science courses can be divided into two categories: math-based and text-based science courses. Math-based courses, such as chemistry or physics, contain formulas and problems like your mathematics courses, but also contain important diagrams and have a focus on explaining scientific theories and processes. Text-based science courses, such as biology, agriculture, ecology, botany, or astronomy are often more similar to social science courses. There is generally little math involved. Rather, you will be asked to read, understand, and apply science concepts discussed in class and in your text. Many science courses include a lab component where you will experience hands-on application. As with mathematics courses, science concepts are usually presented sequentially, which means that the information builds. In order to understand the concepts in later chapters, you need to have built a good foundation with the concepts presented earlier.

What strategies work best for studying science?

In science textbooks you will usually find many new terms and definitions. Often, a textbook might be filled with bold-faced terms, which many students interpret to mean lots of memorization. But most science professors expect students to go beyond memorization, and understand how the science processes work.

  • Before class. Read and annotate your textbook so you have an idea of what will be discussed. Students who feel that the pace of class is too fast in their science classes, tend to feel much better prepared once they start reading before the lecture. You will become familiar with the terms and concepts presented, and will be able to build on that knowledge by comparing your lecture with the text information. As you read, ask yourself questions about the material such as:
  • Is this concept a theory or has it been definitively proven?
  • How does this idea connect to others?
  • How does it connect to a scientific process?
  • How does the scientific process work?
  • What does this process explain?
  • After class. Make connections between ideas and go beyond memorization. Making concept maps is a good way to make these connections. As you read, fill in your concept map with the important scientific processes. Or you might want to make concept cards, but to be effective you will need to do much more than memorize the terms. Spread out your cards to show the relationship between ideas or to show the order of the science process. This will help you see the big picture. It is also important to use the diagrams and charts contained in your textbooks. A good self-testing strategy is to try to explain these visuals without looking at the text. If you can talk through the science processes contained in the diagram, you have shown that you understand it.

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