10 Useful Tips for Dealing With Hard Subjects


Feb 12, 2023

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Throughout your college career, you’re bound to ace a few classes and find others that are more challenging. Unless you’re some prodigy, you’ll unlikely be an expert in every subject. 

Many students find they have difficulty retaining complex information. Maybe they’ve never been a good test taker or have always struggled to understand a specific topic. They could also have never determined the best study strategies to meet their learning needs.

Fortunately, there are many approaches to dealing with hard subjects in college. The most important thing is that students don’t give up on themselves or their abilities. Here are 10 valuable tips for creating positive study habits to succeed in school.

1. Minimize Distractions

A recent survey found that 49% of students are distracted by technology, admitting that off-task device usage feels necessary when they’re bored with their class or professor. At the same time, professors have begun incorporating technology into their curriculums, including online textbooks.

Yet, nothing compares to print materials when dealing with hard subjects. Although technology has its advantages, screen time induces eye strain and limits one’s ability to highlight important details. Instead, put your devices away and crack open hard-copy textbooks and study guides to improve your concentration.

2. Scan the Chapter 

Learning complex materials can become more manageable if we approach them in broader terms. 

For example, scanning chapter headings, subheadings, illustrations, and captions puts your brain in a more receptive state, allowing it to dive into new concepts. 

You might think of this as preparation for learning. In a way, scanning the chapter first eases you into a subject. 

3. Break the Topic Into Smaller Chunks

If you attempt to digest everything at once, you’ll never be able to retain the information. It’s much more effective to break the subject into smaller chunks. 

Creating sections for the materials allows you to uncover commonalities you can link or build upon as you retrieve more information. In this sense, the brain works to recognize and correlate different patterns. 

4. Study One Subject at a Time

A surefire way to make a complex subject even more confusing is to combine it with another course’s materials. When we try to accomplish two things simultaneously, it hinders our performance. 

Consider how multiple tasks share working memory, which causes them to compete for cognitive attention. When studying hard topics, it’s important to reduce interference and concentrate on one subject instead. 

It might help to schedule a time to review each class’ notes and commit to studying your most complicated subjects individually.

5. Uncover Your Learning Style

Identifying your preferred learning styles could be the ticket to mastering hard subjects. In fact, 89.1% of educators believe matching students to their learning styles is the key to academic achievement.

While researchers have indicated 71 learning modes, the seven most common styles include visual, auditory, verbal, logical, social, solitary, and kinesthetic. 

For instance, students who prefer kinesthetic methods learn best from hands-on practice or movement, while visual learners might retain information more easily from diagrams, pictures, lists, and graphs.

6. Create Analogies and Comparisons

The brain is a complex organ. As such, providing numerous ways for it to connect and compare concepts is essential. 

A simple analogy can make tough topics more relatable. Complicated math problems might become clearer if you create a real-life situation to find the solution. Likewise, likening different animal cell parts to a town or community can help you understand the various functions. 

Perhaps write your analogy down for when you revisit the materials later. Writing things down also helps activate the brain’s memory reaction.

7. Read Materials Out Loud

Perhaps “popcorn reading” in elementary and middle school was more effective than you thought. A 2017 study found that reading aloud and hearing yourself speak improves memory by enabling the brain to store information long-term.

When faced with complex topics, consider reading the textbook chapter or the steps to solve a problem out loud. It could positively influence your ability to recall information during a test. 

8. Watch Videos for a Deeper Understanding

Visual learners might find that watching videos are best for dealing with hard subjects. Students may want to search for a specific concept on YouTube for a quick explanation or a different perspective on a particular topic.

There may be a helpful tutorial that makes problem-solving math equations more straightforward and faster. You can then take what you’ve learned to your class and impart your new skills to your peers and professor.

9. Visit the Tutoring Center

Inquire about your college’s academic support services for extra help. Most colleges have a tutoring center where you can seek assistance from a student or teacher in whatever subject is giving you difficulty.

Studies show that learning support services improve retention by 90% for first-year students. 

Additionally, students who take advantage of their school’s tutoring services have a 86% higher chance of returning each semester until they graduate.

10. Ask Your Professor for Help

Of course, asking an expert is the most effective way to deal with hard subjects. If you’ve tried the other techniques to no avail, your professor will surely be glad to help.

Schedule time to sit with them during their designated office hours and come prepared with your questions. They can help bring you up to speed, so you don’t fall behind.

Dealing With Hard Subjects for Better Grades

Dealing with hard subjects takes practice, especially if you haven’t built effective study habits yet. However, it’s not impossible. Try different strategies to see what works best for you to master topics that give you the most trouble.

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