7 Study Tips to Master a Difficult Subject

All through the various levels of education in Nigeria, you will never meet a student that likes every subject in school. Even the brightest pupils do have red flags.

For me it was French and Process Control (at the university), Yoruba, Chemistry, and Geography (in secondary school), and some others I have probably forgotten about. But guess what? I never failed any of these subjects!

It is a normal experience for students to have difficult subjects, or else school would have been a paradise.

I have come to discover that our learning patterns are different, and most students easily develop hate for the subjects they do not understand.

If you’ve tried all you can without any result, then I want to encourage you never to give up. Sometimes the difference between the students who pass exams well and those who manage to scale through is the way they approach the subject.

It can be frustrating to put in so much effort and still nothing clicks!

By applying the study tips discussed below, you will be able to master your difficult subjects and perform better in your examination.

Start With the Basics

Most of the subjects we consider difficult are usually those we know little or nothing about previously. In order words, our basic understanding of the subject is still not clear and so we cannot comprehend higher concepts.

During the first year in the university, I was required to do French even though I was studying engineering. Although the lecturer was a kind man, he didn’t help me much because prior to that time, I knew very little about french.

There was no solid foundation to build upon, and the only way I could embrace the fresh wind was to go and learn the basics.

For you it could be maths, accounting, thermodynamics or some other technical subject. Most of the topics in these subjects are usually developed from the basic concepts you were taught in secondary school. If you were to take on them immediately, you might never get to figure out what is going on, no matter how hard you study.

The best and easiest way to start getting a hang of things is to go and study the fundamentals first. You can go back and read your secondary school books just to grab the concepts. This is why it’s important to start studying early so you will have enough time to learn or relearn many things.

This step may take time but believe me, it is the most important step you need to take when trying to master any difficult subject. Once you are able to grab the basics, you will not need to put in a lot of effort to understand the difficult concepts.

Skim through the Subject

There was something I did in school that worked for me; even today it continues to work for me as I learn new things. And that is the art of skimming.

When you’re dealing with a subject you don’t understand, the last thing you want to do is spend half an hour or more reading through the pages of the book. But this can really help.

Skim through a topic even though if it doesn’t make sense at first. Just read it like a novel – slow and steady. Try to grasp an overview of the subject or topic

In the end, you will be able to remember 20 to 30 percent of what you’ve read. If you repeat the process again, you will gain an even better understanding.

Solve Past Questions on the Subject

I cannot overemphasize the importance of solving past questions when trying to understand a difficult subject.

You may not have any motivation to attempt questions on a tough subject, but I encourage you to try it. Even if you don’t get to solve the questions yourself, you can read the explained answers. This is extremely important when preparing for an exam as it gives you an idea of what to expect on the D-day.

Reading past questions and the supplied answers tend to be less complicated as studying the corresponding topics. Consequently, you will develop more interest in the subject and approach it with a better understanding as you read it a second time.

Read the Subject Again

Once you’re done practicing past questions, the next step you can take to further your understanding of a topic is to read the topic a second time.

By now, you’re no longer new to the subject and many things would start to make more sense to you.

I made B twice in French Language in my first year at the university using this method.

I read little from my note, then checked for past questions and their answers, then go back and read again relating what I practiced in past questions with what I’m reading. This helped to solidify my understanding. I did this repeatedly, more than I could remember.

I never understood French (not even now), but somehow I managed to get it right at that moment because I immersed myself in the subject. Somehow I was able to grasp the concepts.

A good practice you can adopt when reading a topic for a second time after solving past questions is to highlight the lines or paragraphs you think are important or where questions would probably come from.

Take a break, then come back to read again

After reading the topic or subject for a second time, I advise giving yourself a week, then comeback to read it again. This will help you really solidify the concepts you started learning a few days back.

During this third reading, try to take notes. This will help in cementing what you’ve read and make things a whole lot clearer to you.

It will also ensure you have something to fall back too during revision. In other words, you don’t have to read the entire subject or topic again, you can read your notes instead.

Give yourself time to master the difficult subject or topic. You can take breaks during reading sessions to allow the underlying ideas to sink in well. Passive reading should always be done with understanding, or else it would be a mere waste of time.

Solve Past Questions on the Subject Again

After going through your books again, the next thing you want to do to accelerate your effort to understand a difficult subject is to attempt past questions again.

This time around, you are more likely to approach the questions with more confidence. To further enhance your understanding of the topic, try not to look at the answers to the questions before solving them.

By now, you would have noticed your interest in the topic has improved and you are more likely to proceed to related topics with ease.

If you are facing maths or any calculation-related subjects, then you would probably need to practice. This means solving more past questions and asking help from other people who tend to understand the subject better than you.

Join a study group

This is a very important part. There are certain subjects you can’t just understand on your own, no matter how well you study. In such a situation, joining a study group will really help.

There would obviously be people who know the subject better than you do. You can pair up with them and tap from their understanding.

You could also discuss topics and solve past questions together. This is really important when struggling with difficult subjects like maths.

I have always had a strong foundation in maths so I didn’t find it difficult to grab concepts in calculation related subjects in school. But I had friends who were not as good. Most of the time, we organized study classes to teach the difficult subjects and solve past questions.

To wrap it up

It might surprise you to know that I’m a chemical engineer today, and yet I never liked chemistry in secondary school. Through experience, I learned how to deal with difficult subjects in school.

Though this article is not about me, I just wanted to let you know that I once had to struggle with subjects I didn’t like in school or found very difficult to understand. I still face some of those things today, but somehow I have learned how to deal with them, and so I never consider anything too difficult to learn. By the way, am also a software engineer – I guess that would get your more curious.

The tips I have shared above have really helped to transform me from a dull learner to a very intelligent one. Believe me, you would be able to master any difficult subject you find in your path.

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