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How to learn science?

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Key Points:

  1. Most students will learn quite different science classes from schools, but there are still some common topics. Science is based on math. Students with good math skills can achieve good performance in science as well.

  2. WikiHow has many articles talking about science, but each standalone article can't form a solid and comprehensive solution. Therefore, we have rewritten and integrated several articles together to create a better version. However, this is still more like a summary of science instead of teaching science.

According to Wikipedia, "Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe." "Modern science is typically divided into three major branches: natural sciences (e.g., biology, chemistry, and physics), which study the physical world; the social sciences (e.g., economics, psychology, and sociology), which study individuals and societies; and the formal sciences (e.g., logic, mathematics, and theoretical computer science), which study formal systems, governed by axioms and rules."

For primary and secondary school, science class is basically teaching natural sciences, including biology, chemistry and physics. It's just teaching some fundamental knowledge and doesn't involve too complex concepts and calculations. Unlike math, science is very broad, and each country could be very different in the way to teach science. Even in the same country, each school could be teaching quite different contents or topics for science class.

Generally speaking, science class could include the following contents:

Physics: motion, forces, and work; energy; outer space - the universe and the solar system; the earth, weather, atmosphere, and climate.

Chemistry: matter, periodic table, atomic structure, chemical reactions, and solutions.

Biology: life classification and cells, plants and animals, the human body, genetics, evolution, ecology and ecosystem.

Here we quote the best way to learn science provided by wikiHow, a wiki that is building the world's largest and highest quality how-to manual. Please edit the articles and find author credits at the original wikiHow articles on How to Do Well in Science Class, How to Teach Physics, How to Get Started in Chemistry, How to Study for Biology. Content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons License. We also recommend a good website for learning science: Home | ExploreLearning.

Doing well in science depends on developing effective study skills and learning to participate in class. If your science class includes labs, you’ll want to learn to do a good job in labs as well. If you’ve got good study skills that you’ve acquired in other courses, you’ll be able to use many of these to do well in science.

Part 1: How to Do Well in Science Class

1. Developing Effective Study Skills: Take clear, organized notes; reread your notes after class; find a quiet place to study; study in blocks of time; refer to multiple sources (Khan Academy is a good source for many scientific topics); learn the reasons behind the facts; become familiar with the metric system; think about teaching someone else; learn your own best study skills.

2. Participating in Science Class: Read the assigned material; join to the best of your ability; pay attention to any recommended reading; pay attention to demonstrations; practice good test-taking skills.

3. Doing a Good Job in Labs: Be prepared for the lab; bring all necessary materials to your lab; learn to write a report ( you can expect your report to include: title, abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, references and literature cited); keep a laboratory notebook (It is a permanent record of the observations you make in your lab and you’ll write your lab report based on records you’ve kept in your notebook); work effectively with others.

Part 2: How to Learn Physics (Primary and Secondary School)

1. Introducing Fundamental Concepts

Define physics as the study of matter in motion. Physics aims to describe the most fundamental, or most basic, aspects of the universe. Physicists try to understand matter and the forces that govern its motion.

Learn the scientific method. Start by listing the steps of the scientific method: observation, asking a question, forming a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis, analyzing the data, and forming a conclusion.

Learn the SI units of measurement. The sciences employ 7 standard units of measurement called the SI (système international, or international system) base units. These units are derived from natural constants, and help ensure measurements are accurate and standardized. The base units are:

  • The meter (m), which measures length.

  • The kilogram (kg), or the unit of mass.

  • The second (s), which measures duration.

  • The ampere (A), which measures electrical current.

  • The kelvin (K), the unit for temperature.

  • The mole (mol), which measures the amount of substance, or the number of elementary particles in an object.

  • The candela (cd), which measures the intensity of light.

Learn how to solve for variables. If you have already taken algebra courses, remind that you'll use formulas to find unknown quantities, or variables.

2. Covering Basic Kinematics

Start by introducing scalar and vector quantities. Describing one-dimensional motion, or motion in 1 direction, is the most basic task in physics. Phrases like "going fast" and "slowing down" describe motion, but they're not very precise. In physics, mathematical quantities called scalars and vectors are used to precisely describe an object's motion.

  • Define scalars as measurements that describe a magnitude alone, such as an object's speed or a distance. Offer examples of scalar quantities, such as a distance of 20 m, a speed of 10 m/s, and a mass of 100 g. These numbers are scalars because they don't give information about direction.

  • In contrast, vectors describe both magnitude and direction, such as a velocity of 40 m/s north, an acceleration of 9.8 m/s2 downward, or a displacement of 25 m west.

Practice simple formulas by understanding speed and distance. Remind that speed and distance are scalar quantities, since they don't give information about direction. Speed is the distance an object has traveled in a given amount of time. Understand how the formula s = d/t expresses this relationship.

Learn how to determine velocity. Velocity is a vector, since it describes an object’s speed and its direction of motion. Understand the formula vf = vi + at, where vf is final velocity, vi is initial velocity, a is acceleration, and t is time.

Define acceleration as the rate of change in velocity. Understand that acceleration is the rate of change in velocity over a given period of time. It's a vector, since it gives a motion's direction. Understand the equation a = Δv / Δt, and note that Δv (or vf - vi) is the change in velocity, and Δt (or tf - ti) is the amount of time.

how to calculate displacement. Displacement is the distance and direction of an object’s motion along a straight line. Understand the formula d = vit + ½at^2, that vi is initial velocity, a is acceleration, and t is time.

Add two-dimensional motion. Draw intersecting vertical and horizontal lines to make a large "+" shape. Understand that this is an xy graph, that the vertical line, or y, is upward and downward motion, and the x axis is backward and forward motion.

Understand how to calculate a vector's components. Draw a diagonal line pointing up and to the right on the graph at a 60° angle. Label it "v = 50 m/s," and this represents the upward and forward motion of a cannonball. Now draw a rectangle around the diagonal line so the rectangle's lower left vertex is at one end of the line, and its top right vertex is at the other.

3. Explaining Force, Work, and Energy

Learn simple machines:

A simple machine is a mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force. In general, they can be defined as the simplest mechanisms that use mechanical advantage (also called leverage) to multiply force. Usually the term refers to the six classical simple machines that were defined by Renaissance scientists:

Learn forces and Newton’s laws. Newton’s laws of motion are the foundation of classical physics. They explain the relationships between an object and the forces that act on it.

  • The first law of motion, or the law of inertia, states that any object in motion will stay in motion at the same speed and same direction unless another force acts on it.

  • Newton’s second law states that the force acting on an object determines its change in momentum. This law gives us the equation F = m / a, which we can use to find the magnitude of a force. F is force (measured in newtons), m is the object’s mass, and a is its acceleration.

  • The third law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Understand that work is the action of a force. Work is what a force does, or how much it moves an object. Work transfers energy from one object to another. Energy is needed in order for one object to move, heat, or affect another.

  • In the formula W = Fd cosθ, where W is work, F is force, d is displacement, and cosθ is the cosine of the angle between the force direction and the object’s direction of motion. Note that the unit of measurement for work is joules, which is 1 newton of force exerted over 1 meter, or 1 N multiplied by 1 m.

Learn how to calculate kinetic energy. Energy is the ability to do work, and there are 2 forms. Potential energy is stored energy, and kinetic energy is the energy of a moving body. For example, if you’re at the top of a hill, you have more potential energy than at the bottom. If you roll down the hill, you convert your potential energy into motion.

Learn some examples of potential energy.

  • To calculate elastic potential energy, or energy stored in a spring, write the formula U = ½kx^2. Understand that k refers to the spring’s stiffness, or its spring constant, and x is how far it’s been stretched. For example, if a spring with a spring constant of 10 N/m has been stretched 1 m, its potential energy is ½(10)(1)^2, or 25 J.

  • To find the gravitational potential energy (on Earth), here is the formula U = mgh, where m is the object’s mass, g is the Earth’s gravitational constant (9.8 m/s2), and h is the object’s height. "Suppose a drone weighs 2 kg and is flying at a height of 100 m. Its gravitational potential energy equals (2)(9.8)(100), or 1,960 J."

Part 3: How to Learn Biology (Primary and Secondary School)

1. Learning the Material

Have a positive attitude towards biology. Biology can be complicated, but it is also very interesting if you take a step back to think about what you're studying. Having the right attitude can make it more fun to study. It will still be difficult, but if you're interested in what you're learning, it won't feel like such a burden.

  • It can be helpful to connect biological concepts to real-world situations.

  • Think about how your body works. How do your muscles work together to allow you to move? How does your brain communicate with those muscles to tell your body to take a step? It's very complex, but all of the cells in your body work together to keep you healthy.

  • Biology teaches you all about these processes and how they work. That's pretty fascinating if you think about it.

Break down complex words into their roots. You might find the vocabulary of biology complicated and difficult to spell. However, most words in this subject come from Latin, and have a prefix and suffix. Knowing the prefixes and suffixes that compose the terms can help you spell difficult words and grasp their meaning.

  • For example, the word "glucose" can be separated into two parts, "gluc" means sweet, and "-ose" means sugar. As "-ose" means sugar, you know maltose, sucrose, and lactose are sugars as well.

  • The term "endoplasmic reticulum" seems difficult. However, if you know "endo" means "within/inside," "plasmic" means cytoplasm, and "reti" stands for net, you will know that it is a net-like structure that is found inside the cytoplasm.

Make flashcards for the vocabulary words. Flashcards are one of the best ways to learn the meanings of the many words you'll come across in biology. You can carry them around with you and study them at any time. In the car on the way to school is a great time to flip through your flashcards. While the process of making flashcards is a helpful way to study, the cards themselves are only useful if you actually study them as well.

  • At the beginning of each new unit, identify the vocabulary words that you don't know and make flashcards of them.

  • Study these cards all throughout the unit and by the time the test comes, you will know them all!

Draw and label diagrams. Sketching a diagram of a biological process can be a simpler way to learn the concept than just reading about it. If you really understand it, you should be able to draw the entire process and label all of the important aspects. Study the diagrams that are in your textbook as well. Read the captions and truly understand what the diagram is representing and how it relates to the concept you are learning.

  • Many biology courses will start by learning about the cell and the various parts and organelles that makeup the cell. Being able to draw this and label all of the pieces is important.

  • The same goes for many of the cell cycles such as ATP synthesis and the Krebs Cycle. Practice drawing these a few times a week to make sure you have them down before the exam.

Read the textbook before class. Biology is not a subject that can be absorbed in the short period of time you are in class. Reading the material before it is covered in class will give you a head start on the concepts and you'll know what is coming up. The text will introduce the topics to you and you will get much more out of class if you come prepared to ask questions based on your reading.

  • Refer to your syllabus to know what parts of the book to read before class.

  • Take notes on the material and come to class with questions in hand.

Learn concepts from general to specific. Understanding biology requires that you have a general understanding of the broad concepts before you can really get into the details. Really master the broad topics before trying to comprehend the details of how they work.

  • You need to know that proteins are made from the blueprints of DNA before you can understand how the DNA is read and then translated into these proteins.

  • Outlines are a great way to organize your notes from general to specific.

2. Studying the Material

Answer the questions at the end of each chapter. Biology textbooks have really good questions at the end of each chapter that reinforce the concepts that you need to understand from the material. Try answering the questions and see how many you can get through. Take note of the questions that are more difficult to answer. Revisit your notes on these topics and/or reread that part of the chapter.

  • If you're having a lot of difficulty answering these questions, seek extra help from your classmates or teacher.

Review your notes within a day of each lecture. Avoid walking out of class and forgetting about everything you just learned. Reviewing your notes later that evening or the next day can help you synthesize what you have learned. When reviewing, ask yourself if everything makes sense.

  • If something stands out that confuses you, reread the material on that concept in your textbook. If it still doesn't make sense, ask your teacher about it in the next class.

Set aside time specifically for studying biology. Because biology can be difficult for many students, you must put in the time to do well. If you set aside time every night or every other night for biology, you will get into the good habit of frequently studying. You will thank yourself later when you don't have to cram for the exam because you have been reviewing everything this whole time.

Use mnemonic devices. Creating mnemonic devices can be really helpful when studying biology. For instance, you could create a mnemonic to help you remember the order of the substrates in the Krebs cycle.

  • A phrase like, "Citrate Is Krebs Starting Substrate For Making Oxaloacetate" can make it easier to remember Citrate, Isocitrate, Alpha-Ketoglutarate, Succinyl CoA, Succinate, Fumarate, Malate, Oxaloacetate.

Study old quizzes and exams before tests. If you have access to exams from previous years, try taking them and see how much of you get right. If you don't have access to these, study your quizzes and previous tests for an idea of the types of questions you will get asked.

Part 4: How to Learn Chemistry (Secondary School)

1. Familiarizing Yourself With the Periodic Table

Memorize the atomic symbols. An atom is the smallest unit of an element that retains the properties of that element. Each atom has its own spot on the periodic table, and its own one or two letter symbol. For example, the symbol for hydrogen is "H" and sodium is "Na."

Know how mass changes in the table. One of the important characteristics of an atom is how much mass it has. This tells you how many particles are in the nucleus of the atom (the particles outside the nucleus are so small that they do not count in the mass). The periodic table is arranged so that mass increases as you go from left to right (across a row) and from top to bottom (down a column).

Understand the major types of elements. The periodic table is broken up into several different types of elements. The broadest categories are metals, metalloids, and nonmetals. The category that an atom belongs to can tell you about its physical properties and its reactivity.

2. Knowing the Composition of Atoms

Know what subatomic particles make an atom. Three different subatomic particles make up an atom. Protons have a positive charge, neutrons lack charge, and electrons have a negative charge. The sum of protons and neutrons is equal to the mass of the atom (in atomic mass units). The mass of electrons is so little that they are not counted.

Be able to locate each particle. The nucleus is the center of the atom. This is where you will find protons and neutrons. Electrons orbit the nucleus in electron orbitals. Electrons do not typically enter the nucleus and protons and neutrons do not typically leave the nucleus.

Consider what happens when atoms bond. When two or more atoms join together, it is called bonding. Protons and neutrons are not directly involved in bonding. Electrons are shared or transferred between two or more atoms in a bond and this forms a molecule.

3. Grasping Reactions and Bonding

Learn the major types of bonds. Ionic bonds occur between metals and nonmetals. Covalent bonds occur between two nonmetals. In an ionic bond, electrons are more likely to be found at one end of a molecule than the other. This results in a negatively charged and positively charged end of the molecule. Covalent bonds share electrons more evenly.

Utilize chemical formulas. Chemical formulae provide information about what elements are present in a molecule or reaction, and in what proportions. For example, hydrochloric acid has a chemical formula of HCl and the chemical reaction describing burning methane is CH4 + 2O2 → 2H2O + CO2. The numbers before the chemical symbols are known as coefficients and tell you how many of that molecule or atom is present. The number in subscripts tell you how many of particular atom is present in the molecule.

Consider stability as a reason for bonding. Atoms and molecules bond together to become more stable. That is to say that they try to attain the lowest possible energy state. To break a bond, you have to add enough energy to make the bond no longer favorable. For this reason, bonds are often hard to break.

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