Studying for College Applied Math Courses

(I also posted this on my Tumblr blog here.)

In this post, I specifically address how I studied for Calculus III, but the methods I discuss can be used for other math or math-heavy classes (e.g., physics) as well. While intended for college math, ambitious high schoolers might also appreciate this advice. I’ve taken 5 college-level math classes so far (Statistics, Calculus I-III, Differential Equations), so I’d like to think I’ve got the hang of this because I put a lot of effort into improving my techniques, allowing me to ace Calculus III this summer!


  • Reviewing Prerequisite Material
  • My Homework Process
  • Keeping a Practice Notebook
  • Resources to Help with Homework
  • Exam Studying

This post is very detailed, so I hope it helps you out!

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Maintaining an Organized Lab Notebook

(Originally posted on my tumblr here.)

After years of chemistry labs, it was my Modern Physics Lab that taught me how to keep a proper lab notebook, and those skills have helped me tremendously in maintaining an organized notebook to document my research. In this post, I’ll explain how to set up a couple different types of lab notebooks, provide tips on presentation, and even show you some scanned examples of my best notebook spreads which got me As in Modern Physics!

Includes: Detailed Rules, Suggestions, General Setup, Add-ins, Sample Notebook Spreads, and Bonus! QR Codes!

I hope you find this helpful!

– Melissa  (@hexaneandheels )

Study Tips | FAQ in Academia | Printables | YouTube | Instagram

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Superb Studyguides and Mini Moleskines

As a tutor, many students ask me for tips on making study guides. Generally, my response is that, “it depends”.

But hold on. Before we continue we should discuss what the purpose of a study guide really is.

Study guides fall into two main categories: study guides that prompt you to find/think about information and study guides that directly organize the information you need to know. Some professors provide you with study guides of the former kind (i.e., you’re not given the answers), and it’s essentially your job to create your own study guide of the latter type. Both categories serve the purpose of organizing information you already have in order to synthesize a study tool that best facilitates your comprehension and memorization of the information at hand, just at a different stage in the process.

Before you even start, it is helpful to be aware of the level at which you are required to know the information for your test. The most basic of these is recalling definitions, which can accomplished by use of flashcards. Other information you’ll have to know will require you to compare ideas or apply them. Think of your learning process as literal → interpretive → applicative, meaning you will need study guides that help you visualize, draw relationships, and understand material so you may memorize less in a way that helps you answer more, and better than straight memorization ever could.

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I’ll try to be better about posting here. I’m so used to just posting on tumblr, since Instagram and whatnot is connected. I was planning on just importing all my study posts at once but I don’t think I will do that. I’ll just sprinkle them in slowly (the few I’ve posted her I made sure to edit and fix up before posting, so it’s not as simple as copy and paste). And otherwise write about my journey here.

Lately I haven’t been the most productive. I’ve been in a funk since the weekend. But I’m studying with my friend tonight so hopefully that’ll help get me back into the normal routine of things.


starbucksGreen tea latte and some exam studying. A relaxing morning.

I have a love-hate relationship with early morning doctor’s appointments. I hate to get out of my comfy and warm bed… But I love it when I can successfully wake up early and have a productive start to my day! Granted, as you can see by the clock, it’s late morning, but anything earlier than noon on break is a plus for me!

Starbucks is so stereotypical for a studyspo sort of picture. I hardly ever go there because it’s so expensive. I was just craving green tea latte.

Conquering Procrastination

Procrastination is a huge productivity killer, and it affects everyone. If you’re a student with a full course load or a professional with a large workload, these tips can help you get back on track.

1. Create and maintain a Work-Progress Journal.

A Work-Progress Journal is exactly what it sounds like; a journal to keep track of the work you’re doing and the progress you’re making. You don’t need any fancy notebook for this. Any notebook would be fine.

Every morning grab your journal and jot down what you plan to do for the day. Either as you complete tasks or after the day ends, record how much time you spent on each task. If you want to be really specific you could use a timer, but estimates are fine, also. This will allow you to get an idea of how much time you need to set aside for repetitive tasks. For the tasks you didn’t finish, explain to yourself why they were not completed. This part is actually very important to this process. If you don’t spend the time to reflect you will not be able to identify and solve the problems that need fixing. It keeps you accountable, as well, which is key to establishing discipline. It is equally as important to write down your successes and what you did well so you know what to do in the future.

Enlist some friends to check in on you, or perhaps find someone to share journals with once a week if you have trouble motivating yourself. Either way, just imagine how discouraging it would be to open up a book full of unfinished tasks. And let’s be honest with ourselves; sometimes those reasonings for not finishing a task are just excuses. Things do happen and you shouldn’t worry about being perfect, but don’t sabotage yourself, either.

  • “It took 3 hours to complete this assignment.”
  • “I completed all my work for today, plus a little extra. It was a productive day. I used [this strategy] and it was a real game changer. I will definitely try to work that into my routine.”
  • “I couldn’t finish this piece of reading because it took much longer than expected. But I intend on waking up early tomorrow to finish up before class.”

2. Keep the machine running with healthy, energizing foods. 

  • Drink water constantly (at least every 45 minutes).
  • Watch your caffeine intake; keep it down to only one beverage per hour.
  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
  • Always have snacks on hand!
  • Remember that food is an important energy source to keep your brain cells running
  • Be sure to eat your veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, peanuts, granola bars, etc.
  • Avoid refined carbs at all cost (sugar, white flour), as these will spike your blood sugar level only to crash later; eat low glycemic index foods instead.

3. Make an event out of your most avoided tasks.

There’s inevitably some tasks you find yourself dreading to do and seriously procrastinate on. All. The. Time. You know, that boring history research paper or that crazy amount of stats practice problems on queue. You could counter this by studying somewhere an inconvenient distance away from your dorm room (or any place you might see your friends) such as a remote spot in the library or in the corner at a quiet cafe down the street. Since it’s such as hassle to go back home and you have little distractions (assuming your phone is off), you will feel obligated to get your work done. If you have apps or programs that can block distracting websites (e.g., Self Control), make sure you turn those on, too. Avoid browser extensions since those can be disabled, while something like Self Control cannot.

4. Include repeating weekly “protected” time into your schedule.

Morning is the best time for this because as the day progresses your mind will become bogged down by more and more distractions. Schedule it before your first class if you have a late morning class or right after if it’s early, and get it done at that time consistently. Of course you can choose to schedule this protected time at other times of the day, but try to protect the “dead time” you spend waiting for a class to start or spending too much time at lunch. You can text and hang out with your friends later; get your work done first. Believe it or not, that dead time really adds up and you will be glad you protected it by reviewing or getting work done then.

e.g. MWF always do Biology reading at 10am, TuTh always work on Physics problems, W review the procedure and relevant background information before the lab begins.
5. Choose your “hard days” and plan them in advance.

Everyone experiences those days where you feel blocked in, having such a large workload to complete whether it’s a result of procrastination or some important task that just came up (such as your research mentor asking you to write a proposal the night before it’s due). No one wants to experience this level of stress and exhaustion on a regular basis. But if you can plan out days like this in advance before you actually need them, you will not only feel accomplished but you will also be surprised to find out how productive this can make you.

With work there comes much-needed rest, so be sure to plan head for some relaxation days or some fun activities to do before and after your hard days. Those days can take a lot out of you, so make sure you’ll taking care of the rest of you, not just your grades. Let your friends in on your plan so they can avoid distracting you and help keep you accountable.

  • “If I work hard all day Saturday I can turn up during the night and relax on Sunday.”

6. Just do it.

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Chuck Close

I love this quote because it sums up the true core of how to eliminate procrastination: just doing it. It’s a simple concept, right? A strategy that all of us know about. But for whatever reason, we oftentimes don’t follow our own advice, so it’s usually helpful to hear it from someone else.

Maybe this quote seems harsh to you. I suppose it is, but to truly defeat procrastination you really just have to force yourself. There are loads of strategies out there to help you get there, such as those above, but ultimately it’s up to you. You might consider taking it upon yourself to stop procrastinating for a whole month. Habits can form in as little as 30 days, so if you’re serious it’s definitely worth a try.

7. Realize that this is all normal.

Procrastination is normal! It’s horrible for productivity, but the inevitable truth is that even straight A students have to battle with it. No one is perfect and everyone procrastinates at least a little bit in some part of their lives. The key is learning how to manage it so you can stay productive.

Good luck!


Calculus Mini MoleskineI’m currently taking an online calculus class over this winter  break. It’s not too bad. There are some things that are really frustrating about it (e.g., the fact that formatting for each homework or test question is different, can’t show work for partial credit) but overall I like it. I think the condensed format is helpful for me, because it’s easier to remember the content for the future exams. Also, it’s good that I’m taking this class all my itself because I usually focus more on my major courses than I do with major support such as math.

I’m pretty impressed that this looks so neat considering my hand tremors were pretty bad today. We’re on the third unit. This is from the second unit. Why? Because I didn’t keep up. It’s okay to get off track sometimes. Just make sure you can reel it in before you completely lose it.

I will explain how I use this pocket “mini” Moleskines in a future post.