As an aspiring physician on the pre-med track (a microbiology and immunology major), I believe that creating a strong academic foundation, especially in math and science, is essential for future career and academic success. Growing up in Miami’s more improvised area, Liberty City, quality learning materials were scarce. Even when there were resources for active learning, most students were completely unaware of their existence or lacked the training to make effective use of the learning materials. The end result would usually be that students lacked the essential study skills they need to make use of all the educational resources when they hit college, myself included. Situations like these emphasize that the science of learning (i.e., learning how to learn) is a valuable skill to have early on. Being able to get the most of the education offered, despite the lack of resources makes a world of difference when it comes to having a solid foundation and head start in education.
While attending Miami Central High, I earned a place at the top percentage of students. However, this was not a title I had to work hard for. The school graduation rate was deplorable; most students worried about graduating high school rather than going to college. Even the teachers were visibly affected, often leaving in the middle of the year, leaving students like me in AP courses with a substitute teacher basically learning nothing. Although I actively sought a learning environment that would encourage and challenge me to learn new concepts, there wasn’t much to be found. I graduated at the top of my class never studying for a single assignment, doing homework the day it was due and never picking up any tangible learning skills.
As I entered my freshman year at the University of Miami, I was astounded at the drastically different learning environment. The facilities were astounding, and the classes were interesting and well taught. However, as I got later into the year, it was evident that I could not keep up with my peers who seemed to effortlessly work through the courses, earning high marks on exams. I, on the other hand, was having trouble simply comprehending the material. Frustrated at my abilities, I decided to heavily increase the amount of time I spent studying. It was practically as if I lived at the library. Despite my increased efforts, there was only a marginal improvement in my tests scores. Although I had a passion for the sciences, I doubted my ability to continue. Staving off thoughts that college simply wasn’t for me were difficult.
During the spring semester of my freshman year, I went to voice my concerns to my advisor, Ms. Campbell. Then, I was luckily introduced to my current science of learning mentor, Dr. A. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds introduced me to numerous learning strategies such as retrieval practice, spaced repetition and varied practice. After working with Dr. Reynolds, I learned how to learn, making me much more confident in my abilities to retain the knowledge and prepare for exams on the material.
I started preparing for lectures by reading ahead, taking notes and revising based on the lecture objectives, which helped me to focus on the lecture, and pick out what was important. I alternated the way I went about learning subjects, varying my practice from simply reviewing notes to using flash cards for self-testing. With enough practice, I was creating questions using Bloom’s Taxonomy for self-testing purposes. Some of the questions I created were even on my biology exam. Even though some of these practices may seem obvious, not only are numerous individuals like myself lacking this skill set, but it was the difference between barely passing my fall courses to achieving an “A” in chemistry over the summer.
Using the science of learning, I was able to close the gap between myself and my peers with a better educational foundation. Without this knowledge of how to learn, this gap may have been insurmountable for me like it was for so many others with a background similar to mine. For individuals like me, being able to vigorously acquire knowledge through the science of learning is a fighting chance. Being able to even the playing field from an early age could be the difference in a making it to graduate school or dropping after the second semester.
Elijah Hamm is a premedical student.
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