STEM students discover ‘secrets’ to super scores and good grades

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With test anxiety and GPAs on their minds, 23 students flocked to a STEM Association meeting with a common concern: How can I earn an A in my class?

STEM Association meetings aim to enrich the studies of students in the challenging fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

To help its members learn more effective study habits, STEM presented Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire’s YouTube lecture, “The Key to Acing Chemistry,” on Oct. 23.

Students also received a free copy of McGuire’s book, “Teach Yourself How to Learn: Strategies You Can Use to Ace Any Course at Any Level.”

Alexandria Vang, biochemistry major and STEM vice president, said the presentation opened her eyes to consider new approaches to studying.

Biology major Hylayna Yang agreed. “It taught me a lot. I wish I knew of this before I started college.”

Caylin Crawford, STEM president, recalled her days studying in “panic mode” and locking herself in her room to learn the material. Now she knows better. “It does not work,” she said.

In her lecture, McGuire emphasized the importance of foundational college courses to a student’s future plans.

“This course is so important because the grade that you make in the first semester general chemistry course can be the difference between whether you get into the professional school [medical, dental, pharmacy, engineering] of your choice later on or get the kind of job that pays you on your ability and not just your GPA.”

McGuire is retired assistant vice chancellor and professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University. She is also director emerita of LSU’s Center for Academic Success.

Her lecture offered metacognitive learning strategies that require students to take a more active and thoughtful approach to their education.

Instead of rote memorization and recall, McGuire encouraged students to assess whether they really understand the concepts in the book.

Many students have difficulty making the leap from high school to college, she said. College courses move faster, material is more complicated and cumulative, and test problems often differ from the homework.

A reading comprehension level that sufficed in high school will not cut it in college, McGuire said.

Instead of simply studying for a test as they always have, students should practice teaching the material to others. By writing their own questions and fielding unexpected inquiries from the audience, students can build mastery of a subject.

McGuire also recommended a five-step study cycle and structured homework sessions—what she called “power hours.”

To demonstrate the effectiveness of metacognition, McGuire cited a few case studies.

In an LSU dental school classroom, students improved their class averages from 74-78 percent to 85 percent after discussing metacognitive learning. 

She also commended “comeback kids” who achieved even better results. One LSU student named Robert got 42 percent on his first exam and subsequently scored 100 percent on the next three.

McGuire’s 45-minute lecture is available on YouTube by searching “Metacognition: The Key to Acing Chemistry.”