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Top tips to prepare for your first engineering classes

By Nthatisi H

Updated February 14, 2022 Updated February 14, 2022

Starting university can be a new and exciting experience, but it can also be nerve-wracking. If you're anything like me, you're probably anxious about what to expect from your first weeks of study.

But with a little preparation, you'll be able to handle everything your professors throw at you. As a master’s student in electronics and communication engineering, I’ve picked up some helpful tips and tricks along the way. Here’s how you can prepare for your engineering degree:

 

Things to know before your first class

1. Do your research

The most important thing I do to prepare for class is research the material I’ll be learning that semester. Subject syllabuses should be provided before the semester starts, so I’ll read around the topics covered and borrow some of the suggested books from the library.

When you’re researching, it’s helpful to write down any questions you have before your first lecture. Or if there’s a topic you don’t feel confident in like unit conversions, look for some online study materials that can help. I always look to YouTube when I need to learn something new as there are tons of tutorials to choose from.

2. Get ready to concentrate

At university, you'll have a lot more freedom than you did in high school. This may be your first time living away from home, and it can feel like a big change.

Something that helped me to manage my own time was a study schedule. I’m an early bird not a night owl, so my schedule made sure I got a few hours of studying every morning, in a quiet place without distractions.

Once you know your syllabus, you can estimate the amount of studying you need to do per day and create a schedule to suit. Don’t forget to make space for rest and social time too.

3. Use the resources available to you

My university provides lots of resources for students like books, online reading and videos, and it's up to us to take advantage of them. You can also ask your professors for advice about tutoring or further resources to help you to succeed in your course.

Before the semester starts, make time to read the resources available to you because it's your responsibility to get the most out of your studies.

4. Engineering is practical – get involved

Take your learning outside of the classroom by doing practical projects at home. You can find tutorials for projects like building an alarm clock or a mini robot on YouTube, Skillshare or Udemy and it can really help you to put the theory into practice.

Now you’re feeling prepared and ready to take on the world, let’s look at some tips and tricks for surviving your first class.

Tips to survive your first engineering class

1. Take notes and ask questions

Taking notes during lectures is one of the most important things you can do as it’ll help you to study for exams. Make sure you have a notebook specifically for your lab classes too. The process of writing down what you see and think during an experiment will help to solidify the information in your mind.

My best advice is to always ask questions if something doesn't make sense to you. You might feel silly, but asking questions is a great way to confirm that you understand the subject and will also help you build a relationship with your professors, as they can see you are engaged and want to learn.

For taking notes, I use the Cornell note taking system which helps you divide your notes into key information, summary of the main point and supporting details. Other note-taking systems you might want to use are:

  • Mind mapping (great for visual learners)
  • Box and bullet method (the best for lab notes)
  • Outlining method (when you want to go in-depth with a topic)

2. Use flashcards for formulas and equations

In engineering, there are many formulas and equations that you need to master. Flashcards are my favourite way to memorise formulas quickly. You can create your own or find digital alternatives online, like Anki which also provides helpful learning techniques for memory retention.

Flashcards have helped me to memorise equations like Laplace Transform and differential equations that I would never be able to remember through simple studying.

3. When in doubt, Google it!

If you don't know something, make sure to ask your professor or classmates, but you can also head online and look for helpful resources via Google or any other search engine. There’s a great selection of free talks and lectures from prestigious universities like Stanford, Harvard, and MIT, and plenty of engineering blogs that explain difficult concepts when you’re stuck.

4. Set a goal for your class

The first year of university can feel overwhelming when there is so much to learn, but I found that setting a goal for class makes it feel easier.

For example, set a goal to get an A in a specific module or to complete all the homework on time. Having goals and believing you can accomplish them will motivate you to do well and make sure you are prepared for upcoming classes.

If you lay down the right foundations at the start of your studies, it will only get easier and more fun. You might need to put in a little extra work and effort at the beginning but soon enough, things will start to fall into place. And don’t forget to make time for friends!

Engineering is not an easy subject to study but if you keep up with your work, ask questions when you’re not sure and get involved in projects and clubs around your subject, you will survive. I did!

Good Luck.

This article was originally published in February 2022 .

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