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Engineering majors with high GPAs, how much do you study?

  1. Jul 23, 2012 #1
    Due to concerns with graduate schools, I'm aiming for a high (3.8+) GPA. I understand that it depends on the person, the school, and the class, but approximately how much do you guys with high GPAs study for a given amount of credit hours for
    A: a pre-req science class
    B: an engineering class
    C: a math class
    D: a liberal arts class

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 24, 2012 #2
    I'm reading this book right now Making The Grade. It's really interesting and although a lot of the advice is obvious, it's been a helpful read for me so far. I would recommend it
  4. Jul 24, 2012 #3
    I feel that study time is much less important than how you study. Essentially, my study method for the first 3 types of classes is all the same: Science, Math or Engineering, I'm spending a good deal of time on them. When it comes to Liberal arts classes I usually take low level introductory classes, So there I primarily just go to lectures, stay up with HW, and cram before exams.

    Now many people prefer different study plans, so I can only give mine. Here's what I do for a science/math/engineering class.

    1. Go to lectures: Sounds simple, but I actually have a bad habit of not doing this. Even if the professor is boring and you think you can learn from the book/notes, they will often give huge hints to the exams. Being there ensures you get any hints that come up.

    2. Read, Read, Read: Get the textbook for the class, and read every assigned chapter. If the assigned chapters skip large sections which leave others unclear, read the unassigned sections too. Even if you think that you understand the material based on going to lectures, read it in the book. Even if the professor has an optional textbook, and says the class won't really follow the book, read the book. This was probably the biggest help to me when it came to learning material, especially in introductory science/math classes. Reading a math book may be boring, so people often just try to learn from lecture. The book gives much better depth and thorough information.

    3. Avoid doing HW in groups if at all possible: Working by yourself will ensure that you understand the material. Working in groups will often mean you spend less time thinking about the material on your own. It's OK to check answers afterwards, but when your doing problems, try to be alone (and away from your computer).

    4. Plan your time if possible to clear out the day before an exam to just study for that exam: While it may sound like Cramming, it won't be if you've been reading all the material and doing all the HW as you go. It will ensure that anything that needs to be "memorized", or techniques that need to be quickly recalled on a test, will be in your head for the exam.

    With these techniques, the amount of time I spend studying for any class ends up being time for HW's + time to read the book + day before and day of each exam. Again, this is just what works for me, and you'll likely be different.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2012
  5. Jul 24, 2012 #4
    I did my EE undergrad in the 1990s and I got really good grades. All the advice so far is good, but I will add the one thing that really made it work for me: treat it like a job.

    What I mean by that, is focus on school 10 hours a day. In between classes, don't hang out at the coffee house, have a quiet place that you are used to and use that time to do homework. Try to get ahead of the lectures on your reading. That way you will know what you're confused about and can ask coherent questions at office hours. If you finish you homework, keep going! Do the example problems or other problems with answers in the book so you can see if you're getting it.

    Also, make sure you understand your homework. If you make mistakes, learn the correct way to do it before tests.

    I would work about 8AM-6PM or so (sometimes working out in the middle). Then I would relax a bit and only study late at night if I had a midterm. This helped a lot because I didn't burn out. In my experience learning the material little by little throughout the course was MUCH preferable to cramming all night before test.

    I never had a single "all-nighter" as an undergrad. I had one as a grad student but that's a different story...
  6. Jul 24, 2012 #5
    I think the advice given above is quite good. Especially regarding the whole "treat it like a job" aspect. My engineering program was/is typically regarded as an extremely difficult program (engineering science, U of Toronto). I currently have a 3.9 GPA and this year (third year) I was one percent from a 4.0 for the year. And that 1% was from a language course, go figure.

    Anyways, I would have to say I did exactly what carlgrace did, study during the day, nonstop, don't slack off. Use the day to get as much stuff done as possible. Fit in some time for the gym etc. Then when you get home around 5-7, take some time off for a bit, maybe even the entire night. If you have some things that really need to get done you can work a bit later, typically until 10 or 11. The trick is to make sure that you always get at least 8 hours of sleep a night.

    In regards to doing all the homework and readings, this is quite tricky. For me, I never had enough time to do all the homework, all the readings, let alone reading extra stuff. Prioritization is key. A problem I encountered this past year, was an advanced lab course where I would literally spend all of my breaks in during the day. These kinds of courses require lots of time, but for little reward. Thus, time management is super important. Plan your weeks out in advance, when you will go to the lab, when you will do problem set X, when you will study for midterm Y, when you will go out with friends etc.

    Also, go to every single lecture. Do not miss one. Same goes for tutorials and seminars. I cannot say how many times the professor or TA throws out blatant hints or answers questions which appear on exams. Just going to every class and tutorial will put you ahead of the game.
  7. Jul 24, 2012 #6
    This is an excellent point. Some lab classes can become brutal time sinks if you let them. But, if you can master prioritization and time management, you'll be ahead of 90% of other graduates when you start your first job.

    If you can throw a little initiative into the mix, you'll be unstoppable!
  8. Jul 24, 2012 #7
    "Treat it like a job" ...I wouldn't do that.

    A world class concert pianist or Olympic athlete doesn't get that way through casual or almost-good effort. If you want the high grades, you must put in the effort necessary to get them.

    Treat it like it's the most important thing you do.

    Success depends on many things:
    • learning how to learn
    • learning how to take notes effectively
    • discerning and adapting to the professor's personality & style
    • effective time management
    • focus, eliminating distractions, discipline and work ethic
    • innate intelligence or recognition of the lack thereof

    My high school preparation was really poor due to circumstances at my rural school system: I got perfect grades in math, but couldn't do anything when I went to college. I took remedial classes to just get to parity. I struggled in engineering classes until I figured out "the system" that worked for me:
    • I learned how take, & later review & edit daily, my class notes...there's definitely methods of "how" to do that that are better than others, you must find the one right for you. It turned around for me when I found a little book on the PIE Method, for Principles-Info-Examples. I adopted that, and then I became one of those irritating guys who only occasionally wrote stuff down but was engaging the professor all the time to get more explanation. AND correcting him when he was wrong.
    • I realized I had to work harder, and put forth more effort, to get ahead. That usually translated into 12-18 hour days, 7 days a week. I never missed a homework assignment, and made sure I had done everyone of them correctly. Sometimes I did extra for the practice.
    • Kept my health and spirituality tuned up so I could keep my energy up.
    • I had a limited social life...I figured there would be time enough for that later (there was).
    • Studied / did homeworks solo mostly. Networked with my friends to compare answers & share guidance, but learned it on my own. Sometimes in groups, but only when it was a good group, everybody contributed and learned. I exited many groups that weren't as driven as I was or had too many hangers-on looking for easy ways to pass.
    • Managed my time, rarely wasted any of it.

    Finished undergraduate with mediocre grades, but tested well on the GRE. THAT got me into a highly regarded Engineering grad school. Continued to struggle with the math. The only way I overcame that was complete focus. I told my sometimes-girlfriend-now-wife "school comes first." There was one semester that was mostly 20-hour days, 7-days a week. But I made a perfect 4.0 score that semester (but, admittedly, finished completely toasted). And graduated with not perfect but very high grades.

    That level of effort and concentration is organically life-changing. It opened and expanded my mind in ways I never imagined before or thought possible.
  9. Jul 25, 2012 #8
    First of all, to most people, their job is the most important thing they do. I do not treat jobs casually, and that is why I gave the reccomendation. I guess this advice depends on the person, and if you like to slack at work, then do not take it.

    That is insane. If you have to spend that much time on school to do well, then you are in over your head. My philosophy about school is to work as hard as you expect to work for the rest of your life. For example, if you work 20 hours a day to get a 4.0, then go to grad school with that 4.0, you will be competing against people who only spent 8-10 hours a day to get that same 4.0. In order to compete with them you will have to continually throw those 20 hours a week, which is not sustainable.

    I've also found that, while I am still only going into my 4th year of a bachelor, that the work becomes increasingly heavy. From what I understand about graduate school, things do not lighten up at all, if anything they just get more time intensive. Thus, if you are spending 20 hours a week in your bachelor's just to do well, then I can't imagine the time commitments you will have to make during your PhD.

    This may be different if you pursue a career after your bachelors of course.
  10. Jul 25, 2012 #9
    It seems like that advice didn't work too well.

    Even with setbacks such as not having enough Math, if you're doing on average 105 hrs/wk, and pulling mediocre grades perhaps it didn't work.
  11. Jul 25, 2012 #10
    Au contraire, mes amis. The lesson I was trying to convey to the original poster was: work as hard as you need to in order to achieve your goals. Nothing more.

    If you have higher intelligence & better preparation so that academic success come easy to you, then good for you. God has blessed you with wonderful gifts. I envy you: take advantage of it. But for those of us whose gifts are in other areas, I have come to believe hard work can help you achieve those academic goals. If you have the strength of character needed to pursue it.

    Based on those challenges to my statements, it seems I may have caused some misunderstanding. My apologies. It is redundant to the main point of the thread, but a little context may be useful for explanation.

    I started out in the hole in undergraduate, so I had to play catch up for the entire period. I tested extremely well, skipped my Senior year, and went directly to college. Bad move, in retrospect. I discovered my high school academic preparation was a disaster for many Deep South political & cultural reasons I won't go into here. I was dismayed at the real academic preparation my peers had because they went to better high schools. I had to work hard to overcome the deficiency while still trying to graduate in 4 years. Over my head? Yep, in the worst way. But hard work overcame it. "Mediocre grades" means a 2.9/4.0 total, 3.4/4.0 in my major subjects. Not great, not terrible. Mediocre, the way I see it. But sufficient for acceptance into grad school.

    In grad school I mistakenly took the advice of my advisor and took a useless high-level math class because it was available that semester. Nothing worked well in that class and the Prof wiped out 2/3 of the class with D's & F's, me included. So again, back in the grades hole & on academic probation. The next semester I took extra classes to make up the grades difference. I was able to do this because I wasn't limited to the normal max of three classes. That is where, towards the last 1/2 of the semester, the 20-hour days kicked in. Insane? No. Tough? You bet: quitters need not apply. The experience allowed me to discover where I thought my limits were. Most folks aren't so lucky.

    And all of this done while doing the required research and keeping a part time job to help pay for it. I didn't use loans and graduated debt-free. Now, I work an 8-hour day, have my weekends free, and plenty of everything else. My job is just that: a job and a way to make money. It does not define my character. Now, my spiritual life & family is the most important thing I do. As it should be, IMHO.
  12. Jul 25, 2012 #11
    This is astonishingly bad advice. You are incredibly gifted to be able to sustain 12-18 hour days, 7 days a week. The vast majority of people would burn out at best, but most likely crack up and require medical treatment. I know of 5 or 6 people in my own life I have seen ruin their careers from overwork.

    Also, I assure you that the quality of your studying declined markedly as you got tired. Studying 18 hours in a day runs right up against diminishing returns.

    Also, telling your girlfriend she comes second is a mistake if you expect to have a long and happy life. You will soon learn (I assume you're young) that personal relationships we have are far more nourishing and important to happiness and true life success than getting good grades. There are a lot of good engineers who make excellent contributions out there who didn't get top grades.

    The bit Nicholls said about competing in grad school with people who could equal your output with 8 hours of work is correct. When you get to work, you will have very high expectations on you because of your qualifications. You may even have a better job because of it. But make no bones about it, work is demanding. If you need to work 18 hours a day to equal the contribution of your collegues who work 10 hours a day you are heading down the road to ruin. You're going to end up washing out. Simple as that.

    Also, incidentially, you pulled your "examples" out of body part you sit on. I read a few articles on concert pianists (such as Uchida and Serkin) and the average daily practice seems to be between 4 and 6 hours. Otherwise they stop getting gains. They treat it like a job.

    Also, here is an article from 2008 in USA Today about olympic gymnast Shawm Johnson: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/beijing/gymnastics/2008-08-06-johnson_N.htm

    in this article she says she works out four hours a day. And the article says most gymnasts train two or three hours more per day. So seven hours max. They treat it like a job.

    Your advice is harmful. You are one in a million if you can really pull it off, and just because you can, the vast majority of us could never do it (and would never want to).

    So tell us, since you were able to finish graduate school through the effort of Hercules, how are things going in your career?
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2012
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