Becoming a Better STEM Student: Navigating Unique Challenges of This Discipline


STEM is an educational acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This field of study is growing by leaps and bounds with each passing year. An increasing number of students pursue STEM fields because they’re the most lucrative.

Is that true? Yes, in most cases, STEM jobs have shown a projected growth of over 7%. STEM graduates are in high demand now, and this will continue to be a trend in the upcoming years. However, everything in life indeed comes with a price.

Likewise, students pursuing STEM fields need to navigate unique challenges to perform better. STEM majors are considered to be among the most demanding and challenging. This discipline’s skills are built on a strong foundation of theoretical understanding and practical application.

In this article, we will share some valuable tips on becoming a better STEM student. We will also share the crucial areas for success and what makes STEM different from other fields.

How STEM Classes Are Different

Compared to other subjects in a traditional university curriculum, STEM includes those that are more objective, application-based, and cumulative in approach. As a result, students often face some unique challenges.

  • In most cases, there is one (and only one) correct answer. Conversely, subjects like Liberal Arts may have something known as ‘almost right’ or ‘close enough’ answers. Since STEM is not subjective, there is little room for flexibility.
  • The STEM curriculum becomes progressively more difficult. For instance – A solid foundation for Mathematics and Science is laid in elementary school itself. As a student advances, the curriculum adds complex layers to the basic concepts. This means a student with a poor understanding of foundational concepts will find the field very challenging.
  • STEM tests students on their ability to apply concepts. In other words, some subjects require partial or complete memorization. STEM students (on the other hand) are presented with problems for which they must apply key concepts to solve.

The Three Areas of STEM Success

Since a STEM student faces unique challenges, they must adopt relevant practices for examination success. Let’s look at the three important areas for success in STEM –

  • In class – Students must pay careful attention in class and take notes on everything. Struggling students may feel overwhelmed by the idea of jotting down detailed notes.
  • Personal study – This area involves effective study outside the classroom. It may include individual study time or group sessions. Struggling students tend to spend a huge chunk of their time memorizing information and facts.
  • Practice – Under this area, one needs to assess their approach to practicing problems and completing homework. Struggling students are prone to placing a high value on getting the right answers (and avoiding mistakes at all costs).

3 Tips to Become a Better STEM Student

Do you find yourself struggling in one or more areas of success mentioned above? Fret not! Some tried-and-tested strategies will help you find success in STEM learning.

Identify Weaknesses and Prioritize Them

One subject that many students find tough is Mathematics (especially in STEM education). Some try to pass the examination by learning concepts procedurally. Others are unable to translate the mathematical meaning into a scientific one.

Some others find it difficult to arrive at reasonable approximations and estimations. Let’s understand this using an example. A parametric vector form in Mathematics helps in estimating the difference of rate changes over time (between two variables).

Is it a useful concept? Yes, Proprep states that one’s understanding of linear equations in a three-dimensional space improves when one grasps the connection between parametric form and vector equation. However, the process may involve significant trial and error.

You need to have a complete understanding of the meaning and structure of Mathematics to succeed. If you find yourself struggling with any area, double up on practice. Also, it’s necessary to look at Mathematics in a meaningful light. If the subject appears to be dull and abstract, it’s less likely that it would spark any interest.

Focus on the Raw Knowledge

More often than not, students do not give due attention to classroom lectures. The truth is that this is the place where raw knowledge is provided and it will facilitate the understanding that follows. Are we referring to note-taking? Yes, but not a frantic jotting down of every single word spoken in the lecture.

You must hone your skills of selective note-taking – Understand which parts are worth noting down and which may be left out. During personal study, you can annotate the notes and extract the super-important parts.

Let’s look at some ways to focus on the raw knowledge of classroom learning –

  • Constant practice and filtering of information
  • Developing a customized note-taking system
  • Not assuming that you’ll remember everything (and doing the due diligence)
  • Collaborating with professors and classmates for greater insights
  • Keeping notes as organized as possible

Study Right (Not Just Hard)

The next tip would revolve around personal and group study hours. It’s crucial to remember that STEM is never about memorization. You cannot reduce Mathematics to formulas and Science to facts.

Not only is memorization hard and inefficient, but it does not help in understanding or retaining the concepts. Here are some tips to study right (not just hard) for STEM success –

  • Consider carefully why things are the way they are.
  • Replace the practice of memorization with a deep understanding of the topics.
  • In case memorization becomes necessary, write things down.
  • Finally, reserve memorization for areas necessary for understanding (not a one-and-done practice).

As we close, we cannot stress enough the importance of practice for STEM success. Avoid falling for the wrong ideas that many students believe. In other words, you are allowed to make (many) mistakes. Never complete an assignment with the sole purpose of getting through it, and do not overthink about securing the right answers each time.

To practice your way to success, give yourself the liberty to make mistakes (even silly ones). Keep your focus on the process (relishing and understanding), not just the right answers. Finally, set aside some time for self-reflection. STEM may be tough, but remember that you’re tougher and you’ve got this!