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How to study effectively as a mechanical engineering student?

I am currently in high school and I have always been an honors student but, I never study. The only time that I have actually studied was in elementary school and the beginning of my freshman year. And the times that I do ´study´, is ten minutes before my exam...

Due to this, I am worried that high school is too easy for me so I won´t be prepared enough for college.

I understand that mechanical engineering is very math heavy and although I am good at it, I am worried that I will not excel in math in college. Also, I don´t know how to program or draw so there´s that :(

I really don´t see myself doing anything else but STEM so I want to use my senior year as a time to really prioritize on studying and forming healthy habits. I am a VERY big procrastinator but I still get my work done.

So, what are the best study methods to use for an eventual mechanical engineering student who is very lazy?

Thank you!

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Taylor’s Answer

In my experience, the best way to prepare for engineering school from a studying perspective is to identify other students with the habits you want to develop and study with them. This is a strategy I personally implemented in advanced/AP/IB classes in high school that carried through to college. I identified students who understood the material better and in more depth than I, then mimicked their habits.

A typical engineering curriculum differs from high school in that it is more about application of multiple concepts than a simple plug in of values to get your answer. Often you have to combine multiple pieces of information and combine numerous complex formulas before you can start to answer the problem. With this structure it helps to have mastered the major concepts via homework practice and redoing available problems repetitively until the thought process becomes second nature. You may consider creating a study schedule that allots a few hours per course starting the week before a test where you practice with extra problems with higher degrees of difficulty you obtain from your course instructor.

In terms of not knowing how to program or draw, don't worry about that. Most students don't come in with these skills so you develop them as a cohort in class.
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Dennis’s Answer

Hello Freddie J. Good on you to recognize your lack of study habits and other potential short-comings. College courses may challenge you more than high school courses do. Engineering is basically a process of developing and understanding physical models, and then creating mathematical models of them that you can use to solve problems under certain unique conditions. If you continue with M.E., you will learn things in the realm of mechanics (structures) and dynamics (various kinds of moving bodies), thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics and more. You may not enjoy all of these topics in equal amounts. Underlying all of these topics is the math - differential equations, integration, matrix algebra, vectors, and so on. Oh, and don't forget "Statistics." Very important these days. Hopefully, you have a strong foundation in math, but, essentially, you will be starting over and re-learning some of the old concepts in a new way.
As for "Drawing" and "Programming:" If you can take courses in your final year, that would be great. Engineering schools most likely don't require mechanical drawing as they once did, but it can be a useful skill. Most industries or businesses involved in manufacturing will require some ability to read and interpret drawings. If you get into a research field, you may need to have somebody fabricate a special part for you. And, now, we have 3-D printing, so drawing skills will be useful there as well.
As for programming, having some understanding of how computer systems work is certainly a benefit. Don't worry too much about what programming language to learn. Be more critical about learning how to organize you thoughts and ideas and to convert that into logical steps that a computer can follow.

Dennis recommends the following next steps:

Get acquainted with engineers in your area. Learn about what they do. Spend a day on the job ("shadowing"). Find out what courses these engineers found useful.
On-line: subscribe to and read engineering magazines (usually free, if you qualify as a student or practising engineer). Sample: "Design News", "Machine Design", "Society of Automotive Engineers", etc.
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Jonathan’s Answer

Hello,

I also didn't have to study in high school to make good grades and yes the transition to college was an eye opener. I don't know what your class format is now, but a lot of classes in college are lecture based. That means the professor will be going over the problems and/or lessons and you'll need to take notes. Some classes will be less than 50 people, but others could be 200+. That's why it's important to find "other students with the habits you want to develop" like Ms. Taylor stated earlier.

If the professor is not receptive to questions during the lecture (some may state it, others you might have to find out the hard way by asking a question), then try talking to them after class with questions you have. Most professors will have office hours either set or by appointment where you can ask questions then. If you have a study group for that class and you all have different questions, each of you could chat with the professor, then regroup and share notes. A lot of classes (especially in the engineering curriculum) won't have many assignments which means the ones you do have will count more. It's important to take each assignment serious as this can give you breathing room later on in the semester.

The first few years will be core Science, Math, and English/Lit/Hist classes (depending on your college). There may be some major specific classes, but those first few years are training your mindset to handle the critical thinking you'll have to do in the engineering curriculum. You should be able to take multiple of these classes per semester, but I would recommend not taking too many engineering classes in one semester. I'd recommend a max of 15 credit hours per semester (less if you're working). You'll find that assignments and tests tend to line up across classes which will force you to use your time wisely. Also, some engineering classes are just demanding, but you can talk to people who have been in the curriculum for a while to gauge which classes are typically demanding. A class one person finds difficult may be easy for another and vice-versa.
Engineering is a group effort so don't be afraid to ask questions. You'll have to develop your skills, but you don't have to do it alone. Also, don't feel you have to follow the preplanned curriculum. Some of those classes are just not meant to be taken at the same time.

Lastly there will be opportunities to go through work studies like internships (paid or unpaid) or co-ops (alternating work, school cycles for 3 work semesters). These are excellent chances to either apply what you learned or gain experience that will help you learn. Everyone learns differently. What I've learned is that you need to develop a personal understanding of the information so that it sinks in and can't be forgotten. So whether it's in the books, with friends, on the job, or an engineering project club, find what works for you. I hope this helps and good luck.
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Matt’s Answer

You're not feeling challenged. This is a question more teachers/professors/parents should ask students. You're right to recognize your study habits as a potential long-term problem. I believe it is. You’re looking for challenge which is admirable. Your primary strategy should be to challenge yourself(regardless of topic). Be it mental or physical or both. With challenge comes many things, which will ultimately help in the long run. Doesn’t matter if you study unicornmythology/basketweaving for 2 hours every night, for a year, then suddenly start college. Your brain will be conditioned to face challenges/learning and will adapt better than an “unchallenged” student.

If you wish to focus on building towards your (likely) career, that’s great too. Please don’t get to fixated on your career and that alone. If you have an interest in X or Y topic, just follow it regardless of monetary/career payback. You’re brain a sponge at this point and you may regret never learning more about X or Y when you were younger.

Check with your highschool guidance counselor, some highschools allow students to go to local community colleges to take course at no/reduced cost. This may be instead of highschool classes. You could also buy STEM textbooks online and go through the content at your own rate. You could seek out STEM companies and find an internship and build relationships with STEM folks. Do you have a short list of schools you like? You could call and talk to a professor in X field and request guidance(they would probably love that). Could you become a formal/informal tutor for the topics you most enjoy and understand? This would give solidify your foundation of skills, get you used to communicating on the topic, and would also help someone else.

Go find a challenge for yourself. Good habits will follow.
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Francine’s Answer

Hello Freddie J, this is a really good question and it's great that you're asking it now. My view is that studying and learning are the same process and it is an ongoing process. Engineering is essentially about building and developing things, so it is essential to understand the underlying principles. This is why mathematics is important in engineering. I would recommend taking an 'approach' to studying:

1. Ask some questions about the subject first of all e.g. What it is that you're trying to understand? Why is it important? How is it used/applied? e.g. how is a theory used to predict a model in real life? How do you think it might work?
2. Try to answer your questions with the knowledge you have. You'll find that you have more questions. Now you need to look for the answers. Read what you can about it. Ask your tutor/s and discuss the topic with them and your peers. Do your own research and keep asking questions and keep to the subject.
3. Use what you've learned. This is a really important step. See if you can apply it. Try it out to solve a problem or build something.

Engineers and scientists are always learning and studying new technologies. They discover by asking questions and researching. They hypothesize based on some theory and try things out. They innovate and eventually their ideas come to fruition in the form of a new product or an improved version of another product. That's their job. The habits you develop now will stand to you as you develop your career.

Best of luck!
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