In high school, the formats of my both my science and humanities classes were pretty similar (which says something about both). For the most part—in all of them—I read some information and regurgitated it back. It was a pretty simple, if a not-necessarily-all-that-great way to learn.
Since coming to Tech, my academic life has, of course, changed radically. It’s not just that the work is much harder, it’s radically different. There’s the honor code and large amounts of collaboration, and all that, but even the format of the work is different. The science classes are actually based around understanding theory (rather than just knowing answers) and being able to apply it in real situations. And the humanities classes are similarly based around understanding what you’re doing rather than knowing what you’re told. This manifests in a very different way though: keeping up with reading and occasionally writing papers. These two models have always been very distinct—until now.
I am currently taking a political science class—that is very cool—that requires doing a fair bit of math. It is not terribly difficult math, and it has the advantage of following very intuitively from the political/behavioral concepts it represents. Nonetheless, this is the first humanity class in which I’ve had sets or had a midterm. The sets are no big deal, but a midterm?
When I first came to Tech, I really did not know how to effectively study for a math-based science exam of the kind I have to take here. I learned during the course of freshman year, all the while feeling pretty grateful that I did not have to deal with the same thing for hum classes. Now, I am going through the same process again.
A little background on the class: PS 132 is a very cool class about “formal theories in political science”, which means mathematical models of the way running for office and voting work. Contrary to what the name might suggest, as far as I can tell, political science usually does not deal with what we think of as the modern political parties (I can say this with my massive expertise of having taken 1.5 classes). The field has more to do with studying the basis of rights, figuring out what candidates choose to do when voters have certain pieces of information and vice versa, and game theory (which really is math). All of this is applied, of course, to our modern elections, to figure out what happens, but I am definitely not there yet in my education.
This leads me to the challenge of studying for my midterm. One of my pages of notes from this class looks like this:
Of course, I did not end up memorizing all that—that would have been ridiculous. Much of what is in my notes is proofs, so I just made sure I understood the outlines of all the proofs. Same with the outlines of a few experimental papers we considered and methodology for identifying Nash equilibria and Condorcet paradoxes. As it turned out, I think that was a pretty good method of studying. I was not completely stymied by anything on the exam, but of course it will be impossible to say how I did until I actually see how it’s graded. Regardless of how my grade goes, I highly recommend the class.