Last blog, I mentioned how important it is to stay on top of what you’ve studied. What you can then do, to build on this can vary greatly and I hope, in this blog, to give you a few ideas.
Broadening your academic study
The next step, I’d suggest would be to look at materials that are still related directly to your studies but push you a bit more.
1) Challenge yourself by looking ahead in your text books or work books and see if you can teach yourself the topic, looking up additional information where you need to; you will be doing a lot of this at University.
2) Secondly, find material from other exam boards and try some of the different versions of the same topics you’re studying.
3) Sometimes, a more general text book (not school syllabus), or University 1st year books teach the same topics but slightly differently; go for the harder questions in books you’re not so familiar with.
4) You can also try older/different syllabus textbooks, online papers, Olympiad and Maths Challenge papers: challenge yourself – move beyond your syllabus with new topics you haven’t covered before, or topics that make you think about what you’ve already learnt, but a bit differently!
Other sources to explore
You should also start thinking wider than your studies – there are other sources of information that could help you make new connections with your work, see more applications in the real world, and see what other distinguished personalities might have to say on the topic. Programs on TV (like BBC Horizon, Universe, How Stuff Works, Discovery Channel programmes, to name a few examples) and Radio (BBC 4’s In Our Time is very good example) help do just this.
For general reading on the topics you’re interested in, and knowing what might be going on in the field, see if your school library has subscriptions to Science journals or newsletters. New Scientist is a popular choice and is good at covering many science topics. There are also more specialised journals, like Physics World for Physics. You can also sign up to e-newsletters from these sites, as well as science sections of the likes of BBC. I remember I signed up for daily feeds from Spacedaily.com which gave me a good understanding of what was happening in Astronomy, which is something I’m really interested in.
Work experience will always be advantageous as practical experience in an industry, work or research project, where you can apply your knowledge and gain a real-world understanding of how you can use your subject. This not only shows you are interested in your subject, but can be useful for your own knowledge – to know what working in that field is like and where your interests may lie for future.
I think the aim, as you start building on your interest in your chosen subject, is to begin to incorporate that curiosity into everyday life examples bit by bit; to notice and think about the applications of your subject all around you. With a physical sciences subject, the principles we learn describe how things around us work, and the applications of those principles help address a need better, whether that means making something more efficient, cost-effective, or increasing convenience. Could you explain why a police or ambulance siren changes in pitch as it drives past you? When you’re in a room at night and turn on the light, you can see its reflection in the window. Does this also happen during the day? Why? Think about what you’re seeing and hearing, and challenge yourself to explain it with as much rigour as possible. It’s a skill to practice.
I would describe the basics of physical sciences like a tool kit or box, as I said in my last blog too. It reminds me of the following classic proverb. When you see a hungry man, you can either feed him fish for today, or better, you can teach him how to fish, so he can do it everyday. So, that’s what you’re doing. You have knowledge of some of the basic governing principles; you can learn more, and start to understand them deeper so that you can apply them and think through solutions to problems you might not have directly studied before.