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01/06/2022

Guides

How to Study for Meteorology, from a National Medalist

By

Sehej Bindra

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

By

None

ScioVirtual Instructor

Objective: Provide a comprehensive guide in developing a deeper understanding of Meteorology. 


Through ScioVirtual, I have taught nearly 100 students. By teaching experience and competing in Meteorology myself, here are some thoughts on preparing for the competition!


Meteorology relies on thinking critically about the real world


I am going to elaborate on this below, but if you’ve taken meteorology tests, you might’ve realized there are two types of questions you will run into:


  1. Knowing stuff
  2. Thinking about the stuff you know


Within those two categories, you will find a rich diversity of question types: data interpretation, analysis, conclusions, definitions, graph construction, and even math sometimes. 


That’s why I like meteorology. Some people get meteorology wrong and mistake it for simply memorizing random facts. Although there is some memory involved (like in any field of science), I believe the core of meteorology is applying knowledge to explain what we see in the sky: an inquisitive process that forces students to think deeply and critically.


This idea of “deep thinking” might not make much sense or seem intimidating. So, here are two steps to guide your learning journey.


Step 1: Know stuff


This step is the most straightforward: just learn the topics listed in the event sheet


To do this, you’re probably going to have to learn the concepts yourself, and you’re probably going to just be searching for websites online (I wouldn’t recommend textbooks for Meteorology).


The hard parts, however, are:

  1. Actually finding good resources online
  2. Even if you find a good resource, how much information is enough?
  3. Even if you know enough of some content, how are you going to remember it?


These are three questions that no one has an easy answer to. Rather, I believe that being able to have strategies to answer these questions is not only going to be important for competitions and academics, but literally everything you will do for the rest of your life. 


Open the event sheet, create a list of each topic in the event sheet, and then spend around one hour on each topic. 


In middle school, tests are mostly just knowing things. For example, the first bullet point on the event sheet is just knowing the difference between “weather” and “climate”.


If you don’t know the difference, I would Google “weather or climate”, and then read up at least two articles. Next, I would figure out what note-taking system works best for you.


I personally use a different Google Doc for each bigger topic, and review the docs periodically. As I’m reviewing the docs, I reprocess information by representing the topics through drawings in my notebook. 


To know whether a website is good, I would:


  1. Make sure you actually understand what is being said. Sometimes Meteorology can get overly “technical” with deep information on atmospheric chemistry and physics. Unless you have studied pure chemistry and physics for years, these overly technical websites are probably useless for you.


  1. Make sure the information present is accurate. Usually websites from government organizations (e.g. NOAA and NASA) are good as well as universities (e.g. berkeley.edu and wisc.edu). Also, Wikipedia isn’t that bad… but only use that if you can’t find good .gov or .edu websites.


  1. Make sure there is decent content. Not all websites are made equally. Some websites just have a lot more information than others. 


For instance, this website from NASA is good because the diagrams are simple and it has a strong diversity of information. 


However, this website from UW Madison, is not as helpful, as it is mainly just on the chemical process of ozone depletion and may include concepts that are too specific in chemistry. 


Here is one exercise to practice online research. 


Overall, some websites that I would recommend that meet the three points above:

Step 1.5: Know stuff deeply


As you are studying, remember that the goal of learning all this content is not to simply become a walking encyclopedia of dispersed meteorology factoids. Rather, your goal should be to become a critical thinker by obtaining a deeper knowledge of meteorology concepts. 


How do you know if you have a deeper understanding?


Hard to say… but you are in good shape if you can:

  1. Explain why these facts are true
  2. Draw connections and find patterns between different topics on the rule sheet
  3. Be able to apply the information into new contexts
  4. Go up to a random person on the street and teach them what you know and confidently answer their questions


Although you don’t need to go up to people and teach them, it is helpful to put yourselves in the shoes of someone who knows nothing about meteorology, like perhaps your parents, a friend, or Darth Vader. Here is an exercise to practice thinking deeply on a meteorology topic.


Remember, that learning is not passive. You won’t learn anything if you just listen or read. You have to engage with the material: ask questions, take notes, find other resources on the same topic, draw what you are reading, and solve practice problems!


Assuming you are confident with the information on the event sheet, I would focus on deeper concepts (not the basics). For example, a “superficial” concept would be knowing that 21% of the atmosphere is composed of oxygen. A “deeper” concept would be explaining why oxygen is only 21% and why that percentage has changed throughout the history of the earth! 


Here are some other questions to ponder:

  • Which greenhouse gas is the most “important”. Water vapor? Carbon dioxide? 
  • Why is stratospheric ozone “good”, but tropospheric ozone “bad”? In other words, why does the atmospheric layer that is present matter that much? What prevents it from leaking into the other layer?
  • How are aerosol particles different in their environmental impact and physical mechanism from greenhouse gases?


A lot of middle school students miss this opportunity of critical thinking, and I really think if you regularly practice and master this form of scientific reasoning, their raw skill would be leagues above any other middle school team and they will have a heavy edge in high school. 


Step 2: Apply stuff


This step is less straightforward. From my experience, middle school students can easily learn a lot of information if they are just motivated and have the time.


Thus, many students can do well in fact-based True/False and Multiple Choice questions, which can be ~75% of the test. 


However, if you want to move to the next level, you will need to improve your ability to problem solve through applying your knowledge. 


Most of these application questions will provide you new information, whether it is a data set, a new concept, a hypothetical area of land with different climate conditions, or a formula. You have to use your knowledge to then answer the question.


The best way to develop your skills is to just keep practicing and taking notes of your weak points. 


Some good practice test websites:


The last step of finding questions online can be extremely powerful and is probably the number one piece of advice I give to students who ask how to do well in meteorology competitions. In fact, I attribute my own success to finding a couple practice problems on constructing and analyzing meteorological graphs that ended up being quite similar to the real national exam.


Conclusion


The most important thing about learning meteorology is learning how to think. 


Overall, some of this information might seem like common sense. But as Taylor Swift once said… “common sense is not always common practice”.


Just being able to put in the time to comfortably understand meteorology topics is the first step that will get you really far. However, finding practice problems and tests will get you even farther. 


If you have questions, email me at sehej@sciovirtual.org.

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