Adult Learning

There’s no reason why an old dog can’t learn new tricks with these study tips for adults

Some of us thought our studying days were over once we earned our high school diploma, our bachelor’s degree and even an advanced degree. But nowadays, many people are finding it necessary to return to school as they tackle a new career path. Once again they’re cracking open the books, often after being away from “cramming” mode for many years. If that describes you, fear not; it is possible to study once again, and do a great job at it, as these pro students can attest to:

Tips from Erin Walsh, who earned a master’s in school administration after earning a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree right after high school. She is now an assistant principal at an elementary school.

• Do not underestimate the power of a flashcard. I’m sure there’s some benefit to actually writing the important information out on them, but studying them was also helpful for me—kept me focused.
• When I had large quantities of reading to do, I would type up chapter outlines/summaries. Somehow the typing part helped me to hold on to the information longer. Just reading and highlighting a book wasn’t enough for me.  
• Having a “study buddy” helped me. Even if we weren’t actually saying anything to each other or quizzing each other, having another person there helped keep me on task. If you can share thoughts, notes, questions and/or summaries out loud with another person, it is an added bonus.  
• I found studying outside my home necessary sometimes: in a library, at a bookstore or in a coffee shop. Home has too many distractions—TV, fridge, bed.

Tips from Stacey Ragan, who worked as a massage therapist, airline hostess, volunteer and stay-at-home mom before earning a Master Gardening Certificate and opening her own business:
• Sit down with the family and get their support; explain why you want to do this. It will be amazing how much they will help you along. My fifth-grader would always ask if I had done my homework.
• Designate an area for just you and your textbooks.
• Try not to look for other obligations—household chores, car maintenance and lunch with friends—to get in the way and prevent you from studying. Let lunch out be a great bonus after you complete study tasks.
• I bought pretty binders, paper, pens and sticky notes, all themed to my area of study that were all mine and not to be shared with kids.
• Keep positive about why you are returning to school. This is for you and all you.

Tips from Lynn Waltz, who added to her freelance writing work by earning a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction and becoming a visiting assistant professor of journalism and new media:
• It’s all about discipline, discipline, discipline! Set aside the times as if scheduling for a work deadline, as many weeks in advance as possible. Better yet, especially with children in the home, stay on a regular study schedule and post it for everyone to see: “This is the time Mom or Dad has set aside for studying and I am not to be disturbed unless your pants are on fire.”
• This is not like high school or college (if you went when you were young). You cannot function without regular sleep, so do back-out schedules for exams and projects. Procrastination and cramming is for the young.
• Every hour, if you’re on a long bender, do five minutes of blood-pumping exercise, like plies or partial squats, and hold them. Or do lunges—any exercises that use the largest muscles groups. It’s been shown that this is as effective as coffee at reinvigorating your mind. Also, you won’t disrupt your sleep patterns by using stimulants.
• Spend time at the beginning of the semester getting an overview of your syllabi and textbooks. Look through the table of contents, put sticky notes at the beginnings of each chapter so you have a solid sense of how much reading you have to do. Put together a calendar with all deadlines for all classes and post it so you have a sense of the workflow.
• Pat yourself on the back for having the courage to go back to school, to reinvent yourself, and congratulate yourself for what a great role model you are providing to your children, nephews, nieces, maybe even grandchildren. You’re never too old to seize the day—educationally, that is.

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