I don’t know about you, but it has been years since I was last in school. I graduated from college back in May 2014 with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Sociology. My field of study during my undergraduate career was heavy in writing papers, research, and presentations. I had very few true “exams” and hardly every had to study. Unlike most majors, my major (and minor) was based on applying concepts and terminology into our work, as opposed to studying concept definitions verbatim. Multiple choice and short answer questions were not how we were graded on understanding the textbooks. In short, I haven’t had to take tests in what feels like forever.
Flash forward to July 2017 where I made a fairly significant career move for myself, which resulted in me completely changing industries. I spent most of my post-grad career working in higher education and administration, and now find myself in a world of marketing, sales, and real estate. Talk about a change! My new career came with a host of changes: a new title, new colleagues, new responsibilities, and the biggest change of all, new education.
This summer I enrolled in an aggressive three-week, 55hour real estate course because part of my job requires me to be a licensed real estate agent. While it’s always great to earn more education and certifications, it honestly made me nervous. I found myself frenzied with questions: How do I pass a course that is so short? Do I know how to study? How will I be graded? How difficult are the exams? What if I fail and have to repeat this whole process?
Looking back now that I successfully passed the course, state licensure exam, and national licensure exam, it all doesn’t sound so bad. But at the time? I was overwhelmed. During this summer of working full-time, going to school for eight hour days on my weekends, and studying at night, I had to re-create study habits for myself.
Here are the study habits that I created for myself that may work for you if you find yourself going back to school after a long hiatus:

1. Make flashcards.

I hadn’t made flashcards in years up until this summer. Remember, my fields of study in college were Communication and Sociology, which were heavily essay-based courses. I rarely took actual multiple choice, timed tests in the majority of my college experience. For this reason, it was a transition for me to have to take timed, multiple choice tests in my mid-twenties.

Flashcards worked for me because they helped me memorize key terms and phrases. I would highlight terminology and concepts from our textbook while in class, then when I went home I would turn those new concepts into readable flashcards. This practice helped me by seeing the concepts over and over again. Flashcards can definitely work for you if you need to study in a similar fashion.

Pro-tip: flashcards are easily transportable. Toss them in your purse or backpack, or keep them at your desk at work. During any downtime I quizzed myself. The constant quizzing of my flashcards help me memorize terms and phrases. It may help you, too!

2. Take practice exams.

Since I was prepping for exams, the best tool that worked for me was taking practice exams. Online you can find hundreds, if not thousands, of tests and exams that you can either buy or download for free. I signed up for a combination of free and inexpensive exams to help me become familiar and comfortable with taking tests.

I became more and more comfortable with the phrasing of multiple choice questions the more often that I took the tests. Plus, I was able to review my incorrect answers at the end of the exams to learn from my mistakes. This was an extremely valuable resource to me as I prepared for my exams.

If you find yourself in a similar position, research online exams in your field of study. You can even buy exams off of Amazon or bookstores, too. Taking practice tests is a great way to get you comfortable with taking exams. If it worked for me, it could work for you, too.

3. Take notes.

Having a thick textbook for a class can seem really overwhelming, especially if you haven’t been in school in a while. I graduated from college over three years ago now. I haven’t opened a textbook in years!

Luckily, I had great success in college with taking notes, which was a great study habit for me this summer. I took my big, chunky textbooks and highlighted key terms, concepts, laws, and definitions. By highlighting important passages and taking notes on key concepts, I narrowed my focus on specific content that I knew would make for good testing material. This, paired with taking practice exams, helped me refine the material I needed to focus on to successfully take my exams.

Pro-tip: take notes in class, too. Sometimes course instructors will say things that are not outlined in your textbook, but could very well be a test question. Listen attentively in class, and take notes on as much content as you can.

4. Watch videos.

These days, the Internet is a wealth of knowledge and an invaluable resource. I found extremely helpful videos that took key concepts from my industry and organized them into bite-size videos that made it easy for me to digest the material.

Find research videos that are related to your field of study. As long as you’re researching credible sources of information, videos can prove to be really useful to help cement the concepts you’ve been reading about in your textbooks.

Also, videos are great because you learn material from someone other than your course instructor(s). I had two course instructors for my real estate course this summer, and both of them had very different methods of teaching. I learned from both, but watching videos from other professionals in the industry really helped me understand the concepts my instructors were teaching me. Sometimes teaching style can really impact your learning.

I would suggest that you consider watching free videos, if possible, to help cement the material you’re studying. It really worked for me!

5. Take care of yourself.

At the end of the day, remind yourself to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and take a mental break from school. My three-week, fifty-five-hour course consumed me this summer.

If I wasn’t in class during the month of July, stuck in a classroom while the hot summer days passed me by, I was studying flashcards and reading my textbook at night. If I wasn’t studying, I was at work learning the ropes at a new job.

In short, I wasn’t well-balanced during this time. I was working full-time, in school part-time, and overall pretty overwhelmed.

I wish I had done more to help myself cope through this tough chapter of my life, such as making plans with friends to help break up my schedule. Do what works for you to stay sane and happy. Working, going to school, and generally being a twenty-something can put so much pressure on you. Remember that self-care is important. Listen to your body to stay mentally, physically, and emotionally happy.

Creating new study habits for yourself after a long hiatus from school can feel daunting. I was very nervous about getting back into the classroom atmosphere after years of being a college graduate. As much as I loved college, a lot has changed since then. I’m a different person now at 25 than I was back then in my late teens and early twenties.

I’m not a strong test taker. I don’t have the gifted ability to learn and digest three chapters of information in one sitting. Despite all that, knowing that I successfully completed my course and exams this summer has me feeling proud of myself.

I hope that if you find yourself in a similar situation, you can see the silver lining. Be patient with yourself as you learn new material, and remember to always take care of your mental, physical, and emotional well being. Remember — it’s all about being your best self!

Are you back in school after a long hiatus? What study habits work best for you? Share in the comments!

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