Study Skills – Practical Learning Techniques

In Part 1 of this series, I asked if you had ever read a list of study skills but just didn’t know how to go about making them happen. Like me, you’ve probably read a list of study tips and thought, ‘Yes, I’ve read all that before’. And you probably remember two weeks later being just as stressed about study and wondering what you could do to improve your study skills!! Well, I realised later that I had been reading that list of study skills and not really knowing how to put them into practise.

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In this article, I continue with my idea of talking with people who have been very successful in their careers and finding out what study habit they thought was the biggest help in their student days. Here in Part 2, I speak with an older family friend (Robbie) who studied as a mature age student. What she first told me blew me away.

Robbie’s best study tip was this: Do the ironing!!!

At first I thought she had misunderstood but when I repeated the question she laughed and said, ‘Do the ironing – I mean it!!’ As she talked through how she approached her studies as a mature age student, I began to see that there were similar elements to Uncle James’ approach but she had modified it to suit her situation.

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Here’s Robbie’s story: Although she was a good scholar, Robbie had not finished her business degree as she had decided to start a family early. When her daughter started school she found her brain was hungry for something new in her life so she decided to finish her degree. Full of eagerness to start her new challenge she soon found that there was just never enough hours in the day to do everything she wanted.

So study time and family time were now her priority after she left the office. She began to approach her study time in a ‘must do’ methodical manner reaching all the study deadlines imposed so she was rarely behind in her study schedule. Robbie then rewarded herself each day with precious family time as her way to relax. In this way, Robbie’s family time acted like Uncle James’ car time (see Part 1 of this series). Robbie’s family was her passion.

She soon realised that she’d made more and more short-cuts in the housework to keep up her family time. As she finished her last assignment, she found herself stressing about the pile of unironed clothes, the grubby bathroom, the messy pantry, etc, etc. She felt so full of restless energy the thought of having to force herself to sit and study for the final exams had her feeling stressed big time. Then Robbie hit on an idea which became her sanity saver at every exam time – she did the ironing!

First she gathered all the notes she’d made on each subject and read them out aloud recording herself at the same time. Her thinking was that she would play the recordings and just kick back and relax as she listened. As she read aloud, she found there were parts in her notes which she really didn’t understand so took time to go over these points. Once all the notes were recorded, Robbie said she instantly felt less jumbled in her brain. But as she began to play the recordings back she began to feel restless in her body and felt she needed something to occupy her hands and body while her brain was free to listen to the recording. That’s when she got out the ironing board!

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Each set of recordings per subject covered 3 or 4 hours and as she played and replayed the recordings, she did the ironing. Then she did the pantry, the bathroom, and the clothes mending. When she felt really tired she allowed herself to doze and kept the recording playing. So by the time the exam day came around she had listened to the recordings perhaps 6 or 7 times while she was doing what she began to call her ‘mindless activity’. When Robbie walked into the first exam she really had no idea if her study strategy was going to work. All she knew was that she had done her best.

In that first exam, Robbie astounded herself with how easily she was able to answer the questions. She wrote furiously for the whole allotted time and just knew that she had given the right answers. But the best was still to come. When the results came out she had aced both subjects!!

When I asked Robbie to summarize what she had done, she came up with these pearls of wisdom:

– Take good notes
– Keep up week by week
– Never get behind
– Record your notes
– Do the ironing!!

Now you may not be a mature age student who has a pile of ironing to do at the end of the semester but it should be possible to find your own ‘mindless activity’ to do while you listen to your recordings. You could clean your bedroom, work on a hobby, cook a meal, do some gentle exercise, or like Uncle James, work on your car. Robbie continued to study in this way for the 5 years that it took her to do her degree part time and she continued to get good grades. She has no doubts that doing the ironing was her best study strategy!