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Going Back to School? Polish Your Study Skills to Find Career Success

By Jeff Haig

In this economy, many experienced workers are finding themselves out of careers, or out of ways to move up the corporate ladder. That may be why so many colleges across the country are seeing an influx of older, more mature students. If you’re one of the many returning to college for an advanced degree, or if you’ve simply decided to switch careers and go back to school, congratulations! You’ve made a monumental decision and you’re on your way to accomplishing your goals.

So, how can you make the most of your time back in school? Some returning students find it difficult to concentrate and learn in the same way they did, or they simply forget how difficult it is to manage a busy schedule and workload. Don’t worry – there is a formula that can help you achieve your academic goals.

While many high achievers are hard workers, it isn’t just about spending hours hitting the books. The most successful students have strategies that work for them – and follow through with a plan of action. These simple fundamentals are accessible to anyone, including poor- or average-performing students! In fact, anyone who has a sincere desire to learn more and earn higher grades can, and will, with enough determination.

So what does it take to ace that extra-difficult course? You might be surprised to learn that earning A’s comes down to a systematic approach to learning. There are three foundational principles you must learn, along with their underlying components, in order to find academic achievement. These principles are:

Principle #1: Develop the proper work ethic

Principle #2: Be smart in how you learn

Principle #3: Be proactive!

Imagine...these three simple principles can make a difference between struggling to earn a C or D grade, or an A grade. At first, this system may seem a little simple, but these fundamentals are the core of what make A-students successful.  The main goal of these principles is to create a strategy for studying that will help you ace your courses and become a high-achieving student. The strategy may include:

  • Studying in half-hour or hour increments for each class or project

  • Setting your goals for each course, and a timeframe for reaching those goals

  • Utilizing effective time management skills

  • Knowing where to study for the best results – perhaps not the crowded coffee shop, but rather the library or conference room

  • Finding the way you learn best so that you can maximize your results

It’s also about knowing how to be a “smart” learner – what works for others may not be the right strategy for you. In addition, you have to maximize the limited time you have, and create daily strategies during each of the three phases of learning, which occur before, during and after class. High achieving students know that it’s crucial to the success formula that each of these three phases of learning is optimized to its fullest potential. To maximize your results, try the following strategies and techniques:

  • Pre-read your course material and write down any questions or highlight areas as you go along

  • Utilize the course syllabus optimally, and following along week by week, not just during the first day of class

  • Take thorough and dynamic class notes, rather than relying on books or study guides

  • Actively listen and participate in the course

  • Understand how to effectively prepare for quizzes and final exams, whether by using flash cards, mnemonics or even drawings and cartoons to learn

A-level students understand that you must be proactive in each class – it’s not enough to learn as you go. Being proactive means going above and beyond the typical student’s efforts to ensure effective learning of subject matter. For some, it may mean seeking additional resources to help learn course material. This includes attending instructors’ office hours, seeking assistance from a tutor, and networking at school to share information, study, and exchange questions and answers. These proactive strategies help ensure A grades in coursework, a mastery of subject matter, and that a student will learn to his or her fullest potential.

Becoming a top-performing student begins with the right mindset and then incorporating the three foundational principles into your daily schedule. Top-performing students are confident in their abilities, have high expectations for themselves, and take the action necessary to produce the desired results. Following these principles is at the core of what being a top student is all about. It's not too late to develop the proper mindset and then execute on the principles outlined here so that you can reach your dreams - whether it's graduating with a higher-level degree or making a successful career change.

Read other articles and learn more about Jeff Haig.

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