Study Skills for Adult Students

Classroom Strategies

  1. Be sure to attend the first session. The first session sets the tone for the class and usually outlines the course content and requirements.
  2. Sit in the first row as close to the instructor as possible. Sitting close to the instructor helps you to focus and to avoid distractions.
  3. Read the entire syllabus as soon as you receive it. By making yourself aware of course content and requirements, you can more readily plan your semester and effectively manage time for optimum results.
  4. Find out how, where, and when you can reach the instructor if necessary. There may be times when an emergency arises or you need additional help and/or information.
  5. Take down the phone numbers of several students in the class. If you miss a class, it is a good idea to contact another student for notes, materials and assignments. In this way, you can come prepared for the next class session.
  6. Ask questions when you don’t understand concepts, terms or directions. Many students avoid asking questions for fear of appearing “stupid.” In reality, if you don’t understand something, there is a good chance that several other students are equally perplexed. Remember, you are in class to learn and you have a right to know!
  7. Listen attentively. Listen for the thesis or central focus of the lecture. Listen for main ideas/concepts and supporting examples. Listen for the summary.
  8. Take notes to help you stay on track. Take down everything that is on the board. Take down main ideas and supporting examples. Use phrases and key words instead of long sentences.
  9. When appropriate, actively participate in class. In many classes, participation is encouraged and welcomed. The willingness to share ideas and information demonstrates your knowledge and enthusiasm.
  10. Meet all deadlines. Procrastination is a problem that most students have to conquer. Try to manage your time so that you can deliver all assignments, projects and presentations on the required dates. Remember, failure to meet deadlines not only creates a poor impression, but could affect your final grade.
  11. With permission of the instructor ask a fellow classmate to tape a session you cannot attend. Borrowing another student’s notes on a class that you have missed is often helpful, but having the lecture on tape is far more accurate.
  12. If a problem arises, speak with your instructor. There are many problems that may occur during a semester: illness, personal crises, interpersonal conflicts within the class or with the instructor. If a difficult situation arises, speak to your instructor as soon as possible. Most instructors are understanding and many issues can be resolved simply by direction communication.

Time Management

Adult students returning to college are often faced with many obligations, i.e., work-related, family, personal, school etc., that make demands on the limited time that is available to meet those obligations. Many returning adult students are able to balance successfully these diverse and competing demands on their time; however, a large number can also feel overwhelmed and, as a consequence, their academic performance can suffer. In other words, their grades are not what they desire, nor are they what they are ultimately capable of achieving.

Successful students learn, out of necessity, to manage their time. This is not difficult, but does require a student to assess carefully and prioritize the factors that are competing for the limited time that an adult student can devote to discrete activities. There are a large number of books that have been published that address time management and a few of these are listed at the end of this discussion to provide you with detailed guidance.

The purpose of this section is to highlight common techniques that are used by successful students to manage their time. These techniques will ultimately help students develop a comprehensive time management plan.

SET GOALS: If students don’t have established goals, it’s equivalent to being on a ship at sea without a rudder. Goals can be large in scale (macro) and they can be very limited in scope (micro). An example of a macro goal would be to graduate 18 months after returning to college while a micro goal may involve when to complete a reading assignment for a particular class. As simplistic as it may sound, it is essential to establish both macro and micro goals and to monitor one’s progress toward achieving those goals.

ORGANIZE: Planning and organizing are different concepts. Planning can be as simple as listing activities and events on a time line. Organizing, on the other hand, is the sequencing of individual planning steps into a prioritized game plan. It is easy to find any number of forms in books on time management that permit one to plan activities, just as it is equally easy to find daily or weekly planners. What is important is that one organize the individual events into a prioritized plan. (The books listed at the end of this discussion contain examples of various forms that students can utilize in drafting a plan.) Initially, it is imperative that students monitor their time to identify what they are doing and how long it is taking. Frankly, many students do not realize how much time they waste until they keep a log of daily and weekly activities to establish an activities time line. A major goal is to make efficient use of one’s time. This translates into the time worn axiom that it is necessary to make short term sacrifices in exchange for long term gains.

COMMUNICATE: Students must share their ideas and needs with others at home and at work. Education takes place in a social environment. If others don’t know what you want and need, the consequences could be frustration and failure. Spouses, significant others and children must know that a student needs specific “time” to study without interruption in order to be successful in college. An employer needs to know that a student may have to leave fifteen minutes early on school nights, etc.

DON’T PROCRASTINATE: It’s as simple as that! Face reality--whatever one does, regardless of how efficient they may be, one will never be caught up! By not procrastinating one will avoid stress, guilt and decreased motivation. Remember, short term sacrifices for long term gains.

SUCCESSFUL STUDY HABITS: The books listed at the end of this discussion contain numerous successful study habits. Some of the better ones include the following:

  • Study in the same physical site whenever one is studying. Choose appropriate sites, i.e., don’t study in bed.
  • Study in small time segments of fifteen to twenty minutes. Longer periods of time are generally ineffective and counter productive.
  • Use 3” x 5” index cards as study aids, especially when studying complex topics or long reading assignments.
  • Divide major projects into smaller, manageable units. This maintains cohesiveness and allows one to keep the “goal” in sight.
  • Learn to say “no.” This is difficult for many students to do, especially since education takes place in a social environment; however, prioritization and short term sacrifices for long term gains requires an effective time manager to say “no” on occasion.

REWARD SUCCESS: Reward successful time management and goal accomplishment. This can be as simple as going to a movie after completing a major class project or having a dish of ice cream after finishing a complex reading assignment.

LEARNING CENTER: As a Barry University student at the School of Professional And Career Education (PACE), adult learners have access to free services offered through the Learning Center (LC) on the Miami Shores campus. The LC is located in Garner Hall, room 114, and can be reached at (305) 899-3485

STUDY SKILLS SEMINARS: Seminars on time management and other topics of interest to returning adult students are offered on a regular basis, at no charge, through PACE and the LSC. Check with the LSC and your Academic Advisor for topics and dates.

Test Taking

Preparing ahead of time: Most adult students don’t like taking tests, so if you feel that way, you’re in good company. And, let’s face it, we are not as young as we used to be, so cramming the night before isn’t likely to lead to success. Here are some tips for getting ready.

  • Study regularly and always study as if you were getting ready for a test.
  • During the term, talk with classmates about test questions which you and they think might appear on the test.
  • Review your notes and the reading to look for likely test items. If the professor has emphasized terms, ideas, concepts, dates, events, people, and so on, or has emphasized parts of the reading, these are likely to appear on a test.
  • Prior to assigned tests, ask questions about what to expect. Get as much information as you can about the test and the material it will cover.

If you prepare well for tests, you have much less to worry about or fear. The tips above are widely known and accepted by teachers of adults and by successful adult students.

Taking the test: No matter if the test is multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, or whatever, the tips below will help you.

  • Read all directions very carefully. This is important. Every teacher has stories about students who don’t read directions and fail simple tests.
  • Look over the test from beginning to end. This is called surveying the test. See how many parts it has, and where its various focuses might be. A thorough survey of the test often helps students discover patterns and even get answers to other parts of the test. In addition, when you survey the test, you’ll discover which parts of it are worth the most points and how much time to spend on its various parts.
  • Go with what you know. On objective tests, answer the ones you know first. If you’re not sure of an answer, skip it and come back later. (If the answer sheet is one of those machine-scored ones on which you fill in the bubble, be careful to leave an empty space each time you skip an answer.) On a multiple choice test, eliminate answers you know are not true. Despite advice to the contrary, if you have time left over, and if you are confident that you have answered an item incorrectly, go ahead and change it. It’s common for our brains to discover correct answers after spending more time on a test. So if you’re sure, change an answer.


Only if you are a very confident bluff artist and also a VERY good writer can you hope to pass an essay test without knowing the material which your professor has assigned, so the first thing you must do to pass an essay test is read, study, and know the assigned material.

  • Right here a tip is in order: for most people it is more efficient and effective to read the material several times quickly rather than once very closely. Therefore, if you have to know the material in three chapters, you will probably be better off to read each chapter quickly three or four times than to read each chapter slowly and only once. (With practice, this even takes less time.)

When your professor passes out the essay test questions, follow these steps:

  • Essay exams are usually read and graded quickly. Your reader (the teacher) wants to see that you thought about your answer before writing, include the appropriate material or information, and checked it over after your were finished. Your writing must be smoothly organized and convincingly developed.
  • Take the time carefully to read and understand all directions on the test. On some tests you are to answer every question; on some, you are to pick from among choices.
  • If the professor says to spend only so many minutes on some portion and more or less on the rest, do as you are told. In any event, plan your time carefully. If you have one hour, and three questions to answer, decide how to split up your time, but be sure to leave time for proofreading.
  • If you have choices, be sure to answer the questions on which you can do your best. Don’t be a hero and try to show how broad your knowledge is. If choices work in your favor, choose those. On the other hand, if you don’t have any idea how to answer a question, don’t waste your effort and the teacher’s time by trying to bluff your way through it.
  • Make sure that you understand the questions: what exactly does your teacher want you to do? Sometimes you are asked to discuss, sometimes to compare, sometimes to contrast, sometimes to analyze, and so on. Understand before going in what verbs like this mean, and think about what you are asked to do on the test.
  • Make sure that you know exactly how many parts the questions has, because this will dictate how many parts your answer has. Remember: If you make it easy for the teacher to read, your grade will likely be higher.
  • Here is a sample question from a course in medieval European history: Discuss the roles of the manor, the castle, and the church in 14th century village life. Follow the guidelines on the previous page and decide a strategy to answer this question. When you have decided what to do, read the following.

What are you asked to do? [discuss] Discuss what? [the roles] The roles of what? [the manor, the castle, and the church] How many parts does the question have? [three + an introduction]

In answering the questions, begin by turning it around so that it forms a statement which indicates to the examiner that you understand the questions and that you are going to answer it.

“In the 14th century, the manor, the castle, and the church each played specific and important roles in daily village life.
“The role played by the manor house ....
“The castle served to ....
“The church was the ....”
[After the introduction, each topic is followed by a well-developed paragraph discussing the special and important role of the manor, castle and church respectively.]

Sample question--American history

Show how at least two separate issues contributed to the beginning of the Civil War.

[Don’t even think about talking about more than two issues even though there are many.] What are you to do? [Show] [Show means give examples.] Show what? [contributions] Of what? [two causes] Of what? [of the Civil War] How many parts does the question have? [two + an introduction]

“Although many forces contributed to the Civil War, two important ones were: the economic disparity between the industrial North and the agrarian South; and the social debate over slavery as a moral issue.
“First, Southerners saw the growing disparity between the economies of North and South as....
“Second, slavery became a moral issue that split towns, families, and churches, therefore leading to....”

Before turning in your essay test answers, be sure to proofread and make corrections--neatly and clearly--in spelling, grammar, and so on. By making corrections, you show your examiner that you are careful and conscientious--this is good for you.


  • Know the material to be covered.
  • Be sure to read, understand, and follow all directions on the test and for each question.
  • If you have a choice, pick what you know best.
  • Plan your time carefully.
  • Begin each answer by turning the questions into a statement.
  • Break your essay’s body into the appropriate number of parts.
  • Proofread your answers carefully, and neatly make corrections.