A Trick for Middle Aged Students Returning to College

An Approach to Studying for Tests

I've learned a trick to memorization for the middle aged mind.
I've learned a trick to memorization for the middle aged mind.

Memorization Need Not Be a Nightmare!

 According to an article published in Suite 101 by Pam Sissons in 2007: "Between 1970 and 1993, the number of students aged 40 and older increased by 235%!" So, if you're considering a return to college, university or seminary in middle age, you will not be alone. You will also not be the odd person out. You'll be in good company. I was surprised, when God called me to ministry and therefore to seminary part time, just how many folks my age and older were attending night and weekend classes with me. You also have an advantage over the teenaged students. Returning in middle age, you are focused. You know exactly what you want to get out of the degree program you've entered and you have a more organized approach. College professors recognize and appreciate this fact. I know because I've asked them.

There are other cool advantages to returning to college now as well. When I had last been in college in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I typed all my papers on a portable Olivetti typewriter and cursed the profs who would not accept papers on erasable paper. How many of you spent long nights getting that term paper typed just right? Also I had to take notes by hand, pen and paper all the way, and with my handwriting I had to hope I could decipher those notes while studying for tests. Today, the laptop computer makes note taking and paper writing a snap. Brush up on your typing skills if you need to and get a decent laptop if you don't already have one when returning to school. You'll love this improvement ... and the secret I'm going to impart depends on having one.

Now, one thing you're probably worried about is, "how will I memorize loads of material now?" I don't have that agile teen age brain anymore! I had the same worry, especially when having to pause in converstations occasionally to fish for the right word, the one that for some reason has slipped away just when needed and is out there somewhere chuckling evilly at me in the fog of trivia that clutters my mind. Not to worry. You can get past that annoying problem and other memory impediments!

Here's the trick: begin by taking copious notes in class and add the date to each week's notes. Give yourself generous margins on both sides of the page.  If you're working full time and going to school part time like me, you're going to class mostly at night. The note taking will help you stay awake for the necessary nocturnal hours required each week. It doesn't matter what you're technique is, whether you take notes in full sentences like me (I could have been a court stenographer it seems) or as bullet points. Whatever works for you will work for this process, just as long as you get down most of the facts presented each week (in fact that initial typing is the first step toward memorization). Just follow the example of the old joke: The professor walks into the class as says Good evening students. The undergrads say "Good evening professor" while the graduate students note it down. Be the grad student. If the prof provides PowerPoint outlines of the lesson for the evening take those down as well.

Once the notes are taken and it's time to prepare for an exam, print out all your notes and put the laptop computer aside for a well needed rest. To begin studying, go through your notes with a highlighter and highlight all the material that is most important to remember and seems most slippery in your memory. Don't bother to highlight the stuff that easily comes to mind and is familiar when you reread it.

Once the highlighting is done, go back over the highlighted notes only and in the margins jot down a very brief summary of that highlighted note. Keep it short and to the point. Writing this out and working to summarize are both activities that reinforce the facts in your memory.

Once this mechanical process is finished, go over the highlighted notes and summaries a couple times. Much of the material will now seem familiar to you, just like the material you didn't need to underline from the start. The last time, just go over the summaries you wrote out in the margins. Those summarized points will tend to be the trickiest and stickiest facts, the ones that will most likely appear on the exam.

Follow this system and you will overcome any recall difficulties the middle aged mind may try to put in your way. You'll find yourself competitive and exams much easier and less stressful to take.  

So, by all means, return to school!


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Comments 2 comments

Scott.Life 6 years ago

Good advice, I'm just getting ready to go back to school full-time, as the nonexistent job market in my area has reduced me to part time work, nights and weekends.

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J.S. Brooks 6 years ago Author

Best of luck to you in your return to academia. I hope this method is of some use to you and your new degree will open new vistas for you.

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