Study Tips from a Guy Who’s Been Outta College for a Decade

by Darwin on December 16, 2010

Since I finished my undergrad over a decade ago, I haven’t put my study skills to work recently.  I did an MBA a few years back, but much of that program was based on projects, papers, presentations and team activities, so the past few weeks have been a blast from the past.  Going with the mantra of staying relevant to avoid a layoff, I recently enrolled in a professional certification that I’ve seen my peers and others in the industry complete – a Certified Supply Chain Professional.  Aside from the fact that I’d learn something new and relevant, it’s always good to know that you’re company’s still willing to spend money on your professional development, and it’s that much tougher to justify sending a guy packing who you just spent thousands of dollars on.  Not that I spend every waking moment obsessing over how to avoid a layoff, but given the economy and the insatiable demands to cut costs continuously, I’d be naive to assume it can’t happen.  So, that being said, with the exam coming up, I hunkered down and busted out some of my old study habits that had served me well in college.  Everyone is a different learner, a different studier; but I figured maybe some of these tips would come in handy for your next big exam.

  • Practice Tests – This program had both sample questions in the books, as well as online tests for each section.  Apparently, there’s a database of 700 questions or something, and I took the online practice test enough times until they started to repeat themselves.  When I got an answer wrong, the website would show you the correct answer with an explanation, so I quickly used the CTRL C, CTRL V combo into a word document to go back and review the rationale for my wrong answers later.  While the real exam didn’t have the exact questions from the practice test, they were conceptually identical, and I credit taking tons of practice tests with my passing the exam.
  • Highlight Key Concepts and Use for Quick Review – Since it was about a thousand pages of total reading and I was able to discern key topics and definitions from the practice exams, I went back through and highlighted probably just 1-2 lines every couple pages, but these would be the key concepts and definitions I struggled to memorize.  Today, before I took the test, I sat in the car and buzzed through the books one last time and quickly scanned all those highlighted sections.  Many people use highlighters, but think about using the highlighter sparingly and strategically, to give you the best bang for your buck just prior to exam time.
  • Write Down Formulas and Definitions Yourself – Since I’m used to deriving formulas and equations as an engineer, it was a bit tough for me to just rote memorize a bunch of formulas and definitions.  I tried something that seemed to work, which was to use blank sheets of paper to just write down the equations over and over each day until I could do them by memory without having to look at the book.  As it turned out, there were a couple questions that relied on those equations, so it was well worth it.
  • Procrastination Management – I admit it, I like to procrastinate, surf, check stats, check twitter and all kinds of other seemingly non-value added activities.  Being a blogger, investor, TV watcher, reader, dad and several other all-to-convenient titles that don’t entail studying, I had to force myself to make efficient use of my time and study during the periods that I had initial established for myself.  As an iPhone owner, what I’ve found is that by actually turning the damn thing off for periods of time, I would actually hit my objective for reading, practice question completion, etc. and I’m not that addicted that I’d actually turn it back on to violate my rule I just set.  However, if I’d left it on and a phone call or text came in – boom, distraction.  Speaking of rules, when using the desktop to take the practice exams, the whole web was just one browser tab away.  So, I set “rules” for myself with rewards attached.  Once I complete this practice test, I can check out CNBC and one RSS reader tab.  Once I re-read this full section, I could check Adsense and my Twitter.  These little rules and rewards forced me to stick to my schedule, crank out large blocks of work, and maintain my sanity.

So, today I took the exam and passed.  It wasn’t the most complex material, but I’ll admit that it was challenging since it wasn’t the type of discipline I was used to.  I did cram, but due to these tried and true study methods, I was able to pull it off.

What are some of your favorite study tips?

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1 Cal Sherrif December 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Ive got all the titles you mentioned ( dad , investor etc) and totally agree on how difficult it is to focus on just sitting down to prepare for an exam . Thanks for the advice and congratulations btw!

2 Daddy Paul January 1, 2011 at 5:57 pm

What are some of your favorite study tips?
Talk to others who were in the class with you about the class on the way out. I found that I missed some things others did not. If you don’t know anyone in the class take a few moments to read the notes from the class before you leave the room.

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