Get Your Brain Back in The Game: Study Tips for Adult Learners


When going back to college as an adult—whether you’re 30, 40, 50, or even older—you face your own set of challenges. Chief among those challenges is getting yourself back into the habit of studying. And because your time is precious due to work and family commitments, you’ll need to become an efficient studier. These study tips will help you balance classes with work and family commitments.

Rally Your Support System

A crucial first step to building your study skills is rallying your support system: your family, your friends, and even your co-workers. Explain to the important people in your life what going back to college as an adult means to you and what your goals are.

These people will want to help you, but they likely won’t know how to do so. They might even feel slighted when you decline an invitation or put off projects to create time for your school work.

Help your support system help you by giving them specific ways they can help:

  • Ask your spouse or partner to take on a few extra household chores to give you a block of study time at night.
  • Lean on family or friends for child care occasionally, especially around due dates or exams.
  • Invite your kids to a family study hour—you all sit down at the table to do your homework at the same time!
  • Ask your girlfriends to commit to a standing “fun” night. Make yourself available a certain night each week for socializing, and let them know that other nights are reserved for your studies.
Try These 7 Study Tips

Now that you’ve got your support system set, try out these specific study skills.

  1. Set up a comfortable and practical study space (don’t just sit down on the couch with your laptop!). This will get you in the mindset for studying every time you settle into your space, and it will help you make the most of your study time.
  2. Take some time to research different note-taking methods and find one that works best for you. Check some of these out.
  3. Block off chunks of study time on your calendar. Think of it as an appointment, and don’t miss it.
  4. Break big projects down into smaller tasks, and set realistic goals for when you can achieve those tasks.
  5. Do difficult tasks early in the day. Your physical and mental stamina will wane as the day progresses, so do the hardest items first.
  6. Record yourself reading your notes out loud and play them back when you’re driving or taking public transportation. Repetition is key when learning new information.
  7. Carry your notes with you so you can take advantage of short bits of time (for example, when having your car serviced, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, or sitting on the sideline before a soccer game).

Ask for Help

You don’t need to be a superhero—your degree won’t mean any more if you never ask for help. If you’re struggling with a topic or assignment, schedule a time to talk with the professor. Ask if there’s a study group where you could meet, either in person or online, with fellow students to tackle the subject matter together. There might even be online resources to complement your textbook or provide guided study options.

You’ve Got This!

Going back to college as an adult gives you an advantage: You have a broad range of life experiences to build on as you tackle new and sometimes difficult course material. Use these experiences to your advantage, and you’ll soon feel at home in your new role as a college student.