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Making the Grade

by Elizabeth Solazzo

Elizabeth Solazzo It is natural to be nervous about returning to school after not being a student for many years but you may surprise yourself. According to Suzanne Lucier, Director of Admissions at Alamance Community College in Graham, North Carolina, older students usually excel in academics. They study harder, actually read all of the material assigned, and prepare for classroom discussions ahead of time. They can't help but succeed and you can too!

In many instances, as a returning student, you have life skills that can easily be transferred to the classroom to help ease the way. You understand that you must put forth the effort to make good grades. A mother accustomed to organizing play dates, balancing the checkbook, or planning fun vacations, can use the same planning and organization skills to organize homework assignments, schedule study sessions with classmates and research and write a great paper.

Time management is one of the biggest challenges you will face. Life is always a balancing act and adding school just adds more balls in the air for you to juggle. It is a good idea to think about how you will make it work for you ahead of time. Do you plan to attend school full time or take some classes on the side? Will you be able to adjust your work schedule or get outside help with some of your home responsibilities? Attending school full time and putting in the study time necessary will require at least as much time as a full time job.

It is generally advisable to spend two hours of study time outside of the classroom for every hour spent in class, according to Lucier, who teaches a study skills class for new students. In the beginning, you may need to invest even more time, until you adjust to the routine. Some colleges offer a freshman success class. These classes usually cover study skills, research techniques and time management tips. Study skills can be learned and it is beneficial to investigate all avenues of help open to you as you return to school.

Effective note taking also plays a large part in a student's success. The modified outline system is a method recommended by the Division of Student Affairs at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. This system allows the student to jot down the most important points during a lecture, leaving a wide left margin on the page. The margin is then used to fill in ideas and questions while completing the review and study process. It is also recommended that students review their notes for a few minutes each day so that the material will be more easily remembered when studying for the test.

If you haven't spent much time reading and writing in recent years, you may need some brush up work with the fundamentals. One process to examine is the way you should read a textbook in order to learn the material. Francis P. Robinson developed a helpful reading system called SQ3R. The acronym means Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review. This method advocates that you survey the chapter first by looking at the headings, the summary and the chapter questions. Next, you should create your own questions about the material based on the information listed in the headings. Having the questions in mind as you read requires you to think more deeply about what you are reading as you go through the material. After reading the chapter, try to answer the questions you designed. The last step requires you to again question yourself about the information gained. This method will help you to begin to understand and retain the material.

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