Written by Walter Boomsma, instructor. See his blog.
As we begin another season of licensing courses, it’s a good time to consider our study habits.
“If you study to remember, you will forget. If you study to understand, you will remember!”
Truer words were never spoken—at least for most! This course is intense and for most students will include new concepts, new vocabulary, and require some basic math skills. While there will be some things that require memorization, much of the course is about applied learning and understanding how you will be using information once licensed. Most people underestimate the difficulty level and commitment it will take to succeed, but most people also end up getting through the course and passing. Failure is certainly possible, but it is the exception.
If you’ve been out of school for a while, you’ll want to develop a plan for studying. Most students will affirm, you can’t simply sit in class and expect to pass the course. Some successful techniques students have used:
- Create a daily study plan or routine, regardless of the time between classes. Even if it’s only 15-30 minutes, review at least some portion of your notes every day. Remember that studying isn’t just about going over material. Think about how you will best learn and remember. People “chunk” information differently. Consider how you’ve learned things in the past and plan your learning. I remember one student who created a second notebook and quite literally re-wrote (in long hand) her entire notes after every class. I wouldn’t learn that way, but she surely did!
- Hone your note-taking skills. Remember they are your notes and they should reflect how you best learn and remember. Attempting to take down everything the instructor says verbatim may not be most effective. I’ve seen students draw pictures and diagrams or concept maps. One memorable student needed extra space for her multicolored highlighters and stick on flags. While I never fully understood her system, it did seem to work for her.
- Flash cards can be a great study aid—particularly with vocabulary. As part of your study plan, use index cards to record a word on one side and the definition on the other. You can create them from your notes. You’ll have quite a pile by the end of the course, but you want to flip through them, testing yourself. When you find yourself getting the answer right consistently remove the card from the deck so you are working on the concepts and definitions necessary. (You should probably review all your cards before the final exam!)
- Consider finding a “study buddy.” While a classmate can be ideal, it can be someone who actually doesn’t understand the material. One student gave her young daughter her flashcards and had her ask questions during a long trip they made together while Mom was taking the class.
- Where you study can be important. It might go without saying, you’ll want a place that allows you to concentrate. You should have everything you need and nothing you do not need. Turn off the smart phone. In general, avoid distractions and create a block of “quality” study time. Although I remember one student who was struggling until she decided to spread her flashcards on her kitchen island. Every time she passed the island she’d pick up a random card. You have to discover what works for you and remember that how you study may be more important than what and for how long.
- Avoid studying to the quiz (or test). As the quotation at the beginning of this article suggests, study to learn and understand. When you focus on a quiz or test it can create additional anxiety. Shift your thinking from “I’ve got to pass” to “I want to learn.” Relax! Give yourself breaks and rewards and try to stay positive. If you find yourself getting anxious and confused, take a short break.
- Teach the material you’re trying to learn. It’s generally accepted that a very effective learning technique is to teach the material. You can do this with your study buddy from class or even someone who knows nothing about the topic. He or she may not know if you are correct, but if you can get them to understand it, you probably understand it as well!
- Talk to your instructor if you are having difficulty in general or with a specific aspect of the course. He/she understands there are different learning styles and sometimes a “one on one” conversation can create an “Aha! Now I get it!” that may not be possible in a group setting.
Picasso said, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Focus on the doing. Challenge yourself! There may be times when you feel you aren’t getting something, but just keep doing. Don’t think, for example, “I can’t do cap rates!” Do them. You will learn how.