You know the saying that goes, “It’s never too late to learn?” Or does it go, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks? In any case, during the last four months while I was studying for a big promotional exam, I experienced both.
It’s Never Too Late to Learn
Well maybe not, but it’s certainly more difficult to learn new material when it’s “later” in life. This is probably due to a number of factors, including, I am reluctant to say, my aging brain. I would rather like to think that learning is more difficult because I have more demands on my time now than I did as a full-time student. Now I have a full-time job, a family with four kids, and a household to run. My memory has a limited capacity and unfortunately, legal standards, case law, and personnel policies exceed my memory’s maximum capacity.
Studying for this exam forced me to learn new study techniques so that I could be more efficient and memorize information for the big test. One of these techniques involved taking advantage of all the technology that didn’t exist when I was in law school 16 years ago. One of my very generous and tech savvy co-workers, did me and the 400+ other test takers a tremendous favor by scanning all the review materials, and digitally recording all the exam review lectures and uploading them onto a cloud at Sugar Sync. It was incredible. I learned how to use the cloud and was able to access the information from anywhere, as long as I had my iPhone with me. I spent many weekends doing laundry, driving kids to their activities, and cooking dinner, listening to a downloaded lecture.
Another study tool I learned to use was the iPhone app for flashcards. Another tech savvy co-worker created a series of flashcards on an app and made it available for all of us to study. It was so convenient. One night Juan and I went out to get a drink and he sat watching the World Series on the bar’s television, I reviewed flashcards from my iPhone app.
Another thing I learned during this period was how much more efficient I can be when I am focused and I have limited time to study. I wish I knew this in law school when I was a full-time student and frittered away my time, finding countless distractions to keep from really focusing on my studies. I wish I could teach my high school daughter Olivia this, as I watch her “studying” at the computer while switching from Facebook, to Tumblr and simulanteously responding to a text message. I often ask her, “Shouldn’t you be studying?” Although, I must confess that one night I was studying and switched over to Facebook. She was studying on a computer in another room and must have seen that I went on-line. She immediately sent me an on-line message, “Shouldn’t you be studying?” Touche´!
You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
When I was in law school I realized that in order for me to truly understand something I needed to do more than read it and highlight it. I needed to dissect it, and diagram it. I guess this makes me a visual learner. When I studied for the Bar Exam I made countless flow charts, and diagrams to help me understand legal concepts. This trick worked. I passed the bar on the first try. As I was studying for this exam, I tried to short cut my studying by repeatedly listening to lectures, and reading outlines. I learned a little but I really didn’t feel like I absorbed the material. As soon as I read or heard the material, I was unable to recall what it was about. In the end, the only way I really was able to understand something was to resort to my old trick of drawing flow charts and diagrams.
The other trick I used, which served me well in college and law school was a study group. I was part of a study group that met regularly through our exam period in law school. We divided the work load and then reviewed the material together. This time around, I was also part of a study group. The women in my study group were also working mothers, and we supported each other throughout the process. We shared information, took self-made practice exams, and when there were legal concepts which some of us were unfamiliar with, we called a resident expert who would explain it to us.
In spite of all the high tech study tools available to me, I still relied on the very low tech flash cards made from index cards. Olivia could not contain her delight when, one night when it was just the two of us up late studying, I asked if she had any more packages of blank index cards. She gladly handed me over a brand new package from her own stash.
The community support from my co-workers, and the high and low tech tools, made the job of studying a lot more tolerable, but I am still so relieved to be done with the exam. This dog doesn’t need to learn any new more new tricks, for a while at least,