by Joelle Steele

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Nothing we learn is ever wasted. You never know when you might need it — possibly years later. The important thing is that you learn new things and continue to learn throughout your life. Author Tom Clancy said: "Life is about learning; when you stop learning, you die," a phrase also attributed to Albert Einstein and many other great thinkers. Mahatma Gandhi said: "Learn as if you were to live forever." And how true that is. Nothing is worse than listening to an individual exhibiting his/her ignorance by spouting off about a subject of which they know nothing accurate. How embarrassing and humiliating that is! What are the chances of someone like that ever being taken seriously? How will they ever get a good job or a well-paying job?

Ignorance is not bliss. The phrase "knowledge is power" is a misquote, but it is nonetheless quite true. Learning and the knowledge that comes with it are the solutions to most problems in life and work. Since learning is a combination of several things that allow you to acquire knowledge, you need to learn how to learn, and how to apply that skill on a regular basis to any new knowledge that comes your way. Best-selling author and life coach Tony Robbins says: "It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It's what we do consistently." Develop good learning habits now and make them work for you throughout your life, not just in the classroom.

How do you learn? You listen, read, write, think, question, evaluate, apply, and practice. But everyone does each of these things differently because learning styles and abilities vary from one person to another. You might learn better from reading. Maybe from visual or oral presentations. Perhaps from taking notes or making sketches and drawings. Maybe you learn better when you do something. But no learning is complete unless you learn to do all of these things. And you may "get it" immediately, or you may need to re-read or listen again (and again ...) to a recorded lecture. Whatever your individual learning style, with practice, you will get better at whatever you study.

How do you know what to focus on when you're learning? Usually, your instructor in a classroom situation or on-the-job training environment will tell you what they want or expect. It could be facts, figures, and statistics, or it could be the interpretation and application of those facts, figures, and statistics, or it could be a combination of both. If you're studying without an instructor, you will figure out what to learn based on the subject you are studying.

You may need to know facts, dates, and chemical compositions of items in certain cases and in certain types of jobs or careers. But most of the time, you can just look it up in a book to get whatever degree of detail you require at the moment. In the end, what you most need to know about the facts and statistics you encounter is how to use them and apply them in the real world.

Tips for Learning in the Class Room and On the Job

1) Always be in your seat and ready to learn, on time. Tardiness in class or on the job is always a black mark against you. It signals your disinterest and disregard for others. (In fact, tardiness at a job interview is the main reason most people don't get hired, and it is a common factor in getting fired.)

2) Give your full attention to the instructor. Do not work on other projects while in the classroom and do not talk to your classmates when the instructor is speaking.

3) Listen to the questions other students or co-workers ask the instructor. The answers may prove helpful to you later.

4) Don't try to write down everything that is said. Just take notes or make drawings or charts to help you remember the main points of a lecture.

5) Copy down anything written on the blackboard so that you can refer to it later.

6) Ask questions and get definitions of terms, clarification of the instructor's statements, and/or examples of anything you are having problems understanding. Don't wait until it's test time to ask.

7) Be prepared to answer questions and in other ways participate in class. Every instructor grades on participation. It shows you are paying attention and that you are interested.

8) If you miss a class, always get the notes from someone else who was there.

Tips for Learning at Home

1) Let your family, friends, and co-workers know that studying is important to you for achieving your goals.

2) Make studying a priority in your life. Make time and a place to study every day. Study with other students in a group. Study first, play later.

3) Do all assigned reading as it is assigned. Don't try to put it off and read it all at once. Knowledge builds on knowledge. If you don't keep up with your reading, you will fall behind in your new learning every day.

4) When you read anything and come to a word you don't know or recognize, look it up in the dictionary immediately and write down the definition that applies to your subject matter.

5) Take notes and draw sketches or charts as you read.

6) Read aloud any things you want to especially learn or that you have trouble understanding.

7) Think about what you have read, what it means, and how you would or should use the information.

8) Make a list of any questions you have that you want to ask the instructor about at the next class meeting.

Tips for Taking Tests

1) Never try to study everything in a single night before the exam. If you do this, you're more likely to fail. Cramming does not work. It inhibits your long-term memory (which you need for learning) and it elevates stress levels which then dull your brain's ability to think and remember.

2) Get enough sleep, eat only a light meal before the exam, and visit the restroom.

3) Be on time and in your seat. Have everything you need: pencils, erasers, water or coffee.

4) Take a quick look through the entire exam so that you can estimate the amount of time to spend in each section.

5) Read the questions very carefully. Most people lose points because they simply don't read the question correctly. If a question asks "why" or "how" to do something, don't answer with a definition of "what" that something is. For example:

Test Question: What are 3 of 5 items that should be included in all book proposals?
Correct Answer: Summary of the book, sample chapters, and author background information.
Wrong Answer: A book proposal is a way to introduce the publisher to your work and your background.

The latter is just a definition of a book proposal and doesn't answer the question at all.

6) Pay attention to the number of points each question is worth, especially with essay questions. This is the instructor's way of giving you valuable clues as to the amount of detail necessary in your answer to get the full number of points.

7) Think about each question before you answer it. Making a quick judgment may cause you to answer incorrectly.

8) If you don't know the answer to a question right away, skip to the next question. Don't ever labor over a single question because you might not finish the test. You can always come back to that question later.

9) Never leave a question blank/unanswered. Use your brain. Try to think about possible logical answers to the question. Most instructors will give you at least a point or two for trying (as long as your answer is not completely incorrect).

10) Write very neatly. If the instructor can't read your writing, they have to guess at what you were trying to say. This can cost you points.

11) When you write an answer to an essay question, read over what you have written to make sure you fully answered the question and that your answer will make sense to the instructor.

12) Don't worry about how long it takes you to finish unless the exam is being timed. Everyone completes their exams at different speeds — sometimes because they know the answers, sometimes because they don't.

13) Before you turn in your test, review all the questions and your answers one last time. Be sure you are satisfied with your answers and that they adequately answer the questions.

This article last updated: 04/16/2016.