How to Succeed at the Studying Game


Last week FedEx delivered a small box to my front porch. I had started on the Rockwell courses online several days before and was feeling pretty good about myself. I was moving through the lessons, taking notes, and thinking I ought to be ready to take the exam in a few weeks. No problem. And then... This cardboard box thudded onto my doorstep. And it was full of books.

Heavy books.

Dense books.

Books heavy and dense not just with paper and ink and words.

But heavy with reality. Heavy with responsibility. Heavy with the realization that I wasn't going to skate my way through this in a couple of weeks. Not by a long shot.

Before the books arrived I wouldn't have told you that I was taking this process lightly. At all. I knew it was a big deal. I knew it was important. I knew those things in theory. But in practice--well, that was another matter.

And that's where I found myself last Friday--vacating the land of theory and thrown headfirst into the land of practice.

I'm not going to say I freaked out about it. That wouldn't be accurate. But I did think, "holy moly, how do I do this?" Do I read the books and then do the online lessons? Do I do the online lessons first and then read the chapters? Do I figure that with a multiple choice exam I have a 25% chance of guessing the right answer, and just cross my fingers?

When I emailed Rebecca I don't think I sounded panicked, but I think she got the gist because she emailed me back and said, "let's talk."

So, we did. And she gave me a path to follow for studying, which I'm going to share with you now.

The Method. I'm doing  all the online coursework first. Working through each lesson, taking all of the pop quizzes and chapter tests.

Rockwell has a feature called, The Cram with Sample Exams. So, now I'm working through that and then reading the chapters in the book that correspond to the areas of information that I don't have as strong of a grasp on.

Here's my advice for structuring this process, outside of how you approach the material.

Set Realistic, Time-Bound Goals. Take the total study time in hours and then look at your schedule. Figure out how many hours per week you can realistically devote to studying. If you have a full-time job it's probably less than if you are working part-time or not working at all. If you have children or other family commitments, that probably decreases your study time too. In my case, I decided I could do 20 hours per week. Then I literally penciled into my calendar the hours each day when I would be studying. I made it an appointment and didn't schedule anything else during those periods.

Identify the actual hours on the actual days you'll be studying. Picking 20 hours a week as a goal is useless if there's no way you can realistically complete that many hours.

Set an Exam Date. So, I couldn't actually schedule my exam until I finished my required study hours. But, I counted out how many weeks it would take me to work through the material, given the weekly goals I set for myself, and then picked a week when I planned to take the exam. And I wrote it on my calendar and told my accountability coach (see below) what it was.

Track Your Time. I noted in an Excel spreadsheet when I clocked in for studying and when I clocked out. I also made note of the lesson I worked on that day and if it was particularly difficult or if I scored lower on the final quiz, I made a note to study that topic more in the book or revisit it online during my review period.

Create External Accountability. Find someone who will serve as a check on your adherence to your study plan. I email Rebecca every Friday afternoon and tell her whether I met my study goal for the week. It's really easy to skip a study session if there's no one who will know if you do.

Pick the Right Studying Method. I love the online method because I can go at my own pace and I can study from home. But if you thrive in a classroom setting, or if you know you'll get distracted by other things if you study from home, then you might want to pursue a live class option. There is no right or wrong--it's really just about being honest about what really works best for you. Picking a method because it's what you wish worked best is a recipe for frustration.

Leave Time for Review. But Not Too Much. I built in a week and a half after I finished working through the requisite hours for general review, and for concentrated review of those sections that particularly challenged me. But I also know that I'm a perfectionist, so if I didn't limit my review time I'd keep studying for months and maybe never feel ready to take the exam.

Hope this information helps you! If you have questions or comments, please feel free to share them below.