Rewiring Your Ancient Memory for New Learning

Mature StudentAnyone can learn. Granted, it may take your mature brain a little longer than others, but it still holds the capacity to do so. You need to be willing to accept change, throw out all of the old wives tales and unlearn many things you have learned up until this point. Learning is a life-long, innate phenomenon. All cultures do it*.

One of the best things about college is that the setting and curriculum are designed to maximize the learning process; well, in most colleges anyway. Oftentimes, the head of a department gives professors a list of objectives for students to learn within a specific period. Drawing from previous experiences and questioning your own assumptions and mores–particularly if your assumptions are drawn from backyard knowledge–can propel the learning concept. For instance, if you still think that nine planets exist, knowledge says otherwise because there are now eight; Pluto has been exiled.

The art of learning further entails an acceptance that some things are not within reach**. You will not learn everything in the same manner and in the same way as the next student. In a study, older students had an edge over younger students with decision making, understanding the concepts of learning in multiple ways and independent learning***. Different subjects place different demands on different parts of your brain: Some school subjects involve creativity; others require problem solving; and many may require strong lungs like in a music voice class.


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Gandhi


They say the first thing to go with age is memory. And I have to agree, except you can, and will have to, defy the signs of aging because some college classes will depend on it.

Read the assigned homework on schedule. Oftentimes, it’s dreadfully boring, but read it anyway. While reading, use a highlighting marker–orange, my personal favorite–for aging eyes. Then review the highlighted portion only at least every two days. Read it, read it again, and read it some more until you’re nearly ready to drop out of school. At that time, you’ll know you’re on the right track.

Also, learn to speed read. Most professors assign an unrealistic amount of reading homework, especially for nontraditional students who most likely have a family to care for. The trick with speed reading is to set a faster pace than you’re used to. Then roll your eyes over the pages. Your brain will absorb at least 80 percent of the material. Well–it should.


Cliff’s Notes are a no brainer for nontraditional students who simply don’t have time to read encyclopedias. These “notes”–which are really books with a yellow paperback–are summaries of a particular book. Not every book is summarized via Cliff’s Notes, though, but the popular ones are. These books can also help you clarify information if you’re having a hard time understanding the text. Reading is all about comprehension. And if you can’t comprehend the material, you haven’t read it.


At least one week before a quiz or an exam, create a hand- or type-written study sheet. Writing things down can help the information absorb into your brain. To go one step further, get a voice recorder and read off your notes to listen to it when you’re getting ready for school. You can even listen to it in the car, at the grocery store, and talking to your mom while she’s blabbering on about Uncle Chester’s jigsaw puzzle collection.

For list items, associate a particular word or phrase to something you’re familiar with. To illustrate, for my geology class, I had to remember a list of rocks that only geologists had ever heard of, and I never wanted to hear of again. A partial list: Scoria, Slate, Gneiss and Pegmatite. The volcanic rock Scoria looks like a scouring pad, the thing people scrub pots and pans with. So I thought of that when I read the name on the exam: Scoria equals scouring. Slate is what homeowners use on the sides of their homes. Gneiss was tricky. But Gneiss looked “nice” because the rock looks like a zebra with multi-color banding. I thought that was “nice” a rock could do that… Nice it was! I stared at the Pegmatite rock for a while. How could I associate this word with something that was familiar to me?… Wait a minute; the rock was “pinkish” in color… “Pig!” Pigs are pink–Pegmatite. Pig–Peg–there it was.

For short-list items surrounding by lots of reading, acronyms and story creations with the first letter of each word works wonders. Using the same list–Scoria, Slate, Gneiss and Pegmatite–I’ve come up with two sentences with the first letter of each word: Some Professors Grade Students or Silly Sally Got Punched! Acronyms can be a little fussier. I could only manage GPS (Global Positioning System), but then there’s one “S” left out. Can you think of other acronyms? (cont.)

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