How to Be a Successful Adult Student – Overview of Four Classroom Skills
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How to Be a Successful Adult Student – Overview of Four Classroom Skills

How to Be a Successful Adult Student – Overview of Four Classroom Skills

Having made a decision to be an adult student, there are some classroom skills of which you need to make sure you have a working mastery. In high school, you could get by without really getting a complete grasp of these skills, but this is no longer true when you become an adult learner. These skills include taking notes, taking tests, listening, and participating.

In secondary school, the instructors are very forgiving. They know the students have not had a full course of training in these skills; towards the end of your high school career, the teachers make noises about the necessity of having these skills, but by then most students have learned to ignore such talk. However, an instructor of adults makes the assumption that you have these skills; otherwise, you would not have agreed to be a student in the adult education world.

All of these skills can be acquired; there are many resources available to teach these skills. Unfortunately, you must go and get these skills; no one will come and give them to you automatically. Many adult schools, recognizing that grade school has not taught these skills, have a course for entering students to teach these skills. Once this course is done, the instructors then assume that the student has the skills, and they, the instructors, move forward without covering these skills again. This means that the instructors move much faster in adult education than they do in secondary education, for after all, the students have been taught the skills to keep up. Unfortunately, many students treat the introductory course like a high school course, ignoring much of what is covered, and then the student is caught in a bind, not having the skills to make proper use of the adult courses in which they are participating.

<i>Taking Notes</i>

Taking notes, in adult education, does not consist of simply writing down whatever the instructor says. First, the instructor is probably moving too fast for a student to be able to write down everything, and second, the instructor often does not distinguish between main points and explanatory material. When taking notes, the students must move fast enough to keep up with the instructor, move precisely enough to distinguish between points and explanations, and move efficiently enough to have the notes usable after the class is over.

The point of the notes is not to memorize the material presented in the class. First, the material covered is typically in the textbook provided by the course, so it can be reread there in the book. Second, the instructor is not trying to present concepts that are completely new, for he has made the assumption that the student has read the book. No, what the instructor is doing in class is providing details and examples to explain the concept to which the textbook introduces the student. Therefore, the notes should be also about in depth details and understanding examples. The student notes should be clearly structured to differentiate between explanations and examples. This allows the notes to be useful outside of class, as well as providing the student with a source of questions for clarification.

<i>Taking Tests</i>

The tests of adult education are often not the main component of the course grade; instead, the tests are to allow the instructor to determine which students are maintaining the pace of the class and which students are not. Memorization usually has little or no meaning; instead, the test consists of examples and problems where the student can exhibit their understanding of the material. Therefore, unlike high school, memorizing material is not very helpful to an adult student.

Instead, the student should prepare for tests by doing problems. Understanding the problems from both the textbook and the lecture is much more important than being able to spout forth a word perfect definition. The test is about doing, not regurgitating (or at least it should be). The student needs to practice and be relaxed, rather than review details and be nervous. Taking tests is as much about how the student approaches the problem as it about getting the one right answer. In many cases, there is no one right answer, or if there is one answer, there are multiple ways of determining the answer.

When taking tests, the student should know their target for that test, and should focus on getting the material needed to reach that target. Once that has been acquired, the student should cease to focus on the test and focus on themselves. Only then can they use the material they have gathered most effectively.


Many times students do not listen to the instructor; instead, they hear what they expect to hear, even if the instructor is saying something completely different. In high school, the teachers do at least some effort to clear up these potential communication errors. In adult education, it is the responsibility of the student to assure that what they heard is what the instructor said. That is why listening becomes such an important skill.

Listening requires that you are properly prepared, that you pay adequate attention, and that you review your notes and thoughts after class; all this work is to make sure you have heard what the instructor has said. The instructor will hold the adult student responsible, and the student is left with the necessity of satisfying that expectation.


In high school, simply attending class was often adequate participation; in adult education, participation must be more active. Once the responsibility of understanding moves from the teacher (as in high school) to the student (adult education), passive participation is rarely enough to ensure adequate communication. The student needs to ask questions, restate ideas, and explore possibilities, for the teacher is expecting the student to provide the initiative. While a student might passively attend class, they will not achieve proper learning without active participation.

<b>Learnable Skills</b>

All these skills, and other discussed elsewhere in this series, are learnable by any student. Once a person has decided to become an adult student, learning these skills is a necessary action to achieve a successful completion of the program of study. Not everything has to be learned immediately, but a student who is committed to their success as an adult student will start working on these skills, and the sooner the better. Most instructors, if approached by a student, will be glad to guide and mentor students, but the initiative must come from the student. After all, it is their success at stake.