Study Skills for Mature Students Returning to Education

For mature students, returning to education and learning new study skills can feel both exciting and overwhelming. In the UK, mature students made up 37% of undergraduate and 50% of postgraduate admissions during 2019-20. Since then, the population of mature students has continued to increase. Being a mature student poses unique challenges such as juggling university alongside family, work, or caring. More importantly, mature students often struggle with their student identity and compare themselves to younger students. Yet, mature students are equally capable of academic success with the right mindset and study skills! In this blog, we’ll share six essential study skills and tips for mature students returning to education. 


The Importance of Mindset for Mature Students

Before we dive into those all-important study skills, let’s talk about mindset. As a mature student, you might feel out of place. This could be because you experienced disruption in your educational journey. Or, you simply feel overwhelmed being in a new environment after such a long time. However, mature students tend to have a range of skills and experiences that can benefit them in education. Research has shown that mature students benefit from developing a growth mindset and grit which enables them to persevere and prioritise long-term goals. Another study found mature students manage independent learning and exam anxiety better, despite struggling with a sense of belonging. 

This highlights that you, as a mature student, can truly reach your full potential by developing a growth mindset. First, remember your why and reflect on all your skills, experiences, and positive traits. This can help you keep going when things get stressful or imposter syndrome creeps in. Second, get involved where you can. You’re not alone! Just like the workplace, education is filled with people from a range of backgrounds, age ranges, and personality types. If you struggle with building an in-person community, seek online communities with other mature students. Even younger undergraduates struggle with socialising and belonging at university.


Time and Energy Management Techniques for Mature Students

stone staircase with sand timers and laptop to repesent time and energy management for mature students

For mature students, a good academic work-life balance is important. You can achieve this by learning how to manage both your time and energy. Time management is essential for organising your time around work, education, and family. You can improve productivity and make the most out of your day by using time management techniques. However, energy management can be equally as important when juggling so many responsibilities. This involves taking care of your physical and mental energy to ensure you show up as your best self in each area of life. Using a mixture of time and energy management techniques can help you reduce stress, avoid burnout, and improve your productivity as a mature student returning to higher education.


Time Blocking

This technique involves breaking the hours of your day or week into time blocks. Each time block is assigned a specific purpose, such as completing one task, working on a long-term goal, or a list of small tasks. This method encourages deep, focused work and limited task switching. You can use simple 24-hour weekly planners to outline all your current time commitments, and then find time blocks for studying, family, or personal time. 


Eisenhower Matrix

Prioritising tasks is a key time management skill. This matrix helps to organise your tasks based on urgency and importance. You can divide tasks into four categories: urgent, important, delegate, and delete. This highlights tasks to be completed first, such as urgent tasks, and tasks for later, like important tasks. You can then delegate or delete the remaining tasks. As a mature student, it’s important to be able to prioritise tasks, especially during particularly busy seasons like the exam period and assignment deadlines.


Energy Audit

To understand what drains and energies you, complete an energy audit. This is simply a log of what you did during the day and how you felt. You could do this in a list format using hours of the day or document your energy levels on a graph. This can help you identify when during the day you have the most energy to complete complex work. But also, what tasks or habits help you to replenish your energy. For example, you might find taking a walk resets your focus, or that scrolling through social media after lunch makes you tired. This information can help you plan accordingly and identify areas for self-care, such as sleep, exercise, or diet.


Essential Study Skills for Mature Students

open laptop and notebook on desk with hand writing notes as a mature student

Effective Note-Taking

Returning to higher education as a mature student requires some re-learning of essential study skills. Effective note-taking is one of those study skills! Note-taking provides the foundation for learning and understanding your lecture material. Good note-taking consists of active listening and the ability to break information down into your own words. You can do this by using subheadings for key discussion points, themes, and arguments. As you listen, write down a few essential summary points in your own words. Note-taking is a skill that can take time to develop and will require careful focus. However, it’s understandable that this can be a difficult task to do well throughout an entire lecture.

Many students spend time catching up later by rewatching lecture recordings. This can take up precious time which could be allocated to other responsibilities or preparing for assessments. That’s why Jamworks created an assistive note-taking tool that records your live and online lectures. This personal productivity learning tool provides a distraction-free note-taking experience so that you can focus in class. Using 1-button highlighting, lecture content can be broken down into subtopics. Each highlight can be reviewed as a smart summary powered by artificial intelligence, a word-for-word transcript, or an audio clip. This allows you to have clear, concise notes that are easy to review. Your free time can be spent on reading, assessments, or other responsibilities. This is just one of Jamworks’ features that can streamline your academic learning journey. Learn more about effective note-taking with Jamworks in our comprehensive guide.


Active Reading

Your reading ability is the next essential study skill to prioritise. Reading material supplements and develops the information taught during lectures. You’ll read a range of academic texts such as research papers, reports, and textbooks. You can learn how to read well by developing active reading skills. This skill will boost your grades and improve your knowledge. You can achieve active reading using three simple steps:

  1. Skim the text to identify key topics. If the text is long, such as a textbook or a lengthy review paper, split this into smaller sections first. This prepares you for what you’re about to read and can help you read with better focus.

  2. Read for a short period of time with a goal in mind. This will help you to extract the information you need from the text. For example, if you’re looking for supporting evidence to use in an essay, you’ll be focused on understanding the research in relation to your essay topic. You’ll also read with more attention by reading for 5-10 minutes at a time.

  3. Annotate the reading material with questions and personal thoughts. Active reading requires you to ask critical questions, such as how valid are the author’s arguments. Does this align with what I already know on the topic? These questions help you to develop your understanding. By writing your own notes on the text or separately, you’ll remember the information better. This is because you’ve actively engaged with the content.


Important Study Hacks for Mature Students

Be Resourceful

Many students, including mature students, can feel like they’re kept in the dark. What am I expected to know? How will I be assessed? Lecturers will tend to cover this briefly in lectures! But as you progress through the academic year, these thoughts can get overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to make use of university resources. Modules often have a specification that outlines what will be taught, the assessment type and criteria, and the expected study time. This can provide a guideline for your study sessions and assessment preparation. 

Alongside this, you can use the university grading criteria to understand what’s expected for each grade level. Some universities might even release exam feedback for the previous year that can help you understand common mistakes. Have a look through the online learning portal for your course for these documents. But don’t worry if this is confusing! You can reach out to the academic services, often located in the library. Or ask your lecturers and personal tutors if such documents exist for your modules and course. The academic services, your personal tutor, and lecturers are there to support you. Don’t be afraid to reach out via email or in person for guidance. 


Research and Referencing 

Finally, as tedious as it is, research and referencing are important skills to develop. You’ll likely have some training on these skills from the university library or course content. That’s why, unlike reading and note-taking, you can worry a little less about self-learning this skill. However, it’s still important to be proactive, apply what you’re taught, and ask for help when you’re confused. Most importantly, referencing well is necessary to avoid plagiarism, and showcase you’ve produced original work. If you put in your best referencing and research efforts, your lecturers can provide you with feedback. This feedback will allow you to correct mistakes early on and develop good skills for later academic years.

Make the most of your time as a mature student with Jamworks – the world’s most advanced note taking and revision app.

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