Education is a lifelong pursuit and having a job does not mean your days of learning have ended. In many fields, obtaining a certification or passing a field-specific exam can help accelerate your career. For most adults, the idea of obtaining an additional job-specific certification is appealing, but it can be intimidating to return to the world of learning after years or decades without taking tests. While you may no longer have access to the study groups and dedicated schedule that school provided when you were younger, you don’t have to feel helpless trying to get back into study mode as an adult. The following tips can be helpful as you begin preparing for your next big exam.

Back-to-School Shopping

Chances are, you don’t have the same amount of flashcards, highlighters, and binders you once had as a full-time student. Make a list of all of the tools you used to study in the past and do some back-to-school shopping! This list should also include all of the books, exam guides, and preparation courses you may need, as well as a laptop or tablet if needed.

Find Your Study Spot

You may have had favorite study spots in high school and college but if you don’t live in the same place anymore, you may need to find a new study spot to suit your current needs. Try out the local library or a nearby coffee shop, or create a home office if you have the space for it. Sometimes it’s best to have a few different spots to utilize so you can have a backup; for example, if the library closes at 6 p.m. but the only time you’re able to study is from 7-9 p.m., you can go to your backup coffee shop. Consider rotating between your favorite study spots to keep your study time a little more interesting.

Time Management

As an adult, you have a million things waiting to distract you - important things like work, family, and bills, but also silly things like social media and TV. Create a schedule and include all must-do activities, such as your children’s soccer games and family engagements, as well as must-do action items such as paying the bills or completing work assignments. After you have added those things to your schedule, you will have a better idea of how much free time you actually have to dedicate to studying. During your dedicated study time, you should put your phone on the “do not disturb” setting and ask your family to give you some space and quiet time; being away from distractions and having accountability will help you better utilize that time to focus on the information you are trying to learn. Keep in mind that must-do activities such as spending time with your family can be a wonderful study break!

Be Realistic

Be realistic in the way you look at your life and in the way you look at your study schedule. You most likely won’t be able to keep your same daily routine as you take on a new challenging class - but don’t worry, this is only temporary. Your schedule will become busier, you may get less sleep/exercise, and you may feel some added stress- but if you know these things are coming, you can find better ways to handle them. Also, chances are you haven’t taken a test in years and the importance of your upcoming test may make it a bit intimidating.

Be Flexible

You know that life is unpredictable. As an adult learner, you have to make room for unpredictability in your schedule. Maybe you plan on studying during your child’s soccer practice, but then practice is cancelled and suddenly you’re 1.5 hours behind schedule. Maybe something urgent comes up at work and you have to work overtime instead of studying for your big test. Making room for unpredictability means scheduling in extra study times that you will either need to utilize due to rescheduling another study time, you will have the opportunity to utilize as extra study time, or that you’ll be able to use for more fun activities such as having a movie night with your family, exercising, or taking a much deserved nap.

Remember: It’s Temporary

Even though things may seem overwhelming, stressful, and overall unmanageable, remember that this is only one season of your life. Once the class is over and the certification is passed, you can breathe a huge sigh of relief and you will be able to resume a more normal schedule. This may be hard to remember in the moment, but trying to maintain this perspective will help keep you sane.

Congratulations on the decision to further your knowledge and accelerate your career - best of luck and happy studying!