Understanding Your Learning Style: Study Smart

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If you’ve been having trouble passing certification exams or you’re banging your head because you can’t get a bead on your instructor, examining your learning style could provide you with just the right information to boost your chances of getting a passing grade.

Your particular learning style goes beyond “I like to study before Letterman” or “I can’t concentrate without my favorite green highlighter,” though preferences play a key role in determining where you fall in the spectrum. There are more than 30 learning style programs, according to Sharon Bowman, director of Bowperson Publishing and Training, but here we will focus on four main groups: peacemakers, truth keepers, solution seekers and risk takers. The ultimate goal is to help you figure out the right way to study, take notes and use study materials that will work best to help you pass those certification exams

Being a peacemaker means you need to build relationships for optimal learning. This type of learner needs to personally relate to the material being taught, the other students and the instructor. Peacemakers may set up a regular time to meet with a study partner or group and introduce themselves to the instructor to make a personal connection. This greases the wheels of communication when the peacemaker has questions later.

Online study groups are an excellent option for this learning style. If you’re working toward a Microsoft certification, the online MCP or MCSE Study Group allows for convenient interaction and collaboration with fellow test-takers. Register at http://www.certfaq.com/bb/sutra30566.html.

Peacemakers’ note-taking skills are a combination of visual and word elements. “You could, for example, divide your paper into two columns,” Bowman said. “In one column you would write the details you’re hearing as the instructor lectures and in the other column you would draw doodles, cartoons or shapes to represent various concepts so you’re getting information two ways.” To further aid this learning style, study with videos. CBT Nuggets offers IT training videos like the Cisco IDS Specialist Certification Package at www.cbtnuggets.com with preparation and technical review elements.

Truth Keepers
Truth keepers are the typical “good students” with analytical minds. They learn best with private time to review notes or text materials. Organization and logic are key study elements for this learning style, and a truth keeper likes facts and theories. If you fall into this category, you take notes as you read, highlight the main ideas and underline details, words or phrases; your notes most likely take outline form. “You’re looking for the details. The more information the better,” Bowman said. “You make up your own test questions about the material and then you take your own test. Or, if you decide down the road to get together with someone, you exchange tests. (Truth keepers) don’t necessarily like to study with other people. If you’re a strong truth keeper, you do better when you study by yourself, at least in the beginning.”

Because you like lots of information and details, you won’t mind sifting through online book reviews of study materials to pass the Microsoft certification exam #70-270 Windows XP Pro. You will enjoy comparing the differences between MS Press’ “MCSE Microsoft Windows XP Professional Readiness Review” and Sybex’s “MCSA/MCSE Windows XP Professional Study Guide, Second Edition (#70-270)” or discovering who else has the right text to fit your needs.

Solution Seekers
Solution seekers, feel that learning equals results. What’s the solution to the problem? You like to take things apart to figure out how they work. You’re very practical. You need to know how the material you’re learning can be used in the real world. “If you’re a strong (solution seeker), your learning strength is your ability to get to the bottom line, and you learn best when you know how you plan to use what you’re learning,” Bowman said. “Everything’s got to be useful. Otherwise, a (solution seeker) will say don’t waste my time. A (truth keeper) will say knowledge for knowledge’s sake is OK; a (solution seeker) says, ‘No it isn’t. Give me what I can use and let me get out of here.’”

Virtual labs or building a home practice lab are excellent study tools for solution seekers because they can work hands-on and see the results of their efforts in use. Additionally, a solution seeker studying for the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification, for example, might enjoy the LabSim hands-on exercises in Cisco’s CCNA Training Suite, which allow you to practice in a realistic Cisco network environment. This study aid also offers something called ExamSim, which has exam simulators and self-assessment tools to recreate a testing atmosphere similar to that of the actual exam. Visit www.youlearn.com/products/lk-products/C/ccna2/ccna2.html.

When studying text materials, a solution seeker will skip to the end of the chapter and read the summary first to get the main ideas—details come last. “A (solution seeker) also likes talking to people who have already taken the course to find out how they’re using the material,” Bowman said. “Three’s are probably the hardest people for instructors to work with because they’re the ones who say, ‘Cut to the chase. Don’t waste my time.’ They’re the ones who sit by the door to get out of there if it’s not working for them.”

Risk Takers
Risk takers think outside the box, see the big picture and need a challenge. A risk taker wants energy and excitement. He will volunteer to write the main ideas on a class chart as the instructor is lecturing or make posters of key concepts—anything to actively engage in the learning and to avoid sitting there quietly. Risk takers are discussion leaders. “(They) are ideas people,” said Diane Cheatwood, independent consultant, Teaching for a Change. “They are the people who are planning the new programs and new software.” Mind mapping or clustering, or visual note-taking strategies with color-coded highlighters and doodles in the margins help risk takers to make the material their own. Interactive training CDs like those offered for CompTIA’s certifications are available at www.youlearn.com/it-certification/it-certification.html and allow a risk taker to employ self-paced study materials that are a bit more involved than the usual flash cards, outlines or text books.

“The worst thing that can happen to a (risk taker) in a classroom is to be bored,” Bowman said. “(Peacemakers) or (truth keepers) will hang in even if they’re bored. A (solution seeker) or (risk taker) won’t. A (solution seeker) because it’s not useful, and a (risk taker) because it’s not exciting. A risk taker learns best when there’s lots of energetic discussion and debate, mental stimulation. It’s OK if it’s not organized for a risk taker. You go for a study group of four to six learners, a larger group than a peacemaker would. You set up a time to share big ideas and possibilities. You’re not discussing the course content; you’re discussing what you could do with the course content in terms of changing the world.”

“In the literally hundreds and thousands of learning type measures that I’ve given people, computer and IT people largely fall into the (truth keeper) and (solution seeker) categories,” said Cheatwood. Knowing your learning style can be very beneficial when testing is a factor in the learning process, and certification credentials certainly don’t come without tests. “If I’m leaving out big chunks of information and/or skills, then I’m not going to do well on a certification test,” said Cheatwood. “By knowing what I’m

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