The "Study Guide" Study Guide

After reaching out to a group of members (and one nonmember) for the June/July 2017 On the Grow article focused on helpful study habits for adults continuing their education, it became clear that there was just too much information to fit in the magazine! Below is the full collection of best practices from each contributor, broken out by name and the degree pursued. From SNS and RD credentials to bachelor’s or master’s degrees, these study tips assist any adult continuing their education while balancing work, family and everything in between.

Tanya Dube, SNS
Dir. of Child Nutrition, Bristol Bay Borough School District
Naknek, Alaska

Tanya Dube recently took the School Nutrition Professional credentialing exam and had a few tips on what helped her prepare for this rigorous test.

For the SNS exam I felt that much of the info would be intuitive for a director with 5 or more years of experience. Many directors spend a lot of time in the office or have little to do with the day to day operations of a kitchen and that can be challenging for some parts of the exam. I am in the kitchen daily preparing meals and cleaning so I thought I may have a bit of an advantage.

One question that stuck out to me was what is another name for a French knife, I had no clue!

The only study tools I used besides my professional experience was reading the text School Food and Nutrition Service Management for the 21st Century and utilizing the SNS exam study guide.  The study guide practice tests helped identify areas I needed to study more rigorously.  I read all chapter reviews in the text the evening before the exam and did the final practice exam in the guide.

Needless to say - she is officially Tanya Dube, SNS! 

Beth Mincemoyer Egan, RD, SNS
Instructor in Dietetics, Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA

Not only is Beth Mincemoyer Egan the current Nutrition & Research Committee Chair for SNA’s board of directors, but she is SNS-credentialed, a Registered Dietician and an Instructor in Dietetics at Penn State. The following is a list of what she found helpful in her own studies, as well as what she suggests to her students. 

I used the Cornell method of taking notes.  Draw a vertical line about two inches in from the right side of the page.  Take notes on the space to the left of the page, then use the right (more narrow column) to write questions, keywords, etc. to help you study.  You can then cover up the left side of the page and ask yourself the questions, etc. from the right side as you go through the material.

If I had to memorize things like lists, I used to make myself mnemonics to remember.  I would come up with some sort of word or sentence that was the first letter of each thing I had to remember.  Then when I went for a run I would practice these lists. (Before ipods, cell phone, etc!)

I tried to start studying several days, if not at least a week, before an exam.  Set aside even 30 minutes to review notes, readings, and other materials.  Do a bit each day and it's easier to remember than trying to cram everything at the last minute.  For the SNS or RD exam I prepared for several months (3 at least for the RD exam). Take the exam outline and plan a study schedule...gather resources for each of the areas covered on the exam and spend a certain amount of time each day or several days each week working through the outline.  If there are parts that you are very comfortable with, keep those for the last few weeks.  Start working on the hardest material the earliest.

When working on a higher level degree, realize you probably can't read EVERYTHING you are assigned. I’m a believer in speed-reading. I actually took a class on this and learned to read through just topic sentences to get a good idea of the material. If that’s not your thing, work to figure out which articles are most important to the professor or what you are trying to do.  Or form study groups so that you can split an article among several students, become experts on the ones assigned to you and let the others teach you about the articles they read.

As for what I tell my students:

I encourage some of the same things as above, but stay off social media  when you are studying!  Set aside some time every day to study, in which you focus for maybe 30-60 minutes and set aside the last 5-10 minutes to review what you were just studying.    Then take a break and reward yourself with a small something, maybe a 10-minute walk, 10-minute social media binge (set a timer!), snack, etc.

Use the SQ3R method when reading textbooks:

  • Survey - look over the assigned reading. Check out the intro, summary, key words or such that might be given.
  • Question - write some questions for yourself to answer while you are reading. Sometimes there are study questions at the end of textbook chapters which can also work here.
  • Read, recite, review!  Read to answer your questions, then go back over the reading again and recite (out loud) to yourself the key points, definitions, etc.  Then review again using your questions and the answers you found. While this takes some time, it usually produces good results on an exam and is a form of "deep processing" - you have to THINK while you are reading.

Some other strategies that promote deep processing include developing concept maps, teaching someone else about the content or comparing and contrasting to things you already know and/or things you are learning, even in other classes!

GO TO CLASS and take notes! The physical act of writing can help you remember things and get you a bit more into deep processing (see Cornell note-taking method above).

Use exams as learning tools.  If your professor doesn't go over them in class GO TO OFFICE HOURS and go over your exams. It's amazing how few students do this, but those who do almost always improve their performance on future exams, particularly final exams which are often worth more.

Listen to your professor. We give clues as to what is most important, whether it be things we say multiple times or things we put on a quiz or worksheet. Also, if there are learning objectives for a course and lessons, use them to guide your study.

Jeremy West, CDM, SNS
Pursuing Master’s

Director of Operations, Food and Nutrition Services
Jefferson County School District

Lakewood, Colorado

Jeremy West is the director of operations, food and nutrition services for JeffCo. (Colo.) Public Schools, as well as the Colorado SNA 2016-17 President and he was the ANC 2017 Program Chair. With these professional accomplishments and the fact that he’s a father of five, it’s no surprise his first tip deals with organization!

Get organized:

  • I keep a separate calendar for my schooling and load all the assignments into the calendar the week before the class starts. This makes me review the syllabus and become familiar with the work ahead and due dates. As I complete each assignment, I check it off (virtually or physically, depending on your type of calendar.)

  • Save assignments and reference materials electronically or in a binder for future reference in the class or future classes. I have been able to use a reference for several assignments across several classes.

  • Set mini due dates for yourself. For example, I like to do all my reading on Sundays and my class post by Wednesday night. I set aside Saturday mornings for writing papers.

  • Have a space to study in. With five kids and two dogs, I struggled to find a quiet spot to study. I either stay late and study at my office or study at my church which is located close to my home.

  • If I have a choice between a hard copy textbook or an online version, I ALWAYS go with the online version. It’s not only less expensive, but it is searchable by keywords. This saves countless hours versus flipping through pages hoping that one particular phrase or passage jumps out at you.


  • When I start a class, everyone knows it. I tell my family, my co-workers, my friends and organizations I volunteer for. This helps them understand that my time is limited on evenings and weekends. It’s not that I don’t want to hang out, I just can’t for the next eight weeks! Helps prevent hurt feelings and sets realistic expectations of my employer and others in my life.

  • If you are struggling to meet a deadline or understand a project, ask for help. Reach out to professor, fellow students or a content expert in your life. When I was struggling with a math class, I communicated frequently with my professor and several family members/friends who had math talents.

Begin with the End in Mind:

  • When I am struggling to get my homework done, I think about just surviving the week. I block out the fact that I still have four more papers and a final for the class and just concentrate on getting to the end of the current week successfully.

  • When I am struggling to want to stay in school, I think about the opportunities my future degree will provide for me and my family and the sense of accomplishment I will feel in completing my degree, something I have dreamed about for 17 years!

He finished his words of wisdom with these encouraging words:

Hey Child Nutrition Professionals - we got this!  My job working in child nutrition is way more time consuming and challenging than my school work.  If I can survive a school year in K-12, I know I can survive post secondary!!

Gina Goff, RN
Pursuing Master’s

Davis Regional Medical Center
Statesville, NC

While Gina Goff is not in the same career field as our members, she is my mother and the inspiration for writing on this topic! She has already gone back to school for her bachelor’s degree and is now in a master’s program while also guiding my younger (autistic) brother through his last year of high school and holding down home base while my dad travels for work almost every week. 

I am taking an online course and have 10 weeks in each course. Every week starts on Monday and one or two discussion questions are posted. The discussion questions are to be answered in essay form, with at least 150 words per post. The discussion is supposed to be answered by midweek (Wednesday) and we are expected to submit at least one post to a classmate's discussion question by Sunday at midnight. The discussions must have references from our readings. The reading assignment is usually 2 to 4 chapters of our text, and/or 1 to 3 peer-reviewed articles. Preparing for the assignment is the most time consuming, because it involves reading a lot of material. Not only does it require reading, but it requires that you actually understand what you read and many times relate it to your present work situation. At the beginning of the week, I print the assignment. This way, while I'm reading, I can refer back to the assignment in order to stay on task. I try to keep a notepad with me when reading to jot down notes or ideas as I go, but I have to refer back to the assignment often, because sometimes I lose focus on what the discussion question is.  

I usually read the assigned material Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, taking notes as I go. All of my textbooks are e-books, so I have them on my computer and on my Kindle. Many times I will take my kindle to work and read on my lunch break. I have learned that I do better when I actually have paper in front of me that I can highlight and see when I am writing. E-books are okay, but I have a tendency to get confused when minimizing and going from one screen to another. If I have an article to read, I always print the article and take it with me to work. Then I can read on breaks or while waiting in line to pick up my son at school. I always use a highlighter when reading an article and take notes in the margins when it pertains to the discussion question.  

The weeks the papers are due, I make sure I am totally free on the weekend. I usually do not start the paper until Saturday and complete it by Sunday evening. I usually get it done before 9 pm on Sunday. These weekends are my "paper writing weekends", so my family knows (even Adam) that I must work on my paper. My husband is usually out of town during the week, so when he is home on the weekend, he is very helpful in keeping Adam entertained or busy so I can concentrate on my paper. If I need quiet time, or cannot think with life still going on around me, I may go up to my bedroom or outside and work on the paper. I also have a wonderful device called noise cancelling headphones. I will put Pandora on a classical station and play it low, so I can concentrate, but I cannot hear the noise outside of the headphones. 

Fortunately, the courses I take are related to the field that I am presently working, so I am interested, even passionate at times about the subject. For instance, I took a class on disparities in healthcare. I used primary health care for autistic adults as my patient population, which I have a personal interest in because my son is 18. Researching this subject not only helped me professionally, but also helped me personally to prepare for my son's future. It also was good subject matter for the class and I received a 98 on the paper! 

Between the 10-week courses, I get 3 weeks off. This allows me downtime to get things done that I have been putting off because of school. One thing that I have to keep in mind while going to school is that I have to be patient. I can take 2 classes at a time and get finished sooner, but I am afraid that that will consume way to much of my time and would sacrifice time with my family. It took me twenty-seven years to begin this endeavor, so I think I can be a little patient now.    

JoAnne Robinett, MSA, SNS
Founder, America’s Meal

JoAnne is a frequent writer for School Nutrition and a talented speaker at SNA conferences. While she has already reached her desired educational goals, she had a powerful message about going back to school, how to get started and how to know when you’re right where you need to be.

I had just one year of college after high school. It was (I think) 14 years later when I went back to work on my Bachelor’s Degree. I wanted so much to be a director of a school foodservice program, and I wanted to be prepared and ready when an opening came up.

Immediately afterwards, I thought I would pursue my Master’s. I did not start right away, and I had to stop a couple of times. This time I did not feel I “needed” the degree to get a job – I had already been hired to run a school nutrition program. This degree was for me. I had discovered that going to college energized me as a person – I was not just a mom, or a lunch lady, but I was a person whose opinions mattered. Sometimes I had the answers, other times I had the questions. When I had questions about something, I knew I was learning and growing. I felt more alive in those classes than I did most anywhere else.

I had also heard that only 3% of the population had a graduate degree. Always lacking in self-esteem, I wanted to be that special! Also, after working toward the degree I changed jobs to a district that paid more $ for a master’s. So, I also got a financial boost from attaining this degree.

I had an opportunity to pursue a PhD. I tried it, and it just did not work for me. There was no energy, no good feeling, no mastery of the material coming to me. This program made me feel unsuccessful, and it looked like a lot of money and work for which I would never a benefit. (who knows – it could be a convenient lie I told myself)  I made peace with leaving the program. I did not quit, I just decided if I was going to work and research for 3 years, I would do it where my ❤ is, and I started working and researching presentations to share with school nutrition professionals.

  • Tips – do not procrastinate on reading and studying. Read ahead if you know next week is too busy for next week’s work.

  • You are busy – seize little moments where you find them. To this day if I see my son’s eighth grade teacher she talks about  how I wanted outside her room for the parent teacher conference while reading and taking notes from a college textbook.  I would read myself to sleep and sometimes read at that 3:00 wake-up that happens…

  • Know that the 2or 5 or 10 years it takes to complete this is going to be gone whether you go to school or not. Don’t put it off. Don’t wait for the perfect time!

  • Have kids in college? If you go when they do you can be counted as a student on the financial aid paperwork and perhaps both of you will get a need based scholarship or grant.

  • Want to do it, but not sure? TAKE one class. Just promise to try one. That success might lead to your next class and before you know it (okay, not really before you know it) a degree.

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