What does your study schedule usually look like? If your answer is “procrastinate for a week, panic-eat a bag of pizza rolls, chug seven cups of coffee, and then stay up all night studying while quietly hating myself” you’re in the right place! We have a more sustainable study plan for you.
While creating a study schedule will never rank up there with The World’s Most Fun Activities, the ultimate study schedule will dramatically reduce your stress levels and likely improve your grades. Most importantly, it will free up time for you to explore what you love outside of the classroom.
And that’s just as important as getting good grades or taking rigorous classes.
If you’re ready to overcome procrastination and create a smart study plan that’s right for you, your schedule, and your classes, read on.
5 Tips To Create The Study Plan That’s Right For You
1. Explore what kind of learner you are.
We all learn differently; not all of us retain information by reading books and taking notes. In fact, there are four different learning styles: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic or tactile. If you’re not sure how you learn best, this quiz can help.
Most of us have a primary learning style but incorporating different elements of each learning style into your studying can help you retain more information.
Examples of how to use different learning styles in your study plan for a History final
Reading/writing learning style: Re-read your textbook, taking notes on the most important points from each section, and then pre-write answers to some of the questions you might be asked
Verbal learning style: Set up a weekly study group with classmates and take turns discussing different historical periods and their major figures
Audio/visual learning style: Listen to the audio version of your textbook if it’s available, or hop on YouTube or Khan Academy and watch a few videos about your topic
Kinesthetic learning style: Map diagrams of information or create flashcards and group the flashcards into different topics and place them in different parts of the room, so you have to walk to different parts of the room to quiz yourself on different topics.
Not sure which approach works best for you? Experiment and see which study style results in the most enjoyable study sessions and the best academic results. Once you know, you can use those methods more regularly.
2. Work at times of day when you feel most productive and focused.
You’ve probably read all those lifehacking articles about how to become an early bird, right? The truth is: Some people simply aren’t their best in the morning and no amount of coffee is going to change that!
We’ve all got different rhythms and we each excel at different times of day--the key is to figure out when your personal golden hours are. Are you more productive when you’re up before the sun? Do you do your best work post-lunch, pre-dinner? Or maybe you’re a true night owl and your brain doesn’t really turn on till 10 pm.
Not sure how to figure out when you’re most productive? This quiz will help.
3. Breaks: the hidden secret of studying
Good news: taking breaks actually makes you more productive. But how many study breaks should you take? And what ‘qualifies’ as a study break?
If you haven’t tried The Pomodoro Technique, your studying schedule is about to dramatically change. Essentially, The Pomodoro Technique is a way of structuring your work time: one 25-minute session of uninterrupted work, followed by one five-minute break. Then another 25-minute monotasking work session and another five-minute break, latherrinserepeat.
It’s particularly important that what you choose to do during your five-minute breaks is completely different than what you do during your 25-minute work sessions. If you’re writing a paper during your 25-minute session, you wouldn’t spend your break checking email or doing research. You’d spend your break loading the dishwasher, doing a few yoga stretches, or making yourself a fresh cup of coffee.
The Pomodoro Technique works for two reasons. First, 25 minutes is not an intimidating amount of time. No matter how onerous the task, you can commit to doing it for 25 minutes. And honestly? Getting started is usually the hardest part! Once you dig in, you’ll usually find that the thing you were avoiding is much easier than you thought.
Second, these short, totally-different-from-what-you-were-doing breaks prevent burnout, overwhelm, dry eyes, and those achy shoulders you get from hunching over your computer for five hours straight.
Pro-tip: You can download a Pomodoro technique timer Chrome extension for your desktop here that sets 25 and 5-minute timers. You can also block certain websites (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube), that might otherwise distract you when you’re in the zone. Here are some for your phone.
4. Give yourself a realistic amount of time to study.
Humans are notoriously bad at estimating how long things will take. In fact, we’re so bad, psychologists have studied this phenomenon and given it a name--The Planning Fallacy.
So I guess what I’m saying is: You’re probably wildly underestimating how much time you need to prepare for that test and you’re not alone in that under-estimation.
If you find yourself staying up all night and cramming before a test because you underestimated how long you need to prepare, here’s a better approach:
Estimate how much time you think you’ll need to study
Now double that number
Break that number down into smaller, manageable chunks
Schedule short study sessions every day leading up to the test
So let’s say you think you’ll need four hours to prepare for your history final. It’s probably a safer guess that you’ll need eight hours. Break those eight hours up into four, two-hour study sessions in the days leading up to the test. Really, actually schedule these two-hour study sessions into your calendar. Like this:
And if you don’t need the extra time you’ve allotted to studying? What luck! Use it to do something fun and totally unrelated to test prep. Better to overestimate how much time you need to study than underestimate and create unnecessary panic for yourself.
5. Understand that last-minute-cramming is bad for long-term retention (and super stressful, too).
Studies confirm what most of us have always suspected: cramming for tests doesn’t work.
A study out of UCLA proved that regardless of how much a student generally studies each day, if that student sacrifices sleep time in order to study more than usual, they’re likely to have more academic problems, not less, on the following day.
Not only does late-night cramming undermine previous study efforts, cramming is terrible for long-term retention. Studies show that you lose 80% (eighty percent!) of what you ‘learn’ when you cram. So, if you cram for a test early in the semester, it’s very likely you’ll forget most of what was on that test by the time you get to the final … and then you’ll have to study that same information all over again!
Ultimately, the best study plan is the one that works for you. If you need your study schedule to include five-minute dance breaks, discussions about course content over lattes and donuts, or 15 different half-hour study sessions, that’s totally fine! Create a study plan that’s right for you and you might be surprised by how much it changes the way you approach projects, work, and life in general!