How to make a study schedule (and stick to it)
It’s that time of the year again.
Exams are coming with terrifying ferocity and you’ll soon be left with the blind autonomy that accompanies the study period.
Most people (including us at StudyTime) enter this time of year with an overly optimistic mantra that this year will be different, that we’ll start study early, and everything will go smoother than that time you tried to home dye your hair.
One of the best ways to actually do all the things that you know you should is to stay organised. The best way to do this is through a study schedule.
That vague thing you’re told to make every year but don’t quite know how to tackle until you give up and decide that highlighting notes will work instead (disclaimer: it won’t).
With all that introduction, here’s our guide to create the mythical beast that is an effective study schedule.
Just like a lot of things in life, the most difficult part about using a study schedule is actually getting around to making one. Accompanied with this is sometimes the realisation that we don’t even know how to go about it.
Organising all of your subjects and getting a firm idea of where you’re at can be a bit of a daunting task, but we promise it is worth it and saves a lot of confusion later down the track.
On that note, here's a list of things to consider:
- Make a checklist of everything you need to know for each exam. You can find subject checklists tailored to your subject standard on our website.
- Work out how much time you have between each exam.
- Distribute “subject sessions” across your calender, making sure that you have a relatively equal amount of sessions for each standard. You can colour code your subjects if you’re feeling extra.
- Try to avoid only studying one subject per day. Instead, schedule your study in in intervals, focusing on a different subject per “chunk.” If you need more attention on one subject, space it out across the day instead of just in one big 3 hour block – distributed study is more effective than massed learning.
- Increase the frequency of the sessions leading up to the few days before exams.
- Make sure that for your difficult subjects, you have scheduled in extra time for revisions, and you begin them earlier than in the subjects you’re confident in.
- Do not pack your days out completely. You and I both know you are not going to study for 8 hours straight.
Think of this as a kind of knowledge stock-take before diving right in. This will be super helpful in giving you a snapshot of where you’re currently at with your standards and the kinds of things you’ll be aiming to achieve in your study.
It can feel hard to justify spending the time to go through these steps, but it will 100% save time and confusion later on.
Tailor that boy.
Think about how many exams you have, when they are, and which ones you feel you need to spend the most time on (hint: the one you hate the most usually needs the most TLC).
By mapping out your exam schedule you’ll have a much more informed idea about the form your study schedule will take.
Be realistic. Trying to organise it like a 9-5 working day is hard to maintain, and can lead to disappointment if you don’t reach the overblown goals you’ve made for yourself.
Instead, try to tailor your schedule to fit your own specific needs, working methods, time-management, and pace. If you’re an organised bean and you’re making this schedule early, having a more holistic approach would be appropriate. However, if you’ve set yourself a day to study for bio, but you have maths the next day it would be difficult to justify looking at a different topic. Bear this in mind.
Mark the days of your exams on your study schedule so you’re always reminded of when they are. Sticking it up on a wall by your desk can be useful for this because you’ll inevitably look at it when your books lose your attention.
The nitty gritty.
This is where you have a bit of creative freedom, if you’re someone that likes to have the whole week (or even month) planned, setting out a weekly planner and filling it in would be useful. Alternatively, you could make a general plan of each day that you could decide before your study. For example:
- Go through flashcards (or create some)
- Practice exam questions for ___
- Create summary sheet of ___
The most important thing about either of these methods is to have goal directed study, not time directed. Setting an amount of hours of work to do per day generally results in less being done, because the time spent staring into space gets counted as study.
“Goal directed study is also much better for out dopamine-loving brains because we can tick things off and feel a sense of accomplishment, and we’ll have something to show for it.”
If you want to do a more long-term plan, even just setting how many goals per day you would like to achieve is a good start.
Going day by day is an option for those who like a bit more freedom in their schedule (and allows for things not previously thought of). A
lso, if you’re having trouble thinking about what these kinds of goals could be, try checking out the StudyTime checklists on our website which will let you know everything that a standard entails!
Treat creating a study schedule the same way you’d make plans with a flaky friend: Aware that it may not happen. Life happens and you’re not always able to keep the plans you had initially made.
The key to this is not just acknowledging it, but being prepared for it. Do what you can, where you can. If something unexpected happens, don’t write off your entire day (as we’re always tempted to).
The “if-then” plan is a super effective method for avoiding procrastination. The general idea is that you work out what usually causes you to procrastinate or avoid studying, and set up mantras or promises to yourself to avoid those triggers.
If you do end up tripping up anyway – and you probably will at some point – try to make up for it later, whether this be later in the day or across your week. It’s also important not to beat yourself up too much if this happens. Control only what you can from the present onwards – which is your actions. Beating yourself up for not meeting goals will not be helpful in maintaining progress later on.
Time your breaks.
Rather than focus on how long you plan on studying, try to time your breaks.
What this will do is give you a chance to recharge between tasks and validate some time not studying. It can be easy to feel guilty for doing anything but study during this time of year, but bear in mind you need to do other stuff too, and there is nothing wrong with this.
Taking regular breaks gives your mind a chance to refresh, and is a good excuse to get out of the house. You’ll also find it much easier to strike the balance between studying and relaxing without resenting the time spent on the books too much.
Use these breaks to divide up your study sessions between your standards or subjects you’re currently working on. Wee breaks can act as palate cleansers between topics. It will also save you working laboriously on one topic per day which is
1) not as effective as spacing your sessions, and 2) way less tedious.
This time of year is a tricky one, but like everything we are responsible for making the most of it. Organising ahead of time is a good way to take control of the situation early, and like everything in life generally saves headaches later on.
Study hard, stay sane this season.