Doing well on an exam involves preparation, which means developing a schedule so that you can study material over time rather than the night before an exam. How can students put all those effective strategies together to develop a coherent study plan? Make a study schedule!
Creating a Study Schedule
Your study schedule should not just be about studying! Plan a schedule of balanced activities. Build in time to take a break, eat, sleep, socialize, and work on other course materials. Giving yourself planned breaks will make your study time more effective, and you will learn best if your basic needs (healthy food, sleep, exercise) are met. (Can you believe that Cornell’s learning experts are telling you to stop studying for a bit? Well, we are. Do it!)
Turn off and remove distractions so that you can focus- it might seem like you can multi-task, but that’s a myth! Don’t get sucked into social media etc. that may feel urgent but really isn’t. There are tons of apps that help you use social media on your own terms, just search “apps that block social media” and find one you like. (You could also try Rocco.)
Review material as soon as after lecture as possible. One hour spent soon after class will do as much as several hours a few days later! Take good notes (maybe try Cornell Notes!) and review them while they are still fresh in your mind. At a minimum try summarizing your notes right after lecture. If your grandma called and asked you what the class you just went to was about, could you tell her? Start assignments while your memory of the assignment is still accurate.
Find and use “hidden time” for studying. It’s easy to waste scattered 1-2 hour free periods between classes. Use those little blocks to summarize and start HW from your previous class or prepare for your next class. If you can think of your school day like a “work day” and get your work done during the day, you will be able to actually relax in the evening (instead of worrying about all of the work that you didn’t get done during the day).
Switch it up. Don’t work on one course for more than an hour or two at a time. Our ability to concentrate decreases rapidly after about 90 minutes, so switching up the courses you are studying helps keep up your efficiency. It may feel counter-intuitive to study for an class when you have an exam in a different class. But switching up your studying means you’ll learn your exam material better PLUS you won’t fall so far behind in your other classes.
Plan and take real actual breaks. Get up, jump around, get a snack, watch a cute penguin video. Taking short planned breaks can help you study more during the times are you are actually studying (vs. goofing off while you’re supposed to be studying and then feeling too guilty to take a real break).
If you are having trouble getting started: try the Pomodoro Technique1: Pick a task to work on and then focus on that task for 25 minutes without distractions; then take a 5 minute break to stretch, doodle, check email, etc. Then start another block of 25-minutes of focused work, followed by a 5-minute break.
It’s easier to keep up than to catch up! Develop a regular weekly time to review the work in each of your courses and stay up to date. This review should be cumulative, covering briefly all the work done thus far in this semester.
Double your time estimates. Most people tend to underestimate how much time a particular activity/assignment will take. A good rule of thumb is to estimate how much time you realistically think something will take and then double it!
Next up: The Five Day Study Plan! Click on the Button below to develop your plan.
Cirrilo, Francesco. (2018). The Pomodoro Technique: The Acclaimed Time-Management System That Has Transformed How We Work. Currency, NY, NY.