When i was 16 my classmates asked me, “How do you manage to do so many things in a day?” For context, I was a prefect, very much active in clubs and trying for sports teams, had additional after-school classes on certain days and had just recently scored highest in the class for 9 out of 11 of the subjects i took. I simply told them “we all have 24 hours in a day you just need to organize it well”. Thinking back it could come off as rude because i was essentially saying “it’s so obvious” but now that i’m older i realize that it is not obvious. It is not something that is naturally wired into everyone and the reality is we all (including myself) can benefit from learning how to improve our time management.
My 16 year old self was on to something but she had still had a lot of learning to do because just creating a study schedule does not mean that it will be effective for you. What do i mean by effective? Simply making a study schedule means that you have one, but will it work for you? How do you know it will work for you? Before we go into the actual planning we need to draw out a table. Here’s a picture of mine, it’s not the nicest one but it does the job. If you are more of a visual person i would suggest going on pintrest to search for FREE printables, just type in “Free Study Schedule”.
Now that we have that sorted out, let me take you through 8 things you need to consider in order to create an effective study schedule.
- List out all your current commitments
If you were like the 16 year old me you would have tuition classes after school or wanted to try out for a sports team. These are all commitments and you should list them out first. What about school? Obviously school is a commitment of its own and you can put it on the study schedule. I wouldn’t though because i already know school is from 8am – 3pm (that was my school time) and i would rather leave it out of the schedule so that the after school schedule can be seen a lot more clearly. But that is just me, if you want to put school in the schedule it is absolutely fine. With all your commitments written down you can now get a clearer picture of the “free time” you have, free time means time that is not a commitment. Is sleeping a commitment? I guess it is, but i don’t have a fixed sleeping schedule so it is hard for me to write down sleep at 10pm because when i don’t sleep at 10pm then i feel guilty so instead i write 10pm onwards as “rest and relax” and keep that open ended. There is a disadvantage to this though because sometimes i get too caught up with the show i’m watching that i end up sleeping really late/early in the morning which can mess up the next day’s schedule if i’m not disciplined enough.
2. Set a study goal
Set one big study goal and then a few smaller or short term ones that lead up to the big study goal. Many times we want to achieve big things but we forget that it takes time to get there, Rome wasn’t built in a day so remember to take that into account. Smaller goals on the way also help to motivate you, you know that feeling when you accomplished something? It’s good isn’t it? It will also help push you towards the bigger goal so try incorporating that into you study goal(s). For example, a small goal might be to make study notes for the chapters you’re especially weak in, in the long run these notes will eventually help you study better for the subject and help you achieve the goal of improving in that subject. Another thing to note is that you should be clear with your goals, don’t just write down “improve in history”, how much do you want to improve? Do you want to go from a C grade to a B grade? or maybe score better for a specific paper like paper 2? Be clear and concise because then it will help you have a clearer picture of what you need to do.
3. Identify the subjects you are weak in and strong in
This step helps you identify the subjects you need more time to work on. One thing that i did when i was 16 was to allocate each subject the same time but did i really need to spend the same amount of time i did on English as i needed for math? I personally find it difficult to accept that too because it’s nice to have uniformity in a plan but to make it effective i need more time to work on my weaknesses.
4. Identify your study style/habits
How long can you sit down and really focus without getting distracted? We all get distracted and it is a form of procrastination, the number one culprit of distraction these days are phones, so HIDE YOUR PHONES. but what if i need to listed to music? I firmly believe that putting aside your phone is the best way to prevent distraction but if you need music then why not download the songs/playlist in advance (you can do this on spotify premium) and then turn off the wifi/data. So have your phone there but it’s not connected to the internet. That’s the compromise if you really need it. How long can you focus? Some people can focus for an hour no problem, other can only focus for 5 minutes. One way you can build you focus is to build it up slowly, start with 15 minutes then work your way up in 5 minute intervals. I would say that 45 minutes focus is the optimum for myself, more than that and it does not help. So find out what your optimum focus is. Also remember this is for the long run, this means that trying to study for 13 hours in one day is not a good idea. why? Because you’ll feel burned out the next day/feel you studied a lot in one day and reward yourself with a break for the next day. Rewarding yourself is alright but that also breaks you rhythm. I’ll talk more about missing a day in point 8 but this is a different situation, this is a situation where you made a conscious decision. But why is studying for 13 hours in one day bad? It’s not bad i just think it’s not a good idea. The reason for this is because i assume we don’t usually study 13 hours a day (if you do then kudos to you) so if you were to suddenly do this then it messes up your rhythm which you have built. Think of it in terms of exercise, if you were not used to running long distances and one day decided to join a full marathon you would be very tired/your legs might not even move after you’ve completed it. The same thing goes with you motivation and ability to study and focus. Doing a 13 hour study session is possible but the consequences are that you may not be able to study for the next few days in order to recover. To me that one day of super study is not worth the other days of study that you might forgo because you’re “rewarding” yourself.
5. Plan in advance what you are going to study
This is a plan for a plan. I know it sounds tedious or silly but think about it, you don’t want to use that precious study time figuring out what it is you want to study. Beforehand make a list of the topics that you want to study, which pages they’re on, which exercises you would like to work on. Again remember to be realistic, ask yourself “can i really finish all this in the time i have allotted?” Once you have this then all you have to do when the time comes is to sit down and get started! This also means that in your study schedule you should schedule time to plan for your plan.
6. Remember to schedule in breaks and fun
We are human so we need breaks, we need time to stretch our legs, exercise, play a game, scroll through the internet, etc. These are all fine as long as you have set aside a time for them and do not go over the allotted time. It is so easy to loose track of time when you’re scrolling so maybe put an alarm on your phone to remind you that time is up! It’s not the best feeling but it is better than accidentally going over your time and then feeling guilty for doing so.
7. Reassess your schedule from time to time
No plan is perfect and will need some tweaking and adjustment so take that into account and maybe do a review of your schedule every 3 months. Another way is to reassess it when your commitments change. Maybe you have more free time because sports season is over or maybe you have less time because you have more after school classes. Mark the changes in your study plan immediately when a commitment changes and then reassess whether everything else needs to be change to meet your small and big goals.
8. Missed a day? Messed up the schedule for that day? It’s okay
Unexpected things do happen from time to time and will cause you to not be able to follow your study schedule. If it is something you could not control or avoid don’t beat yourself up about it. Yes you might feel discouraged that you did not stick to your schedule but don’t let it get you down to a point that you give up on it. Deal with whatever it is that made you miss the day/days/week and if it is going to take a longer time then this is another reason to reassess your study schedule. The point is that things happen and we need to learn to adapt to them. A smaller but very real variable in a day are mealtimes and family time. These are unavoidable because there is no way to know for sure how long it will take, but they are important and they happen. What you could do is to adjust the schedule a little but only the items for that day, for example if mom is taking a little but longer than usual on dinner maybe work on your homework earlier for 15 minutes or so before dinner is ready, later make sure to take off 15 minutes from the schedules homework time. As long as you still spend the same amount of allotted time (ex. 1 hour for homework) for each item it is okay to adjust it from time to time.
These are the basic points to think about and I hope they help you to plan your study schedule. Remember we all have 24 hours and if you do want to do better in your studies you need to put in the work and to do that you need a plan/schedule.