While it is tough to make studying fun, it is entirely possible to make it simple, effective and totally worth your while.
Getting organized allows you to study less, get better marks AND have more time for other things. To gain the maximum benefit from your study sessions, there are few key points you can follow.
The Best Study Plan – Start Early and Study Regularly
Never leave your studying until the last minute. Not only will it be incredibly stressful, but it will also be ineffective and your results will be disappointing. Make studying part of your daily routine. This may be difficult at first. Start off with short study sessions and gradually increase the time. Work your way up to 45 minutes, which is ideal for most people. Take a break, then back for more.
Make the Time – You have the time (or can make the time). How to use daily routine to study Instead of not having the time, it’s more likely that you don’t want to, or it isn’t a priority. Studying needs to become a priority. Sure, exercise, a social life and some personal down time are integral to your overall health and well-being, but placing studying a little further up the list won’t hurt you. If you are genuinely busy (as many students are), here are some tips on how to add study time to your already busy schedule:
Prioritize – relaxing in front of Netflix may sound more appealing than hitting the books, but if you really want to see academic results, your studies need to come first. It is always helpful to write your priorities down as a visual reminder. Try making a few points on a sticky note and put it by the bathroom mirror – that way you will be constantly reminded of the important tasks you must complete.
Delegate – if you have some jobs that need to get done, see if any of them can be delegated to someone else. Perhaps your housemate can do the groceries this week, maybe a sibling can babysit your niece instead, or the co-captain can organize this week’s team sheet. Look through your list of jobs and responsibilities to see if any can be permanently delegated so you focus on your studies. Delegating goes hand in hand with prioritizing, put your studies first and other tasks second.
You don’t have to give jobs away permanently. See if you can get someone to take over for you for a couple of weeks while you prepare for a big exam. Then take over for them.
Use Your Travel Time – if you use public transport, use it as study time. It may not be appropriate for writing extensive notes, but reading through your existing notes will be helpful. You could also record your notes and listen to them to provide variety in your study. This may also be useful if you drive, instead of listening to the radio, listen to your revision notes. You will most likely find a whole heap of time available to you that you have never considered before. Organize study tasks that you can do riding the bus or train and prepare for your commute. Use your Daily Routine
Use Class Time – this may sound confusing, isn’t class time for learning new material? Sure it is, but by paying more attention in class and completing set tasks in class time, you will make your study time at home more effective. If you already understand the content and have asked your teacher questions, you will be able to get on with revising or studying other, more difficult, subjects. If you treat your class time like a social event, your initial study time will be spent trying to understand what has already been explained to you. When you are home alone, you don’t have the opportunity to clarify things with your teacher or ask them to help you.
For years I was completely stressed out by taking exams. I knew something needed to change when I started studying for the MCAT. For a test this big I would need to maintain a mindset that would allow me to perform well. I honed my method through many practice tests, and was proud to achieve a score that helped me get into Dalhousie Medical School this coming fall. Below are the five strategies that make up my personal method, which I hope will help other students who struggle with exams like I did.
Set up a realistic study schedule
At the time I was preparing for the MCAT I was working full-time as a physiotherapist. My studying had to be efficient, and it had to be scheduled beforehand. I set up a calendar with my study periods (which were as short as 10 minutes), practice tests, days off from studying, and rewards for sticking to it. By setting a realistic schedule, I was able to stay on track and maintain my sanity.
Criteria for creating your study plan:
Simple – try not to over complicate – set yourself small and achievable study goals and go with it.
Specific – make sure you are specific in the topics you allocate for each session. This will ensure you remain focused and all your topics are covered. You should also include any materials that you need to have ready for the session. For example, if you require a specific text book, make sure you have it nearby so you don’t waste time looking for it, only to realize you loaned it to a friend.
If you need material from another student or books from the library that you plan to study on a certain day, make sure you organize time to get the materials the day before. Otherwise the time you plan to spend studying will be spent going to the library.
Positive – your study plan needs to have a positive air about it. You need to feel like you can achieve your academic goals and your study plan should be reflective of this.
Possible – don’t get to overeager and try to squeeze in too much. You will only find yourself overwhelmed and therefore unlikely to proceed with your plan. Set achievable goals and then add a little. This way you can get things done and stretch a little.
Immediate – you should be able to start your study plan right away, no further procrastination!
Written – by writing your plan down you’re more likely to stick to it. Try to have your plan somewhere where you can see it daily as a reminder.
This advice is all well and good, but how do you actually create a personalized study plan?
Start 7 Days ahead
My method that helps me retain information, and actually understand the material being taught to me, I feel at least that it is unique. I will categorize the amount of information depending on the days I have before the exam. So for example, if I have six chapters that will be on the exam, I will usually start 7-8 days before the evaluation day. Each day will be designated to a separate chapter. Throughout those 7-8 days I will keep a list of topics of study that I did not understand, and a list of topics that I do understand. On the 7th day, I spend my time going through the list of topics I didn’t understand, and I will find videos that explain those topics.
Six Key Points for Your Study Plan:
1. Gather Supplies
This step is the simplest of them all. Check out the local stationary store and equip yourself with supplies. Colored pens, highlighters, calendars, planners and sticky notes all make wonderful additions to your planning process. These days, the calendar on your phone is a useful tool. You always have it with you so start storing your appointments, exams, events so you can clearly see when you have spare time. There are also plenty of apps that will help plan your study schedule and track your progress.
2. Set Educational Goals
Having clear goals is essential to staying motivated. In high school, this may be getting accepted into a certain college. Know what subjects and results are required, write them down, and factor them into your study plan. In other words, focus your time on the subjects that will help you qualify for your preferred college. If you are already in college, you may be looking for a scholarship or internship where certain results are needed.
3. Design Your Study Schedule Based on a Weekly Time frame
It’s not a bad thing to be focused on the future. Plan too far ahead and you lose sight of what is important right now. Also, priorities change, appointments get made, and unexpected events pop-up. By planning weekly you can be flexible, make changes based on the results of the previous week, and plan for all your needs. Longer term plans become unwieldy the further events are from the present.
Try to keep some study sessions the same from week to week. This helps you get into a routine. Where possible, schedule certain subjects the evening after you attended the class. You will have the information fresh in your mind and more likely to be committed to your long-term memory.
If possible, review notes from the days class on that day. See our post on taking better notes
4. Use To-Do Lists
A ‘to-do’ list is a valuable supplement to your study schedule. Keep an area free in your notebook for your ‘to-do’ list. This allows for any extra study that crops up at the last minute (keep in mind that your study schedule is made in advance, so this is bound to happen). You may have all your study sessions accounted for when your chemistry teacher issues a last-minute assignment due in two days. This assignment will be added to your ‘to-do’ list and scheduled for an appropriate time. Try not to bump other subjects, instead always leave a bit of free time for these occasions – if nothing comes up at the last minute, you can have a well-deserved rest! Getting organized and staying organized will reduce stress
The to-do list is the raw material that feeds into your study schedule.
5. Evaluate and Make Changes
Don’t worry if your study plan doesn’t feel right at first. It may take time to figure out what works best for you. At the end of each week spend some time reflecting on your study plan. Make a note of what worked well and where some improvements can be made. For example, you may notice that there are certain times in the week when you are able to focus more and therefore use this time for more pressing or difficult subjects. You may have miscalculated your energy levels after a busy day and find that you are unable to focus and therefore this time might be best spent relaxing or reading over some low key notes. Try to evaluate not only at the end of each week, but also each night. A nightly evaluation will help ensure that you can fit everything into the week that you need, particularly if you need to do some rearranging due to last minute tests or assignments.
6. Make Time for Yourself
Studying and academic success are important, but your personal health and well-being are even more so. Take time to exercise, socialize, relax and enjoy different activities. By doing these things you will improve your concentration levels and make your study time more effective.
Now that you have your study plan and schedule in place, there are a few final tips to make your study session even more valuable.
Do not leave all your study until the last minute. Keep on top of it, your weekly schedule will help with this. Make study notes each week and when the time comes to revise you will have done most of the hard work. This means you will actually be able to spend your time revising rather than learning the content.
If you find yourself studying your favorite subject first, and spending more time doing so, you could be getting into trouble. You’re better off starting with subjects that you struggle with or do not particularly enjoy first. By getting them done first, you are studying your most difficult subjects when your concentration levels are at their highest, and you are avoiding accidentally missing them entirely. Try varying your subject study order to keep things interesting.
Keep a Clean Space
You can’t effectively study in a messy environment. Keep your study area clean and clutter-free. If you study in your bedroom, cleanliness extends to this space as well. A clean space will help to ensure you can find all your material to get your study session underway immediately and thus allowing more time for useful revision. The dining room table may be a great large and clean space, but you are likely to be distracted very easily. Your bed might be comfy, but it isn’t appropriate for sitting on for long periods of time. It also has the potential to cause disruptions in your much-needed sleep. Your study space needs to be quiet and as distraction-free as possible. If you can, create more than one study space so you can mix it up and improve your productivity. More on making a productive study space
Food provides energy and energy is useful when studying. However, it is best saved for break times so it doesn’t distract you. Food is also a great reward to treat yourself during a well-deserved break. The best snacks are foods that will help keep you fuller for longer and assist with brain function. Put away the greasy chips and reach for nuts, fruit, cheese and whole grain crackers, or some dark chocolate as a sweet treat. More on snacking and studying
Alone vs Study Group
Studying individually and with a group are both beneficial, although they may not be ideal in all cases. Try to mix it up, but when studying in a group try to make sure it is with like-minded people and that the group remains focused – it is a study session not a social gathering! How to form a study group
Music Please! Or Maybe No!
This one is a bit of a personal preference. Some people can manage to study effectively with light background music, in fact, some people swear by it. However, if you find that music is distracting it is best to leave it switched off and save it for another time.
Dim lights can be relaxing and help create a calm study environment. However, you don’t want to be too relaxed to study. Also, lights that are too dim can cause you to squint and strain your eyes. Bright lights can also cause strain and potentially headaches. Opt for a well-lit room with a desk lamp to help you see nice and clearly. Look for lights with a dimmer control so you can adjust the lights to suite your individual needs. More on creating a productive study space
If you find your mind beginning to wander, take a quick break. Grab a glass of water, stand up and do a few stretches, or pop outside for some fresh air. Breaks should be scheduled into your plan, just don’t pause for too long or risk losing your study momentum!
Build up Study Time
Don’t get too ambitious and plan to study the same topic for one whole hour. Start with 20 minutes blocks and slowly build up from there.
Get Good Quality Sleep
Pulling an ‘all-nighter’ is not effective. In fact, that’s part of the reason that you have a study plan – to avoid last minute cramming. Sleep is essential to brain function so try not to schedule study sessions too late or too early. Work to your personal strengths. Some people are night owls and will therefore be able to concentrate late into the night. These people should then make sure they don’t rise too early. Morning people may like to study at 6 a.m.! This is fine, as long as you get to bed early enough to get plenty of sleep to refresh you brain and ensure that it can think clearly when you study.
A study plan will help you achieve your academic goals relatively stress-free.
It may take some time to master a schedule that works best for you so stick with it. Make changes when you need to and adapt to suit your learning style, educational goals, extra-curricular activities and so on. The most important thing to remember is to create your schedule on a weekly basis and let it become part of your routine.
Tips from Students
1. Learn 80%
This may be a controversial tactic, but it was key to my test preparation. My goal was to only learn 80% of the material I needed. I didn’t actually measure out exactly 80%, but if I didn’t understand something after struggling with it for a while, I simply wouldn’t learn it. This made my test preparation more efficient and took a lot of pressure off my shoulders. No one can learn 100% of everything!
2. Get creative to prevent boredom
I’m a busy body, and I find sitting for eight hours exhausting. So my study method and schedule included a lot of non-sitting studying. For instance, I would watch MCAT content videos on my iPad while on the elliptical and listen to relevant podcasts while walking my dog. This allowed me to prevent boredom and continue learning.
3. Practice the test in a simulated environment
I can’t overstate how important it was for me to practice the whole test beforehand. The MCAT was a marathon, so practice helped to train my brain’s endurance, my familiarity with what to expect, and to move onto the next question without looking back. Practice Test Questions