“Make a study schedule.” It sounds easy until you sit down to do it, right? Then, for many students, it begins to feel like two other things, and neither of them are easy:
- A ton of work
- A waste of time
It’s understandable that you feel this way. School has just started, you’re overwhelmed with all the new classes, and the last thing you want to spend your time doing is organizing your life for the next ten to eighteen weeks. But! The best time to organize your life is before it starts collapsing in on you and making your life more difficult than it has to be. Time spent now is time saved later.
So here’s four ways to make a study schedule work for you.
Find A Reminder Method You Like
You’ve probably had recommendations about how to make a study schedule from teachers, school counselors, parents, and even your friends. But have you noticed that everyone has their own idea about what works the best?
That’s because what works best for your mom isn’t going to be what works for you, unless you’re exactly like her. Your uncle may be attached to his looseleaf-page planner at the hip, and your English teacher might swear by their iPhone’s calendar system. But you have to find the way that works for you.
Ideally, try out a few different reminder systems before you start college, or during the summer. If flexibility is important to you, you might write down the week’s schedule on color-coded Post-It notes, which you then stick into a spiral-notebook-sized planner. This way, if an emergency comes up, you can move your schedule around a little bit. Or if it’s really important to you to have a reminder to get things done (like an alarm or an email), you might try an electronic calendar program that syncs up with your phone and computer. Still others need the visual of a wall calendar that uses dry-erase markers. You do you, but pick a method that will work with you instead of against you.
There are many different kinds of organization tools out there, but spend some time exploring them and seeing which ones work well with the way you already do things. This will save you a ton of time later on, because you won’t be fighting with a system that just doesn’t work for you.
Figure Out How Much Time You Need to Spend on Studying
Think about how much time you need to devote to your classes before you make a study schedule. A good rule of thumb is this: for every semester unit your class is worth, you’re expected to spend three hours a week on it. So if it’s a three-unit class, you will probably have to spend nine hours a week on it, on average, including in-class and out-of-class time. (For quarter units, each unit is two hours of time – so a three-unit course in a quarter-system school is six hours a week on average. This is why quarter-system schools usually require 180 units to graduate, where semester-system schools only require 120.) So calculate how many hours you’re committed to, by multiplying your total units by the number of hours per unit you’re expected to spend on them.
When you make a study schedule, start out by blocking in the actual class meeting dates and subtracting that many hours from your total weekly study load. If you’re at a semester school, your classes are meeting for fifteen hours total per week, and you are taking twelve units (36 hours), then you still have to spend 21 additional hours on study and other course requirements.
Of course, you may need to finesse this a little bit once you figure out that your chemistry textbook takes you 1.5 times as long to read as your English textbook – so write down the first week or so in pencil and revise it as you get a feel for how long different kinds of classes and assignments will take you to complete.
Backdate Important Dates
When you get your syllabus, you should turn to the course schedule or course calendar. Mark down all the important dates: homework due dates, exam dates, paper due dates, field trips – whatever is on that course calendar needs to be in your study schedule. But in addition to putting the due date in your study schedule, you’re also going to figure out how long each kind of assignment will take you and approximately when you need to start working on it.
Then you’re going to figure out what date would be your starting date, and mark that in the schedule as “Start working on Physics Lab 1,” or “Start working on English bibliography.” If it’s a longer assignment, like a full-term research paper, mark down several reminders at key times: “Gather research sources for English paper bibliography; write first draft, peer review partner’s draft while they peer review mine; write second draft; polish for small errors” is an example. You’d place these reminders in five different places in your schedule, with each one a week or so closer than the last one.
This may seem simple, but too many students don’t do it because it looks like it takes a long time – and as a result, they quickly find themselves rushing to get things done later in the term. Putting reminders earlier in your schedule will make your life much simpler when the due dates roll around and you’ve had a three-day or three-week heads-up about them!
Get a Buddy
The Sidetracked Sisters, two ladies who figured out a way to get out of chaos and into organization back in the 1970s, tell people at their organization seminars to make sure that they always have a buddy. They took the buddy system for granted since, being sisters, they were always on each other’s cases about it anyway. When they found out that many of their students had used their system for a while, but then drifted away from it, they began strongly suggesting getting a buddy to keep each other on track – and it worked. Their students found that having someone to hold them accountable made all the difference.
It’s a lot easier to stop paying attention to a schedule or other organizing system if nobody’s on your case about it. Find a friend who also needs help making a study schedule (and sticking to it) and agree to nag each other every day or two about checking the schedule and following the plan. You might even schedule a study date every few days to talk about what’s working and what isn’t – but don’t wait! Have this buddy system set up before you walk into your first class on the first day.
Tying It Together
Sure, you can continue to muddle your way through college the way you always have before, but let’s be honest: if you make a study schedule at the beginning of the term, it can make all the difference in the world to your peace of mind and your stress levels. Here’s the best part: you can schedule in down-time and free-time once your study time is done – and that means a less stressful college experience.
You may also be interested in:
5 Things to Do on the First Day of an Online Course
Why Grades Are Misleading
Why Making Mistakes is Important
4 Well-Known Study Habits That Don’t Actually Work
Which Do You Need: A Coach, or a Tutor?