How to create a study timetable like a boss
Timing is everything in life – and this includes what you give to studying. If you’re hoping to attend (and/or graduate from) a competitive university, it’s important to develop these study skills as early on in your academic career as you can!
Students learn differently, so there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all amount of time to say is ‘enough’ to study. The key at any learning stage is to be as efficient as possible and stick to your schedule. The trick is setting the information up in order of how you need to use it for a test – and that doesn’t mean tackling the most difficult material first.
If you get the all the test material together and leave yourself enough time to study efficiently, you can get high marks on an exam. It’s as simple as that! And how do you figure out how to be efficient? By creating a killer timetable!
Your timetable begins by putting your review materials together and ends when you flip over your exam sheet. I’ve broken down a simple, 10-step process for success.
Step 1: Collect the all material
All that is relevant to your upcoming exam. All homework assignments, class notes, textbook chapters, online sources and hand-outs – whatever you may need to possibly know.
By consolidating all your relevant information, you’ll be able to get a sense of how long you will need to internalise the material.
Many teachers will discuss the format of the test (multiple choice, short answer, essay, etc) which will help you frame how you will approach studying.
Step 2: Figure out how much time you want to study (and when you can!)
It’s unrealistic to think that you can consolidate and internalise all the information in one night (or two, or three). But once you have a sense of how much material the test will cover, you can plan how many days you’ll need to dedicate to studying at least one hour a day.
“Say you want to spend six hours studying. Plan those hours out over the course of one or two weeks – for say, 45 minutes a day – rather than cramming over one six-hour session,” advises said Amanda Barnier, professor of cognitive science at Macquarie University.
One of the best parts of college is studying a major you care about. Until you get to that point, you’re learning how to handle subjects that may not come as naturally to you. I was always an “A-grade” writer – but often needed a tutor’s help to prep before math and science tests. Is your next test in your strongest subject or weaker area?
Even if you love your major, finding time to study is challenging in college. Most students work a part-time job (or two), are involved with campus activities and social groups. High school students often have packed schedules as well. If you’re super busy, it’s important to carve out solid time to go to the library (or your best workspace) at least four days per week.
Step 3: Condense the important information into a review sheet
Read through everything and extract all the notes you’ll need. When it comes to studying past material, not everything is important, and material is often redundant! By eliminating duplicate and extraneous information, more space is left in your brain to retain the important stuff.
As you take notes, bold or underline material that you know will be on the exam. It’s also important to put the material in your own words. You’ll have a much better chance of remembering than if you’re just mindlessly copying textbook material.
Pro Tip: Take notes by hand – when you write slower, you internalise what you’re writing more so than by typing.
Step 4: Get rid of the other information
It’s easy to think that surrounding yourself with piles of books and material will get you into the mindset of working – but it’s really all a distraction from efficient studying.
Clearing everything out of the way except what you need will help every student focus better — and better focus means improved test performance!
Step 5: Take time off!
If you drive your car on the highway, unless you stop for gas you’ll find yourself stranded on a road. The same is true for your brain.
Plus, this will allow the information to settle from what you put together, because when you go to review it, it will already start to sound familiar.
If you need to prepare for more than one exam at a time, it is important that you’ll study at the most effective time of day and avoid burning out as quickly. Pay attention to your performance over the course of each day this week. Are you more diligent with notes in the morning? More creative in the afternoon? Your timetable should revolve around who you are, not the other way around.
Step 6: The big review
Now that you have all your material together, it’s time to dive into the deep stuff. This is the bulk of your studying, which should consist of reading, writing out information and identifying what you already know and definitely need to work on.
Depending on how many hours you dedicate to this step, you’ll take different amount of breaks. Working for 50 minutes and taking a 10 minute rest is a good balance for most students.
Pro Tip: Figure out how you want to study. If it’s multiple choice, flash-cards can help you quiz yourself. If it’s more of an essay style, practice writing out everything you know about key terms.
Step 7: Zone in on the hardest info
Just form setting up a review sheet, you’re more likely to learn some of the easier information just by writing it out – and some will make you scratch your head and you’ll barely remember copying it down.
You need to leave yourself extra time for this information. The reason why you’ve set your study schedule up over a number of days is for this, because if there is something you really do not understand, you still have time to speak with your teacher.
Step 8: Test yourself
If that means having a detailed conversation about the material with a peer or simply writing out the material open notes and checking your answers. If you can’t explain it to yourself, you certainly won’t be able to.
Better yet – try to get your hands on a practice test for an exam (or make your own!)
Step 9: Get a good night’s sleep
Studies show that you’ll retain information better and stay sharper during your exam. Most students need at least eight hours! So catch those Z’s!
Step 10: Have a power morning
Have a big breakfast, a last minute review, focus on the material that was most difficult when you were studying. If you reread your notes and something doesn’t sound familiar, write it out until it does!
Don’t forget to prepare for the simplest part — test supplies. Need a calculator? A No. 2 pencil for a Scantron or a requirement to write in pen? This is the easiest part of the test to get right.
Lastly, breathe deeply and remember it’s just a test. The good news is, as you’ll likely have many more exams in the future, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to refine your timetable.
And good luck!