Courtney's week was typical. Sunday night found her cramming for a Monday test and writing a paper that had been due the Friday before. On Monday morning after the test, she had two free hours between classes, so she did a little shopping in the campus bookstore and had coffee with a friend. In the afternoon, Courtney did her laundry and talked with friends until dinner. The evening was disrupted by a long phone call, a brief committee meeting and several people who stopped by her room. She finally began studying at 9 p.m. but quit at 10:30 since no pressing assignments were due the next day.
Although she slept through her first class on Tuesday, she did manage to get to her 10 a.m. class. At noon she went to a Bible study and then stayed to talk until her lab at 2. She studied long after dinner.
Wednesday was much like Monday.
On Thursday Courtney panicked. A paper was due the next day. She also had quizzes in her two most difficult subjects. She studied two hours between classes and skipped lunch. Because the paper took longer than expected, Courtney had no time to study that evening for her two quizzes on Friday. She finished at midnight.
She frantically reviewed between classes on Friday for the two quizzes, and with a sense of relief, she took Friday evening off.
On Saturday she slept until noon, went to a basketball game in the afternoon, and managed to get in an hour of study before an evening meeting.
Sunday was another day of cramming. After church she studied most of the afternoon. Since she had already promised to spend time with friends that evening, she found herself, once again, studying late into the night to prepare for Monday's new set of assignments.
It had been a busy week. Courtney was discouraged by how little she accomplished. And she had not even started the term paper that was due in three weeks.
This is the life lived by far too many college students. And while it's impossible to avoid all last-minute frustrations and panic, a decent study strategy and schedule can prevent many problems. It can also keep you from burning out before the first semester ends.
Week by Week
Your first priority each term should be to make a basic weekly plan. A monthly plan is too long, and planning only for the day lacks a broader weekly perspective.
As soon as you know your class schedule, make a master weekly planning chart of mandatory and important activities on a sheet of paper with the days of the week divided into one-hour blocks. Include such things as devotional time, church, classes, labs and your work schedule (if you have a job). After charting your typical week, make enough copies to get you through the semester. (Also, it might not hurt to invest in a day plannera handy and organized way to chart your schedule. Check out scheduling tools online or look for them at your campus bookstore.)
At the beginning of each week (Sunday night or Monday morning), add any additional activities for the coming week to your master schedule. List important study priorities if you know them.
Your schedule for a particular week might include an exam, a club or ministry meeting, a basketball game, an appointment with your adviser and a class field trip. Include blocks of study time if you wish, but specific study schedules will be planned daily. This weekly plan will be the general guide for a more specific daily plan.
How Much Study Time?
Most of us study far less than we think we do. Days can easily slip by with much intended but little accomplished. Even when we feel we have studied hard, we might only be fooling ourselves. Time in study should not be measured by whether we "feel" we have done enough. Rather, we must set some goals to guide us in figuring out how to best use our time.
The general rule-of-thumb is one-and-a-half hours of study outside of class for every hour spent in class. If you have, say, a 16-hour class load, you'd have 24 hours of study time per week. Add that to 16 hours in the classroom and you come up with a total of 40 hours committed to your studies. To be honest, some courses will require only one hour of study time, while others will require two or more. But the one-and-a-half-hour "rule" is a pretty good average to follow.
So, figure out your own required study time at the rate of one-and-a-half hours of study per hour of class time. Then make sure your schedule allows for at least this amount of study time per week. Early in the term you may not have to study this much. And you will obviously have to put in more study time when exams come around. But if you've disciplined yourself to study regularly, and if you keep up with your assignments, you'll find that exam weeks will be very manageable and relatively free of stress.
Build Your Schedule
The more regularity you build into your schedule, the better. Although you want to remain flexible enough to spend time with roommates and friends, you need a commitment to planned study. Here are seven commitments you'll want to work into your life:
1) Schedule regular times for a quiet time, prayer, Scripture memory and Bible study. Make them a priority in your schedule.
2) Concentrate on doing the majority of your work Monday through Friday.
3) Plan only part of Saturday as useful study time.
4) Plan time off. I found that I did well with no study on Sunday. Yep, the Bible's right. We need times of spiritual and physical refreshment. But this isn't only about the biblical principle of Sabbath rest. When you plan for Sunday study, you'll probably leave more catch-up work than can be done and it hangs over your head all weekend. I found Sunday to simply be a poor study day emotionally and physically.
5) Plan extra study time for examinations but don't neglect your other subjects.
6) Guard against constant schedule changes. Avoid breaking up your study routine to play a little basketball, grab dessert with your roommate, run to the mall or whatever. Do it occasionally but not often.
7) Schedule in time for laundry, shopping and other daily or weekly responsibilities. But avoid using prime study time for these things. Prime meaning: You're wide awake and your mind is ready and willing to work hard.
8) Plan for adequate rest and avoid staying up all night. If you begin depending on all-night or very-late-night studying, your class work will suffer. I suggest quitting by 11 every night no matter what remains undone. If you do this, it'll force you to study earlier in the day or week.
Day by Day
Your weekly schedule gives you a general idea of your day, but each day needs its own plan. Here are three practical suggestions for daily planning:
1) Before you go to bed, jot down on a three-by-five card a time plan that reflects the needs for the next day. This can also be done at the beginning of each day, but whatever time you choose, you must remember that the busier you are, the more tightly you must schedule.
2) To allow time for a particular course, estimate what needs to be accomplished. You won't always finish in the allotted time, but I suggest you stop and move on to the next subject. Return to the unfinished work later; otherwise you tend to consume too much time on one subject.
3) Don't be too inflexible about this daily scheduling; it is designed to serve you, not to be your master. Be free to list other things you need to accomplish that day.
Try What Works Best
Most of us develop techniques that save time. Over the years, I have observed or practiced several things that will help many students in their studying. Try a few of these and adopt whatever works for you:
1) Make good use of time between classes. The hour between classes frequently escapes us due to conversations or lack of planning. But even the few minutes before class starts can be useful if used well. When you have a free period, go directly to the library or study area and begin work. The student union is usually one of the poorest places to go. Never go back to your room during the day unless absolutely necessary. Daytime study there is rarely effective.
2) Use Fridays well. The most universally wasted time is Friday afternoon between the end of classes and dinner. Most use it as a time to relax. But by studying hard during this time, as well as earlier in the day, you may find all your weekend work is done by Friday evening.
3) Use each weekday afternoon. Late afternoon on every weekday is a hugely wasted time for students. What you do from 3 to 6 p.m. determines whether you study late that night or not. The more you do earlier in the day, the freer your evening will be for other activities.
4) Study during planned study times. During study time, there are always a hundred other things to distract you, such as telephone calls, the internet and laundry. Resist the temptation to do routine things during prime study times.
5) Find a place to study. If you find it difficult to concentrate where you live, find another place to study.
At the beginning of each term, get a calendar showing the entire semester. Write in the due dates for projects and exams. You may not know them all at first, but record them as soon as you do. You may even want to plan so that vacations can be free of studying.
Also, mark down any special activities you plan to attend such as weekend conferences or athletic events. Keep these in mind as you plan each week. By looking ahead in your planning, you may find yourself caught up with your work, while your friends are busy with their usual Sunday-night cram session.