Benjamin Franklin once said:
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Yet, many of us run into the most difficult season of our college careers with no plan at all. Free-styling it through finals does work for many college students. But no matter how good your results, you could do much better if your first step involves creating a plan.
A good plan helps you to allot time to specific activities leading up to finals. This, in turn, helps you to track your progress and ensure you cover all the necessary topics in time.
But how does one make a good study plan that provides all these benefits? Let’s start by taking a look at the finished product. Below is a screenshot of the actual study plan I used in 2012 for the exams which closed out my academic career.
In this article, I’ll show you how to make one for yourself in just seven easy steps.
Step 1: Identify the Information you Need
Before creating the table, you should first decide what information it will contain. Try to keep the headers to 5 or less. This ensures that words aren’t crammed together from lack of space.
For my study plan I needed to know the day, the available slots of time, the exams/deadlines I had coming up, the courses I needed to study for, and the areas I needed to cover.
Step 2: Create the Blank Table
Once you know what information your study plan should contain, it’s time to create the actual table. It doesn’t matter what program or software you choose to make it in. In fact, a piece of paper works just as well, but making adjustments gets messy.
I used Microsoft Word in college purely for the aesthetics. If you don’t know how to create a table in Word, click here for instructions from Microsoft. Some people may also prefer to use the built-in tables from Microsoft Excel. Another free option is the Assignment Planner made by Academic Help.
Step 3: Split your Day into Times
In this step, you need to decide on how you will divide each day. I chose to use only two time slots, which I identified as AM and PM. My AM usually lasted from 10AM to 5PM. My PM lasted from 6PM to whatever time I went to bed, which was usually around 3AM. You need to figure out what works for you based on your lifestyle and schedule.
Once you have decided on the time slots, fill them in. You should start from the date you plan to study to the date of your last exam.
Step 4: Fill in Major Events
Next, it’s time to include all the major events on the table. This should include other tests, your final examinations, and deadlines for final projects. It should also include any other major commitments, like a birthday party or attending a trip.
Feel free to change these events to bold, ALL CAPS, or different colors to make them noticeable.
Step 5: Allocate Study Time
Begin with counting the time slots available for studying. When counting, remember to exclude any time slots marked with major events, like an exam or social obligations.
My study plan covered the time period of April 14, 2012 to May 8, 2012. This left me with a total of 42 slots to spread out among five courses.
I allocated the time to each course depending on the following factors:
- The ease or difficulty of the course
- The amount of material to cover.
- Some final exams cover everything you studied all year, while some may cover the last 4 of 12 topics covered.
- How much studying I had already done for that course, recently.
- What date the exam fell on, and what other obligations fell on a date close to it.
- The fact that I was more productive during my PM time slots than my AM slots.
Using these factors to allocate time ensured every course received the attention it needed. In my case, this meant studying for my OSHA class first, from as early as April 14, 2016, even though three exams came before it.
It also explained why I didn’t study for Environmental Studies until all my other exams were completed. It was an easy course, and after my OSHA exam, I had nothing else to study for, for a week. Because of this, I also allotted a FREE DAY for May 4th to take a break from studying, which I probably used to play video games.
Step 6: Mark Days you may Choose to Study in a Different Way
I preferred to study alone. However, I did offer my services as a tutor for a number of students. On those days, I studied in a group.
Based on my schedule and that of the students I usually worked with, I was able to guess what days I might study with them. Doing that allowed me to get as much studying done on my own, before meeting with them.
Step 7: Set Goals
Setting goals is an important way to stay on track. This could include completing a chapter, or working through all the problems on a tutorial sheet.
It becomes easier to set more accurate goals once you get into the swing of studying for finals and can see what you’re actually capable of accomplishing in each time slot. As a result, I usually filled these in as I went along.
Step 6: Double-Check
No matter how certain you are that you’ve covered all your bases, double-check. Check the dates of your exams and other major events. You should also ensure you have not completely forgotten a course.
Feel free to keep adjusting the schedule as you go along, but try to stick to the original plan as closely as possible.
Step 7: Print It. Post It. Write on It.
One of the most important steps – I printed several copies of my study plan when I was done. I usually stuck one in my mirror, kept one in my bag, and had an extra copy in a folder somewhere just in case I lost one.
The one you’re most likely to check is the one you should cross the slots out on as you go along. You should feel a strong sense of accomplishment as you cross things out twice per day. Feel free to scribble your adjustments there as well.
Having a plan can mean the difference between just making it through exams, or actually doing your best. It can also mean the difference between a pass or a fail. It doesn’t always need to be as elaborate as the one I have used, but having any plan in place goes a long way.
All the best on your 2016 finals, guys! The winter break awaits you…