4 steps to study plan like a pro

January 3, 2022

Student sitting on chair in library, looking over a bookCould your study planning use an upgrade? If you often zone out in front of your text books or procrastinate homework you really have to get done, examining how you approach your study time could be a huge help.

Former L&S Mentor Patrícia de Nobrega Gomes, PhD student and GSI, frequently mentored L&S undergrads on their study planning. She shared a step-by-step approach for planning those study sessions.

Step 1: Assess when you can be mentally active and when you'll need rest

First, put your weekly commitments into your bCal. This will help you visualize how much you're taking on. It can take some trial and error, and a strong sense of self, to evaluate how much you can do in a given day. The notion that you'll be active and productive for 12 hours every weekday is not a sustainable plan. 

Now, you should be able to identify times you can plan in study time. Be realistic about the mental load you're taking on. For example, days when you have two to three courses will take a lot of your mental capacity and you may only be able to focus on homework well for one or two hours. On days you have one class, you may be able to study longer. Finding a balance is so important for maintaining stamina for the whole semester. Recognize the days where you will be too tired to study so you don't waste your time at the library procrastinating when you should resting at home to prepare for a long study session the following day. 

If you can't find times to fit in studying, or if you can't find times to focus on your personal wellness, this is a sign you have too much on your plate. Evaluate your priorities and see which commitments you can reduce or cut from your schedule. 

Step 2: Determine the time of day when you work best

  • When is your mind most clear?
  • When do you produce your best work?
  • When do you procrastinate the most? 

These questions will help you identify when you're at your most productive and when your mind will be at its peak for tasks related to memory and learning. Try to plan in your study time then, even if it means moving some commitments around.

Times when your mind will be less focused can be used for tasks that are less cognitively demanding. Plan in errands, participation-based or physical activities, your down time, or anything you find requires less brain power.

Step 3: Manage your study goals

Make goals for what you want to accomplish during a study session, including how much time you want to spend on each task on your plate. Everyone has different types of assignments they click with better and this should factor into your plan. For example, if problem sets come easier for you than reading does, you might decide to assign a smaller amount of time at the beginning of your study session for problem sets and commit the rest of your study session to completely focus on reading.

Importantly, assign yourself a manageable amount of work! It can seem like a good idea to push yourself at the goal-setting stage, but if your targets aren't achievable in the time window you've set, this can cause anxiety and make you feel that you have "failed" your study session. If you set achievable goals, you'll feel more motivated to keep studying throughout the semester. And if you have extra time after getting your planned work done, great! You can relax early or get a head start on something else to feel extra good about how your study session went. 

Step 4: Go into your study session prepared

Distractions can easily break your concentration, so a little prep can go along way. Here are some ideas: 

  • Pack healthy snacks, water, or gum
  • Take an extra layer so you don't get distracted by temperature changes or strong A/C
  • Make a little "first aid" study bag tailored to you. Maybe you're prone to headaches, so you pack Advil. Consider chapstick, tampons, your favorite stress ball, a back-up pair of headphones--whatever you need to stay focused

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