Date of Publication: 08 April 2020
For most of us, the way we educate ourselves has changed dramatically over the last few weeks. In the UK, GCSE and A-Level exams have been cancelled, schools have closed and students are now trying to navigate a new and independent way of studying with reduced contact hours from teachers. If you’re studying from home and need some help with creating an effective and balanced study schedule, then take a look at our blog below.
Step 1: Identify your goals and/or deadlines
The first thing you need to know about your study timetable is how long you need it for.
Understandably, this may have recently changed for you, so it’s important to think about what ‘goal’ you want your study timetable to take you to. Perhaps you want to keep studying your core subjects so you can start sixth form with a solid understanding of basic principles? Maybe you’re no longer doing A-Level exams but want to use this time to start reading around the subject you’re going to be studying at university? Whatever your goal or deadlines, make sure they all have a ‘finish’ date.
Finally, the most important part of this first stage is to add these to your calendar or diary – It’s important to visualise and tick off the days until your deadlines.
Step 2: Add social events
Let’s be honest, you’re not going to study every single day for months on end – everyone has social lives and other commitments to attend!
Once you’ve added all your goals and deadlines to your calendar, the next thing to add is any important social events you’ll be attending. Think about events such as:
- Birthdays – yours and family/friends
- Important occasions – weddings, anniversaries, religious and national holidays
- Other commitments – part time jobs, festivals, events, etc.
As soon as you know which days you’ll be busy on, it’s easier to calculate how much actual time you have to study until your deadline.
Step 3: Decide how long to dedicate to each goal/deadline
Now you know what deadlines you’re working to, it’s now important to think about how long you will need to study before they arrive.
It’s easy to throw all your efforts and time into one goal/deadline – and so, by considering how long it will take you to prepare for each key date, you can plan around everything else to ensure everything has equal effort dedicated to it.
When calculating how long it will take you to prepare for that end goal, you should consider things such as:
- How long you are usually able to concentrate for – the time you can spend on each goal per day without losing motivation
- If you do have other commitments, such as a part time job – can you still work around those hours to squeeze in some study on that day? Or will it be unproductive time?
- How many times you need to review the same information/topic twice to ensure you’ve fully understood it
- What learning style you have – do you need to spend a lot of time making notes to understand material? Do you need to do an hour long topic quiz to ensure that you’ve understood the information? Or can you read information quickly and absorb it?
Once you have a clear timeline of what you need to achieve and how long it will take based on your learning style, you can move onto the next stage.
Step 4: Add class time and any extracurricular activities
Before you think about how much time you have to study independently, it’s essential to write all of your class time and any school-related activities into your calendar. This will help you to see how much free time you actually have to dedicate to independent study.
It’s highly likely that recently your extracurricular activities may have been cut completely due to social distancing. If it’s something you can do solo, such as learning an instrument, then you should still schedule in the time that you used to spend doing the activity, as you can still use the time to work on your skills through other resources – such as online videos or books.
Step 5: Don’t forget free time
Now you are left with the time that you actually have to dedicate to independent study, it’s important to prioritise and schedule some free time for yourself to avoid burnout.
If you have an intensive course where you’re studying in class for most of the day, you may want to keep your evenings free to relax and socialise. Similarly, if you have a part time job you usually work in the evenings, you may want to keep one day of the weekend free to dedicate some time to yourself.
A good balance to strive for is 70/30 – that’s 70% of studying towards your deadlines/goals (including scheduled class time) and 30% reserved for free time and socialising. This weighting may evolve as your deadlines approach, so it’s always a good idea to look at your timetable with an element of flexibility.
Step 6: Break your goals down into small tasks
Now you’ve scheduled all of your key dates/deadlines, other commitments and free time, it’s time to start planning your independent study.
Take a look at each goal/deadline and break it down accordingly. For example, if one of your goals is to read 5 books surrounding Law before you start your university course, you should look at each book and break each down into chapters. Or, if you want to revise for a Chemistry exam, find the syllabus for the exam and chop each topic down into smaller more manageable sub-topics which you can spread throughout your calendar.
Breaking your tasks into smaller, bite-sized chunks which you can easily slot into your study schedule – e.g. by reading one chapter a day, or revising one sub-topic each day – is key to a successful study timetable. You’ll be able to see how many ‘mini’ tasks you need to complete before the deadline and spread them throughout your timetable to ensure you have everything covered.
By managing your time properly now, you’ll be able to reach your goals and deadlines without having to miss or speed through certain areas. You’ll also be able to study with the knowledge that you have free time scheduled, and you don’t need to squeeze in additional study time to fit around social events.
Remember to treat your timetable with some flexibility – don’t punish yourself if you’re having an unproductive day and can’t focus. Instead, rearrange your time, and prepare to study a little harder on another day when you are feeling more motivated.