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How To Create A Study Plan
Thomas Edison once said that “genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” It’s a quote that can be applied to so many things in life; if you want to succeed at something, odds are you’ll have to shed a few drops of sweat first. If you want to get in shape, you hit the gym. If you want to excel in your studies, you hit the books.
Studying is a critical part of the learning process. It’s how you retain information, deepen your understanding and mastery of a subject, and weave it deeply into the fabric of your mind. Creating a study plan to optimize the time you spend studying can help you make the most of those crucial minutes and hours.
Here’s a few principles and tips to help you create a study plan that keeps you focused on achieving your goals.
Know & Set Your Goals
The crucial first step is establishing your goals. Are you setting a short-term or long-term goal? A short-term study plan can be something as simple as “Studying to pass next week’s exam.” A long-term study plan can involve passing a specific class or even working your way through a certification or degree program. An effective study plan is one that has a focus—your goal gives your study time a purpose and structure, a motivation to continue studying, and will hopefully keep you from getting distracted by other tasks and goals not related to your studies.
An important thing to keep in mind with goals is making sure that they are relevant and achievable. You’ll also want to set priorities, especially if you’re studying multiple subjects at once. What’s the most pressing goal? Which ones have strict deadlines and which ones can be backburned until later?
The last item to decide when setting your goals is a target/end date. When do you need to complete your goal? When is the test? A course end date is another important focal point, giving you urgency to stay on task.
Take An Inventory
Once you’ve got the what and when figured out, it’s time to hash out the how part of your study plan. What resources will you need to study? Can you do this on your own or do you need to include work with a tutor as part of your study plan? Make a list of books, sites, and other resources that you’ll be using as part of your studies. It also helps, if you have multiple goals, to break down each list of resources/tasks by the goal they’re associated with (ex. “For this exam I’ll need to read these chapters and watch this video”).
The most important thing is to audit your time. How much time do you have in a day to study? Is there an optimal time of day where you feel mentally sharper and more focused? What time of the day are you free from distractions and responsibilities to on task? This is where a day planner or calendar can really come in handy. Look at an average week in your life, factoring in family and work time and extracurricular activities, and see where the gaps are in your schedule for studying. Schedule study blocks—set periods of time where you’ll do nothing but study. Commit to those blocks of time; like all good habits, studying becomes easier through repetition.
A thing to note about study blocks: when it comes to time, quality trumps quantity every time. You might feel the impulse to hit the ground running and indulge in marathon study sessions, but hitting the books for hours at a time may be more trouble than it's worth. Studies have shown that the average human worker is only mentally productive for around 3 hours a day—after that stretch of time their ability to think quickly and comprehensively begins to diminish.
You’ll want to take breaks while studying if you plan to go for more than an hour at a time. A good rule of thumb is to take a 5-15 minute break after every hour. It’ll give you a moment to rest your head while also offering an opportunity to refresh yourself with a snack or a drink, use the restroom, or do some physical activity like walking or stretching to keep yourself limber.
Flex Your Memory Muscles
One simple and powerful trick to improve your memory retention is to take notes by hand. If you want to remember something, copy it down on paper. Studies have shown that handwriting improves memory recall.
Don't Push Yourself Too Hard
It’s all about working smarter, not harder. Don’t be afraid to make time to relax and decompress outside of your study plans. You have a life outside of work and school; as important as it is to study, it’s also critical for your health and wellness to spend time with family and friends. Pursuing your own hobbies and interests can keep you sharp and mentally recharged. Studying can be stressful, so don’t skimp it on the things and people in your life that can alleviate that stress.