The first study skill to master is time management, because all others depend on it. Most students whose grades are disappointingly low simply don't spend enough time with their books. While an hour a day may have sufficed in high school, at the University a better rule of thumb is two hours' study outside of class for every hour inside. In other words, if you have a typical load of 15 credits, you will want to devote about 30 hours a week to studies. That may sound like you'll do nothing but work, but actually a reasonable study plan will probably include more true free time than you have now. Time management sounds unglamorous, but the pay-off is big: better grades, fewer late-night study sessions, more time to participate in campus activities, guilt-free play time (and more of it!). There is enough time in the week to balance class, study, work, activities, and recreation. By spending a little time getting organized — maybe 15 minutes on a Sunday night — you'll find or make many more hours during the week.
How do you organize time? Download and print this schedule. To use this grid:
- Block out all your fixed time during the week. This includes the time you are sleeping, the time it takes to get ready in the morning and to eat three full meals, class time, work hours, and any regular obligations. Use realistic estimates!
- Fit in the study time you need each day.
- Schedule in weekly tasks such as laundry, shopping, cleaning, paying bills, etc.
- Include something pleasurable each day — working out, riding your bike, pleasure reading, visiting friends, whatever — something you could really look forward to.
- Fill in extra-curricular activities.
- Prioritize your most important tasks for the day in the “To Do” list and work them from the top down! In other words, if “start English paper” is #1 and “straighten closet” is #10, don't straighten the closet first just to feel like y ou've accomplished something. You still haven't touched the most important task! Another prioritizing trick: write down all the things you hope to accomplish the next day, then write an “A” by the items that are vital, a “B” by the items that are important, and a “C” by the items that would be nice. Remember, the only critical items are the “A” items.
You are aiming for a regular amount of hours spent studying each day. Five hours a day M-F plus one long morning session on Saturday would give you your thirty hours during the week. It would also give you the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday free to play. If you have to cut back on the study hours one day because of work or special activities, you must pay it back during the same week.
Tips for getting the most from your time:
- Be realistic. Allow the time it really takes you to get ready in the morning, not the time you think it should take.
- Don't cheat on your sleep. Your body always wins.
- Don't let the odd hour between classes get lost! Use it for review, library time, or necessary errands.
- Pay attention to your best hours, and arrange your study hours then.
- Don't attempt marathon study sessions. Two 2-hour sessions separated by a long break will be more efficient than one long session. You'll only concentrate for about two hours anyway.
- Schedule ahead; set intermediate tasks and goals.
- Put your hardest subject first, your easiest (usually your favorite) last. Interest will pull you through when stamina begins to wane.
- Review, and then review again — a great thing to do with odd bits of time; also good at the end of the day, say 9:30-10:00 p.m., when you start to droop.
- Don't waste time being stuck. Call a study-buddy for help, or put the work aside for a while and come at it fresh.
- If you find that you're not sticking to your schedule, pay attention to the things that are getting in the way. You may have left something important out of your weekly planning — adequate travel time between classes and work, for example, or enough time for errands. Or you may need to make a change in your habits, like moving your study place away from the telephone or TV, or doing something active after classes before you hit the books. You may also find that you're unhappy with your week, even though you've worked hard and accomplished most of your goals. This may be a sign that you aren't spending time on the things that are most important to you. Re-think your values. What things matter most to you right now? Are you making time for them each week? Pay attention to what works and what doesn't.
Remember, the way you spend your time reflects your values. Three hours a day watching soaps? That could be an hour with your books, an hour with your bike, and an hour with a good friend.
On a blank master schedule:
- Write each class (for example, "SOC 271") in all the time blocks that you spend attending classes, labs, study groups, or workshops.
- Write "Work" in the appropriate time blocks.
- Write "Trans" in those portions of the time blocks in which you travel to and from campus and to and from work.
- Block off with an X realistic amounts of time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Block off and write F-H in blocks of time committed to inflexible family/household responsibilities or personal care (for example, laundry, pick up sister, cook, shower).
- The empty time blocks are those available for study time and leisure activities. Always schedule study time before you schedule leisure time.
- Block off 2-3 hours of study time during the week for every credit you're taking. For example, if you're taking 15 credits you should block off 30-45 hours of study time during the week.
- Try to keep study hours as close to corporate hours as possible: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Finally, any left-over hours are your own to do with as you please. Reward yourself for your efforts.
Evaluate your master schedule
After a week or two, evaluate your master schedule. Ask the following questions:
- Did you over- or underestimate the amount of time you needed to study for each course?
- Did you find some conflicts? Can they be resolved?
- Did you find some scheduled study times inconvenient? Can they be rearranged?
- Did the master schedule help you to get more work done?
- Don't overdo it.
- Keep your schedule realistic.
- Set priorities.
- Be flexible and allow for trade-offs.
- Remember to allow for more study time during midterms and finals.
- Study some every day.
Much of this material comes from Active Learning: A Study Skills Worktext by Rory Donnelly (1990).