If you’re preparing for exams, a study timetable is a critical piece of the puzzle. Archbishop Demond Tutu once wisely said “There is only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.” What he meant was that things may seem overwhelming, daunting or downright impossible, but you can achieve anything by taking on just a little at a time.
And that’s where a study timetable comes in! This physical (or digital, if you prefer) tool will enable you to break down your bigger task of acing your exams into smaller, manageable tasks. You’ll be confident that you’ve covered all your study material and that you haven’t neglected any subjects. Ultimately, you’ll be able to walk into each exam feeling prepared and ready!
So how do you create a study timetable you’ll actually use? Read on to find out.
Do you prefer studying in the morning or at night? Knowing which time of the day suits you best will help you to build a study timetable with the right gaps at the right times. As you begin to build your weekly outline (more on this later), knowing when you are most alert and productive will help you to know which parts of the day to allocate to the study tasks that require the most attention.
Create a list of each subject you’re studying for! And then list everything you’re expected to know for each subject. Get your hands on a copy of the syllabus, and if you aren’t sure where to find one, ask your teacher. Here’s why this is important: if your study timetable simply lists “Biology” for your Wednesday morning study slot, you may find that you spend more time deciding which topic in Biology you’ll begin with. With a more detailed list, you can sit down at your desk on Wednesday morning and begin by sketching out mitochondria and chloroplasts.
Go through your syllabus for each subject and take note of anything that needs more time and attention. Just read through the list, and if you spot something you aren’t confident in, highlight it or underline it. During revision, you can prioritise the highlighted or underlined sections.
Sketch out a weekly outline on a piece of paper. Use the long side of the page to write out the days of the week and use the shorter side to list the times of the day, or simply write Morning, Afternoon and Evening. Make a few copies of your weekly outline to last until the end of your exam period.
Begin filling in your weekly outline by starting with your exam dates. You’ll soon begin to see how many study days it will take you to cover the entire Biology syllabus, for example. This is why it’s crucial to begin this way!
Once you’ve got your exam dates listed, write out the subject areas you need to study. Begin with the subject areas you’re least confident with, because these will require more study time. Use the remaining study time slots to go through the subject areas you’re more confident with, until you’ve included all your subject areas on the study timetable.
Make a list of other things that are important to you. This will include family commitments, gym classes and any other activity that you can’t or don’t want to miss out on. Be realistic about what’s possible, but don’t ignore the rest of your life just because exams are looming. Your favourite non-academic activities are a great antidote for your mental and physical wellbeing.
Adding breaks to your study timetable will ensure you actually take them. Breaks are crucial for giving your brain some rest and they are not to be ignored. A few strategically-placed breaks can be the difference between finishing the day with brain fog compared to getting to the end of the day feeling fresh and ready to tackle the following day’s study tasks.
✏️ If you’re a visual learner, you may appreciate colour coding your study timetable. You can organise each subject by colour or you could use different colours for the subject areas you’re most confident in and the ones you think require more attention.
✏️ Follow your study timetable diligently to determine if it’s working for you, and if not, make small tweaks at a time. Using a study timetable for a week isn’t enough time to know if it’s working or not. Give it at least two to three weeks of seriously and diligently following your study timetable.
✏️ Don’t be afraid of short bursts of time between other activities. This is particularly important during term time when you have gaps of 25 - 30 minutes between classes. You might be tempted to use this time with another activity, but when possible, see how much studying you can squeeze into these slots! You’d be surprised at how much you can accomplish in a short space of dedicated study time.
✏️ A timer will help keep you on track. If you find that having your phone nearby is a distraction, then consider purchasing a kitchen timer instead.
✏️ Ask someone to hold you accountable. A friend, parent, sibling or tutor can help you stick to your study timetable. At the start of the day, tell them what you plan to do and then report back at the end of the day. Tell them what worked and what you found difficult.
✏️ Tick things off as you go - it’s amazing how much of a sense of achievement you’ll get from ticking things off. As you progress through your study timetable, tick off each topic area.
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