What if your study plan is not working as you hoped or expected?

library stacks w scream 600 x 500It is a truth universally acknowledged that things do not always progress the way we intend them to. My exam registration is formally complete and a good case of nerves is setting in right now. On certain days, it feels like I have let a splinter swerve my academic project from its groove, especially if I do not review my progress in each course regularly. Several strategies that I thought were going to be quite useful have turned out to be less helpful than planned. Sometimes they seem more like impediments than aids to effective study. Two things are certain: 1. if a portion of my study plan is not working then it needs to be changed and 2. I have to manage the pre-exam nerves to optimize my study time.

My four courses are big reading units. One covers a broad and difficult range of material, and another covers material that was quite unfamiliar to me at the start of the term. It has taken more time that I thought to feel competent with the topics, or at least that is how it feels. This week’s little crisis was prompted by this realization, along with a few others that happened all at once.

For example, the switch to digital note taking has not been a Damascene conversion for me. It is tiresome and awkward to lug a laptop to the library and it is inconvenient when revising. Three years of my notes are in binders, so I am working with two different sets of files, which is annoying.

Much of the scholarship I engage with refers to texts covered in at least three of my courses. This makes cross-referencing very important and a little challenging. I still needed more than two weeks to research just two study guide questions for one course. My research is thorough, and the material can apply to three of my courses, but it still required more time than originally budgeted. I must adjust my time management expectations accordingly.

The last realization is that no matter how interesting the material is to me, I have to set limits to how and what I study to be successful in exams. I can return to reading for personal interest after successfully passing my exams.

One truism, a small world is a safe world, is appropriate to apply here. In the fourteen weeks before exams, I want to mitigate both the risk of not using my time to best advantage, and the risk of not mastering the material required to be successful on exams in each unit. My revised plan at this date looks like this:

1. Stop note taking in the digital format. Print all my current notes and file appropriately in my binders for each course. I will write my research papers digitally, but will not take notes on my computer.

2. Use my ‘master binder’ to make sure I can access my notes for each course quickly, recognize how they overlap, and that I am on track with research and writing.

3. Limit my author, text, and theme study for each course to three authors and six texts in each course.

4. Select three sets of two questions from each of my four study guides that I feel best prepared to research and focus on those, scheduling two weeks for each set.

5. Structure my time and make sure I am focusing on positive outcomes. My study guides remind me that depth of study is rewarded more than breadth of study in these courses.

6. Set small daily goals and manageable weekly goals to increase my confidence in my mastery of the material.

These alterations should help me put the current back in my study regimen. It is important to be able to change my study plan along the way if something is not working well, and to put exams into perspective with my long-term goals. Exams are one more step toward my long-term goals, and they are the step that requires my entire focus for the next several weeks, whatever I have to do to achieve it.

Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.

6 thoughts on “What if your study plan is not working as you hoped or expected?

  1. Thank you, caowrites! I needed the encouragement and the boost! I sure feel the same way with exams coming up, and I need to manage my time better. This post was a great help!

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  2. In my opinion, doing past year questions helps alot. It exposes us to different angles of knowledge when we research that question. It also prepares us in different varieties of questions and the way they are asked so we will be more prepared compares to just having raw knowledge about a particular subject therefore reduce the risk of “surprise” questions and trains us in time management as well as being practicable by exercising the application of the subject. Everyone should have the habit of doing one question in 45 minutes everyday.

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  3. I can totally relate to that “time and stress management” part you got there. Feels better to know I’m not the only one going through this! I’m currently studying for a Philosophy BA with the UOL distance learning international programs as I formally registered for finals in May, I’m struggling with most of material on my four courses. My study plan is not in the best state and I’m stressing over those past exam questions that I saw. This was very encouraging, wish you all the best.

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  4. Hi Everybody – It is so nice to have each others support and encouragement. Vinz made a great point about past exam questions. I review past questions quite often. It reminds me which themes and issues seem to be the most relevant to the course. One nice thing about studying English Literature is finding a text that resonates and is easy to write about. It feels so good to feel ideas flow…Happy Studies! CAO

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