How to make a study plan working towards the exams.
Firstly, you must decide what your aim in the upcoming examination session is. That is, do you wish to just ‘pass’ or are you working towards exceeding your own expectations and truly succeeding. If a pass is sufficient for you, then relax and continue to do what’s working for you. If you wish to succeed in the true sense of the word, then continue to read.
Personally, I create a mental timetable. I will attempt to put the process on paper. Please note that my process may not be as traditional as “Follow Steps 1,2,3….” It is personal, based on what has worked for me and so I urge that, even if you do not follow my practice, you understand the fluidity of the personal nature of studying and you attempt to create a pattern that works for you.
- Create a time chart of your current activities– Work, family, sports, church etc. How many hours a day do you dedicate to all of your activities? Listing these out would give a fair assessment of how much free time you currently possess and what, if any, adjustments need to be made to allow for studying. This would aid in creating a realistic timetable as you will then know how many free hours a week you possess.
- Study materials/topics– By now (February) you should have at least read all your study materials and have an idea of what topics you would be placing most focus on for examinations. If you have not completed at least a first reading, you need to place more attention on your studies. Once you have a fair idea of where your attention should be focused, the process of studying these topics becomes easier. Having selected your topics in each of the modules/courses you would be sitting, you can now create a calendar for yourself.
- Create a calendar– Do not attempt to be Superwoman or the Hulk of timetabling. Be honest and realistic with yourself and your lifestyle. Ask yourself:
- Can I study 7 days per week?
- Should I study 7 days per week?
- How many days a week can I truly study?
- How many hours per day am I capable of studying?
- How many hours of study can I put in per week?
- How many topics do I need to complete for this particular course?
- How many days would I need to complete the topic/course based on the number of hours of study I have set for myself?
Again, be honest. If you are employed and studying part time, how tired are you after work? Do you need to rest on an evening for at least 2 hours before studying? Do you have kids? How many hours do you need to spend with your family daily/weekly? How do I fit in study time with all my activities and responsibilities?
These are just some of the questions you need to answer before setting a calendar of study.
Many persons base studying on a time basis as the questions above show. While I do attempt to study 2-3 hours a day, at least 4 days a week, I focus more on completion of topics. What this means is that I do not say, “I will study 2 hours tonight.” Rather I aim to complete a topic every study session or if the topic is quite bulky, I set myself to study that topic over 2-3 study sessions, whether it is 2 hours a day or more or even less as some days I am simply too tired to study for more than 45 minutes.
Before writing your official study timetable on the calendar, grab a scrap piece of paper and write down the topics/modules/courses you need to complete. Look at them and determine which you are going to study first and how many days each may require. Essentially, structure your topics. Then move on to writing on your calendar.
On this calendar (feel free to Google and print a large calendar so you can write in the spaces, create your own or if you are into technology, there are free online timetable generators), having figured out your structure, write in the spaces for each day the topics you are going to attempt. If you are going to study more than 1 topic a day, write these down and set a time for each topic. Have fun with it, use highlighters to colour in the boxes on the calendar, use different colour pens, and draw in the boxes. Studying can be fun but it can also be a daunting task so ensure you allow yourself a creative environment, no matter how little.
Be mindful not to schedule too many long study days one after the other. You would become tired and bored. If you stick to your timetable and studies are going well, you may even be allowed to have yourself a day off every week!
- Study goals– At the beginning of every week on your calendar, write goals for yourself that you wish to accomplish in your studies for that week. At the end, rewrite the same goals. At the end of each week, assess whether or to what degree you have achieved your goals.
- Breaks– Again, do not attempt to be a superhero in this regard. Factor in your breaks but do not overdo it. After every 45 minutes of study, allow yourself a 5 minutes bathroom/water break. Use this time to take a walk or spend time with your pet.
- Mix it up– After reading a topic or part of a topic, pull out your past papers and read the questions on the topic, test yourself. See how much you have learnt and how much you remember. Testing your memory is one of the best ways to recall and retain what you have read.
- Go with the flow– So long as you are honest with yourself and you are accomplishing your tasks, alter your timetable if you wish to. It is not set in stone. Also, if it’s not working for you, revise it.
- Past papers/examiners’ reports– It is crucial that you factor these in. I mentioned earlier to include past papers to test yourself. It is crucial that you dedicate time to attempt these. Reading the topics and browsing the past papers to quickly test yourself is not sufficient. You must dedicate time after completing each topic to fully attempt at least 2 past paper questions. On your first try, it may take hours. I sometimes take 3 hours on my first attempt at a question to be able to pick out the issues, find the law, apply the law and write an answer. Even on my first try, I attempt to write an answer in 45 minutes. It can become frustrating but the feeling of accomplishment is very motivating. Absolutely critical is your use of examiners’ reports. I cannot stress enough the importance of these. Admittedly, some of the examiners’ reports are very vague, which is frustrating at times, but you have to answer the questions despite this.
Following or creating a plan similar to the one above would allow you to create an effective and efficient study timetable. It proved useful to me during my LLB and thus far, has proven useful in my LLM.
How to start working towards your study plan.
There is no arithmetic behind this. It’s simple:
- Routine– I do not like routine. I get bored. However, when it comes to studying, routine helps build momentum. At least for the next few months until exams, allow yourself to fall into a helpful routine. If you are not employed, then you may have more hours a day to play with and so you should make use of your time. If you are employed, then maintaining a routine is harder but absolutely essential as you may not allow yourself many free hours per day. What time do you get home from work? What duties or responsibilities do you have once you are home? What activities do you enjoy (eg; watching tv) that you can lessen? I did not say ‘completely cut off’ because you need some enjoyment and relaxation, but it must be controlled. Do you need to rest a little after work? Some persons cannot study at night. Do you then allow yourself to have sufficient sleep at night to allow yourself to be up at 3am daily to study? It is crucial you know whether you are a day person or a night person as this allows for optimal study time.
By creating a routine for yourself, you are more likely to succeed in adhering to your study timetable. There are going to be days that you are not able to study as planned thereby leaving a gap in your studies. You must figure out a way to have a make-up session so that you are not held back. It may require simply an extra hour during your spare time or studying for an extra half hour a couple of days during your lunch hour at work.
- Strategise– Do the things you enjoy in moderation. Keep a balanced life. Continue to play sports, or yoga, go hiking, spend time with your family. Balance is key to maintaining good mental awareness during studying.
I admit, I may have strayed a bit at times, however my aim here is not to have you believe there is one way to study or that you must follow a particular way of creating a study timetable. I want you to understand that you must find a pattern of studying that works for you in order to succeed. Be honest with yourself and what you wish to achieve. Be realistic with your time and goals. But again, I cannot stress enough… Be honest with yourself! Be your own superhero.