While staying up all night to study has long been a staple of the study methods employed by college students, it’s neither particularly effective (you won’t remember much of what you study) nor a particularly good use of time. A far better way to tackle studying is to set up a study schedule, which will allow you to slowly, but much more effectively, review and learn the material from your course.
It might sound like a lot of work but creating and keeping to a study schedule isn’t as hard as you might think. Here are some tips to help you stay on track in your online courses and ensure you won’t have to pull and all-nighter before a big exam.
You will never stick to a schedule that’s overly ambitious or that doesn’t fit with your other obligations. Be realistic about how much time you have and whether or not you’ll really want to study right after a long day at work.
Figure out how you use your time.
Do you know how you’re spending your time right now? Create a time chart that records your daily activities. Once you know how much time you’re spending doing what and when you’re doing it, you can more easily find times that will not only work for studying but that will be able to stay fairly consistent from week to week.
Look at your syllabus.
A big first step in setting up your study schedule should be looking at your syllabus. This will help you plan around when big assignments are due or when you should be preparing for an exam. Mark down all important due dates on your calendar and work backwards from there to determine how much time you’ll need to study each week to meet these goals. Make sure to adjust accordingly for especially busy times of the semester.
Lay out your goals.
Figure out what you need to study and what you’d like to accomplish in each session. You can develop a rough outline at the beginning of the semester using your course syllabus and refine it as you gain a better understanding of what you’re getting right away in your courses and what you need to put more effort into learning, as these problem areas will need to form the core of your study sessions.
Actively work to prevent boredom and burnout.
Just like a marathon cramming session isn’t going to do you any favors, studying for long periods of time on the same subject isn’t the most productive method. Instead, work in 30 to 50 minute blocks, taking a short break in between. This will ensure you have time for each course and you don’t ever get bored or burnt out of studying just one thing. Mix up how you’re studying, too, going from reading your book to practicing with flashcards, or whatever other method may work best for your course.
Flex with your changing priorities.
Whether it’s to do personal issues, work stressors, or even just the demands of your course itself (finals week is its own special animal), the amount of time you have each week isn’t always going to be the same and what may be most important to you to do with that time will likely change as well. So establish a way to flex with these changing priorities. Maybe you only study for half the amount of time, or study on your lunch break, or skip a week altogether and study more next week. Whatever you decide to do, don’t cause yourself additional stress over not sticking to your schedule—you’ll get back to it as soon as you can.
Use a calendar you’ll actually see and check.
Putting your study schedule on a calendar and burying it under a pile of other stuff on your desk is a great method of never sticking to that schedule. Instead, use a calendar, whether it be paper or digital, which you will actually see and use on a daily or very regular basis to plan your time.
Find help being accountable.
It’s not always easy to keep yourself accountable, especially when there’s really good TV on, opportunities to socialize, or virtually anything that sounds more fun than studying. But you’ll thank yourself later if you can stay on track. One way to do that is by being accountable to someone else. Try to study with a friend or classmate, or show your study plans to your family members to help them push you to stick to your goals and get more out of your course.
Work towards consistency.
There is no point in making a study schedule if you don’t plan on sticking to it, so work at making studying a part of your routine. After few weeks of studying at the same time or in the same place, you may find it a lot easier to get into the studying mindset and to focus on finishing what you need to get done. Or, if you’re really struggling to stick to your new schedule, offer yourself rewards and incentives for staying on track.
You will need to put some up front work and thought into developing a study schedule, but the rewards can be well worth it, allowing you to retain more information and ultimately do better in your online courses, not to mention reducing some of that end-of-semester stress.