creating a study schedule: a guide for effective study

Discover the expert tips to building a study routine timetable tailored to your learning style.

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The world of academia can be pressurising and daunting. As a student, there are many commitments to focus on - lectures, extracurricular activities and of course, exams. It can be difficult to schedule time to study effectively, and the job is even harder if you're balancing study alongside work. 

Having to prepare for a difficult test or university final needs a certain level of concentration and a clear-cut plan. And there is one piece of advice that we have all heard: create a study plan for exams. But how can you make a weekly planner that really works? 

Before we get any further, let's just clarify: While cramming at the last minute may seem like an easy solution, research indicates that this method leads to poor recall during an exam. It's best to plan ahead - which means if you're reading this article, you're at an advantage, as 99% of students admit to cramming. 

Creating a study routine, however, provides a structured framework that aids in effective time management, ensuring that each subject and task is given the necessary attention.  

In this article, we'll show you how to create a study schedule - one that works with different learning styles and will help you to stay healthy, too. 

how to create a study schedule

The process of coming up with a comprehensive schedule for your studies can actually be rewarding. Consider it like a checklist that tracks your study goals and progress. A good study schedule will help you identify study blocks and show you how many hours you need to dedicate to your academics. 

Here's how to create an effective study plan that will help you spend time on the right topics, get the most out of your dedicated time for each, and even manage time for commitments outside of your academic life.

1. identify your learning style

Try to gauge your learning style. If you’re able to track how you study, it will make it easier to manage your schedule and achieve your learning goals. People learn in different ways and your style can be determined by asking yourself if you learn better through visual stimuli, auditory input, or reading out loud. 

- If you're a visual learner, you may find it easier to learn by yourself. Make time to write notes down and use visually arresting colours to highlight key information. At the end of your study session, re-read all the highlighted elements.

- If you're an auditory learner, you may benefit more from studying with a partner so you can discuss the topic with them. Consider reciting your notes out loud, or even taping your lectures so you can listen back whilst reading your notes later. 

- If you're a kinaesthetic or tactile learner, you may want to employ a mix of the above tips and walk around whilst reciting key facts. You may also find flash cards or memory games help you remember more information. 

Identifying your learning patterns early on can help you stay focused on the task at hand.

2. list out your study goals and learning goals

This will help you to create and understand what it is that you want to achieve. It’s also a good way to work out which topics and subjects that may need more attention. They could be either weekly goals or monthly ones, depending on how much time you have available to spend studying. 

As you get stuck into your studies, this list will be a helpful checklist, and will help you not to lose focus. Refer to them to identify areas to improve and map out how far you've come. 

3. prioritise important topics and subjects 

You'll need a list of all the subjects and topics that you must cover. But while it may be tempting to dedicate more study time to your preferred subjects, a good study plan dedicates enough time for more difficult topics. 

People tend to avoid tasks that are unappealing, but the 'eat that frog' technique - which advises tacking most difficult task first - is a great way to be more productive. This means you'll complete assignments that are tougher first, meaning you’ll feel more motivated for the rest of the day. 

You might have heard of the technique that's gone viral on TikTok: dedicating a 'scary hour' to your day. This is the same principle. The scary hour technique is blocking off one hour to handle tasks that cause anxiety and feelings of stress, early on. Level up this technique by introducing a playlist of music you like - you'll find that scary hour is a whole lot more enjoyable this way. 

4. factor in time to go over notes after class 

Review your notes and study materials shortly after your lectures for better retention. While it’s still fresh in your mind, try to summarise the topic to yourself - or discuss the key points with fellow students. 

We tend to lose almost 40% of new information within the first 24 hours of first reading or hearing it. It's therefore vital to capture as much information as possible in that window. If you've got good notes to fall back on, you'll save yourself time when studying later. 

5. divide your study sessions into blocks 

No matter the amount of work or how hard you’d like to work, it’s counterintuitive to study for long hours continuously. Instead, divide your time into study blocks. The best way to create these blocks is by understanding your availability. For instance, if you notice that you don’t have morning classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, block this time out for studying. 

Make sure to create realistic study blocks - don’t extend them beyond 45 minutes to 1 hour. Not only are these easier to schedule, but they will ensure that you are taking breaks and not burning out. 

6. try the Pomodoro Technique 

This is especially useful for people who prefer to study in short intervals. It is a simple way to boost your productivity and ensure time management. The Pomodoro technique requires you to focus on a task and set a timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break. Repeat this cycle three times and when you have completed it four times, reward yourself with a half-hour break. 

Advocates of the Pomodoro technique say it’s a great way to resist self-interruptions and helps to train your brain to focus on the task at hand. Structure your study plan around this and test it for yourself! 

7. factor in your other commitments 

There is more to your life than studying. Be it hanging out with your friends and family, making time for your hobbies, or taking a simple mental health break, it will help to incorporate these into your study schedule as well. It might seem counter-intuitive, but according to Cornell University, taking purposeful breaks from study helps increase your productivity and ability to focus. 

If you’re balancing work and study, it may be that a heavy workload is making it difficult to make an effective work-study routine. Read our article on what to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed at work to help you manage this commitment. 

8. make the most of your sleep

By this, we don't just mean ensuring you have enough time for breaks. Sleep is vital for academic performance and recall: studies show that it plays a key role in forming memories. 

If you're finding a particular fact or topic difficult to remember, try to schedule your study block for this towards the end of the day, before you go to sleep. Because of sleep's role in the memory-consolidation process, there is a school of thought that studying right before you sleep will help you to remember it better. 

One caveat, however: looking at a bright screen reduces the melatonin you need to fall asleep. So, choose a study book or write out your chosen topic with good old pen and paper to re-read before bed for best results.

9. team up with a study buddy 

Studying alone - even if you're a visual learner - can become stressful and lonely eventually. Reach out to other students from your class and form a study group or check in how each other are doing. 

These sessions do not have to make up your whole study schedule or be intensive. Instead, look at them as ways to boost your morale and meet students outside of class time. You may find that comparing notes will help you understand the subject better. Meanwhile, camaraderie can help tackle exam fatigue if you've got a packed schedule.

creating a study schedule: effective study plan tips

Now that you know how to create a study schedule, here are a few hacks to help you maximise your efficiency.

How many hours a day to study?

There is no one right answer to this. It depends on many factors including the course, workload, and your capabilities. Some people can study for six to seven hours in a day while others may find it more rewarding to study for three hours. It boils down to the amount of time it takes you to learn whilst staying healthy. 

It is easy to get carried away in ticking items off our checklist and forget to take breaks. However, this can lead to increased stress levels and eventually, you may find yourself burning out. 

Read our article on avoiding burnout here

Spruce up your study session environment

Your surroundings determine the quality of your learning. When you’re in study mode, it is best to be in an environment where you can avoid distractions but also be stimulated. This can be your university, school library or even your workspace. 

However, we advise you not to study in the same room where you sleep, as this can negatively impact the quality of your sleep. 

Switch up your environment based on the task at hand. If you are getting together with a few study buddies to quiz each other on an upcoming test, a café can be conducive. Alternatively, if you need to write a research-heavy essay, a quiet corner in the library can be your best bet. 

Travel time is useful time

If you're balancing work and study, it's important to find pockets of otherwise unused time in your busy schedule. Commute time is a great example of this. 

Your free time is precious, but commutes are a great way to get more out of your day without impinging on your other commitments. No doubt you'll know exactly how much time it takes to get to work: if you're on public transport, take something to read. If you're walking, listen back to a recording of your notes or past lecture. 

Prioritise a healthy lifestyle

An effective study plan quickly becomes useless if it’s not accompanied by a healthy diet and ample break time. Your body and mind need nourishment to function properly. We understand exam time can be stressful and it’s natural to stay focused on achieving your goals. However, pressurising yourself without staying healthy or having time for a social life can lead to poor mental performance. You can find yourself feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. 

To avoid this, set reminders to take small breaks between intense study sessions and eating nutritious food. Remember to not compromise on a good night’s sleep and make time for personal commitments.   

It’s important to be kind to yourself and understand your limitations. It is tempting to push yourself and while this may pay off in the short term, it can be counterproductive in the long run. 

Read more: How self-compassion boosts our mental wellbeing 

how to get the most of your study schedule as an accountant

Those pursuing ACA must think about balancing work and study. Having a jam-packed class schedule and a gruelling workload can easily become overwhelming. In fact, 4 out of 5 accountants feel that stress and poor mental health are a problem within the industry. 

At times like this, it’s good to remember that you are not alone and there are various resources that you can access. 

Here are some tips to help you balance your study schedule as an ACA student: 

  • List down all your biggest challenges of the week to come up with an effective routine. 
  • Ensure your timetable accounts for class time and work schedule so that you are aware of how much time you have available to study. 
  • Reach out to your manager or a team member if your current schedule becomes unmanageable. 
  • Tell someone from your family, friends or even fellow students about your schedule, so they can offer advice or help you balance various commitments. 
  • Seek support from people you trust or verified resources if you find yourself getting overwhelmed. 

how we can help you

At caba, we understand how stressful and taxing it can be for an ACA student. Sometimes, it can be too much to handle everything on your own. If you think you may need support for your mental, physical or financial health, please don’t hesitate to seek out our services.

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