Creating a Study Schedule
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Most math and science courses are structured in a similar way. Each comes with a series of lectures to first present material to students followed by homework assignments where students can apply the knowledge learned. Courses can proceed at a fairly fast pace, so it’s important to plan how you'll keep up with it all.
Here are some recommendations for courses like this:
1) Review the Course Syllabus
Get the course syllabus and schedule so you know when quizzes, tests, and exams take place as well as the topics that will be covered. You'll especially want to note any topics that you believe could be more difficult for you. If you can’t tell what will be covered in lectures each day from your syllabus or other published course information, ask your teacher or professor.
2) Prep for Course Lectures
Before every lecture class, spend anywhere from 5-20 minutes looking at the material that will be discussed. Do this whether the material is super easy or a new and complicated topic that you aren’t familiar with. The idea is to gain some knowledge of the material prior to the lecture so it won’t be the first time you see these concepts. Read or skim through everything once, and check out any important equations, diagrams, or pictures. You may not understand it all, but you'll be able to recognize and anticipate what is coming. This allows your brain to relax a little and focus more on the important points of the lecture.
If the class notes are posted ahead of time, definitely start with those. Other resources for reviewing ahead of lectures are textbook sections or online course material and videos.
3) Review Your Notes ASAP
After every lecture class and while the material is still fresh in your mind, review your notes and read through any homework assignments based on that concept. Make additional notes and points of clarification on any ideas that come to mind about your assignments. This will make it easier when you go back to complete these problems.
4) Break Up Homework Assignments
Begin homework assignments early so you can get easy assignments done quicker and focus on other things. If assignments will take longer, starting early gives you more time to get it done. Break up long or especially difficult assignments into multiple parts and don't try to get through everything at once. If you get stuck, switch to something else and come back to it later.
5) Course Material Will Vary in Difficulty
Remember that the difficulty of a particular course can and probably will vary throughout the semester. Some weeks you may only need an hour for homework while other weeks you may want to spend a full 20 minutes before and after lectures and schedule multiple homework sessions. Careful planning is important around exam time or when big projects and reports are due.
Here Are More Questions About Developing a Study Plan
Q1) How early in the semester do I need to start creating a study schedule?
I would recommend thinking about your study plan for each course during the first week. Begin implementing and working on adjustments during the second and third weeks. By then, it is usually clear how the course will be run for the rest of the semester. Some things to think about are the expected difficulty of the topics in the course, the time to be spent on each topic, the amount of homework per day or week, and the frequency of quizzes, tests, and exams.
Q2) How many hours per week should I plan on studying?
This will, of course, vary a great deal based on the course and the student. To make it simpler I'll use the example of a typical calculus or physics course that meets three times per week for one hour each class.
10 minutes of review a few hours before a lecture. Review the sections that will be covered either in your textbook or use class notes if they are published
1 hour in the lecture
10 minutes of review a few hours after the lecture. Review class notes and add in anything that comes to mind. Best to do this as soon after the class as possible.
About 20-40 minutes looking over homework and completing as much of it as possible. Some days this will be very short and some days you might need to add in an extra homework session for the week. If there's an exam coming up this can turn into review time.
If done consistently, this strategy can help you do great in even the hardest STEM courses.
Q3) How should I plan for studying around cumulative exams like midterms or finals?
The first thing I look for are exams from earlier in the course and midterms or finals from previous years. These are by far the best study aids because they work as a diagnostic tool and source of review questions. The most beneficial thing for you to learn first is what you already know and what you don't. Working through old exams as a "practice test" is the best way to do that.
Once you've identified your strengths and weaknesses within the course material, think about how heavily these topics will be represented on the exams. Focus on topics that come up frequently because these will be worth the most to figure out and practice more. Look through your class notes and textbook for ways to summarize and organize the information.
An example from Calculus I: It is much more beneficial to spend time mastering the rules of differentiation than it is to memorize things like Mean Value or Squeeze Theorems. The theorems may come up in one or two multiple-choice problems, while half of the exam will depend on knowing the rules of differentiation.
Once you've gotten past these high priority topics, look at other questions types that may not appear on exams as often. Focus on anything you already have a decent understanding of. As the exam gets closer, recognize that you can decide to totally ignore certain topics as "lost causes" if it means you can work on something else enough to guarantee to do well there instead. When time is short you may need to make tough decisions and gamble on certain topics.
Consider Hiring a Tutor
Hopefully, you also consider hiring a tutor to help guide you through a study plan. Whether it's the beginning of the semester or frighteningly close to the end, a private tutor can always help you maximize your studying time and get better results.