Whether you’re studying on a college program, for a career qualification, or just for personal interest, you’ll want to make a success of it. But few of us have the luxury of being able to just study – life has to go on as well.
You’ve probably already figured out that having a plan helps you to study consistently (rather than giving up, or cramming in hours of work just before exams). But how can you make sure you actually stick to the plans which you’ve made?
Firstly, be realistic. Many of us are prone to over-estimating how much we can get done – and studying is a high-energy, intense activity which requires a lot of concentration. You simply can’t focus at that level for hours at a time.
Sometimes, being realistic about your studying plans might mean looking at the other commitments in your life. Do you need to ditch something else in order to have time to study effectively? Can you cut down on social activities to give yourself a couple of weeknights free for studying?
Find Your Best Time of Day
Are you a lark? Some people are at their best in the morning, before the demands of the day have crowded in. If that’s you, then try setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier so that you can spend this high-focus time on your studying.
Or are you an owl? Without the constraints of a school day, you can choose to study late at night, if that suits you. For parents, this can be a good time because children are in bed and the house is quiet.
Even if you think you know what time of day’s best for you, try experimenting for a week or two. Perhaps your lunch hour is a great opportunity to practice your French vocabulary, or maybe you can drive to a coffee shop on the way home from work and study there until 6.30pm.
Have a Place to Study
As well as finding the right time to study, you’ll want to find the right place. Your studying environment can make all the difference when it comes to sticking to your plans. You’ll want to find a place where:
- You’re not likely to be interrupted
- There are no noises intruding (music etc is fine – but it should be noise which you choose)
- You have enough space to spread out any studying materials that you’re using
- You’re in a studying mood – so the family den may not be the best place
If your schedule is very packed, you’ll probably want to study somewhere in or very near your home, so that you don’t spend much time simply getting there. If you have more time, you could try picking a study location a little further away – this can be useful because once you’re there, you’ll be much less tempted to wander back home the moment you get bored!
Mix Things Up
It’s easy to get bored with a study plan if you’re constantly working on the same things. Rather than trying to trawl through the whole of a particular topic in one week, try mixing up your plan a little. Working on one topic one day and something completely different the next will help you to stay energised and fresh.
You can also try a mix of different learning methods. There’s no one “right” way to study. Consider:
- Taking notes from books as you’re reading
- Reading for half an hour, then writing down notes from what you remember
- Listening to audio material while commuting
- Watching videos
- Going to seminars or classes
- Talking to fellow students about what you’re learning
- Writing an article or blog post based on what you’ve been studying (perhaps a beginners’ guide)
- Drawing diagrams or pictures to help you remember or understand a concept
Build in Flexibility
How often have you made a perfect study plan, only to have it fall apart as soon as something unexpected cropped up? Life happens – and sometimes you’ll have to cancel a planned study session in order to deal with an interruption or an emergency.
Be prepared for this in advance: when you draw up your studying schedule, allow some “spare” time which you can use if you need to catch up. Even if your week goes perfectly, you may find that some areas of study simply take longer than you expected – and this buffer time lets you allow for that.
Track Your Progress
Finally, it’s easiest to stick with a plan when you can see that it’s working! There are lots of ways to track your progress: for example, you could tick off study sessions on your calendar, or award yourself a gold star at the end of each week when you’ve successfully completely all the studying which you’d planned.
You can also review the material that you’re learning: perhaps taking a quiz or practice exam at regular intervals. If you can see that you’re making constant improvements, you can remind yourself to stick with your studying despite day-to-day fluctuations in your motivation levels.
If you’re studying – whether formally or informally – do you have a plan? What helps you to stick with it?
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