As I write this, finals are right around the corner for most students… and here for others.
So today, we’re going to talk about how to create an effective study/revision schedule for finals. What I want to do specifically with this video/article is show you one of my own study schedules from my freshman year, which will hopefully give you a good idea of how to structure yours.
However, before we get into my particular schedule, I first want to go over some general tips that should help you craft more useful study schedules overall.
In my mind, building a great schedule comes down to keeping a few guiding principles in mind. You want to:
- Minimize the time you spend procrastinating and studying inefficiently
- Study in the most effective ways possible
- Spend the most time on the most important material
- Manage your health and stress levels well
By using these principles when creating your schedule, you’ll give yourself the best chance of meeting all your challenges while mitigating your knowledge gaps, time constraints, and other limitations.
With that said, let’s go through all the essential steps.
Know When Your Tests Are
I have to say this up front because, surprisingly, it’s not always obvious. When it comes to final exams, schools (particularly colleges) fall into one of two categories:
- Schools that schedule all their finals during their normal class periods
- Schools that use a convoluted formula to determine alternate days, times, and locations for exams
My school fell into the latter category (probably because it’s huge), so I had to be diligent about checking the university website and making sure I knew when and where my finals would be
Luckily, most of my professors were pretty good about letting everyone know that information – but I still made sure to double-check the website. Showing up to an empty classroom an hour after the final happened is the easiest way to fail said final, and I didn’t want it to happen to me.
Arm Yourself with as Much Knowledge as Possible
Before getting into the gritty details of scheduling, you want to know as much as you possible can about each of your exams. Make sure you find out:
- Format – multiple-choice, true-false, essay, sword fight against the professor
- What material will be covered – specific chapters/sections, or comprehensive?
- How much of your final grade the exam counts for
Also be aware of any projects and assignments you might need to finish. You can challenge yourself to complete them well in advance of your finals; that way you’ll free up the week or so leading up to your exams for concentrated studying.
who am I kidding… we all have projects we have to finish during finals. I’ve already talked about how to finish homework when you’re in a time crunch, but here’s one other thing to consider: What’s the best way to intersperse homework and studying?
Some people might like to mix study and homework sessions into one day in order to give their brain a change of pace after a while. If you’re like me, though, you might do better by concentrating all your project work into as few days as possible, separating it all from your studying.
Next, take stock of all the materials you’ll need for efficient studying:
- Syllabi (btw, these should hopefully mention how much of your grade each exam counts for)
- Study guides/notes
- Slides and handouts
Lastly, using your materials, go through and assess your knowledge for each class. Look carefully for any gaps in your knowledge that will be covered on your exams – these areas are where you’ll want to pay special attention when studying.
Prioritize Your Tests
Now that you’ve gathered your material and done a review of what will be covered, it’s time to prioritize your exams so you’ll know how much to study each subject, and what order to study them in.
Here are a couple of factors you might want to keep in mind:
- The order of your exams
- Which exams count for a large percentage of your final grade
- What your grades look like in each class – for example, if you chemistry grade is hovering right around the B+/A- mark, you might want to prioritize it above the English class you’ve got a 99% in
However you prioritize each class, compare those decisions with the gaps in your knowledge you identified earlier when deciding which classes to focus the most heavily on.
Create Your Schedule
In the book author Walter Pauk advises to create a “Home-Stretch Schedule” when you’re nearing finals. This is essentially an uber-detailed version of your normal schedule; you should include things like little tasks, meals, and other small events.
The point of creating a schedule with this amount of detail is to identify gaps in which you can schedule your study sessions. If I may add one suggestion to Pauk’s method, I think you should try to shuffle your small tasks around so they fall into concentrated batches – thereby freeing up bigger blocks of uninterrupted time, which are needed for intellectual combat.
With that being said, let’s dive into one of the study schedules I created as a student – specifically, this is the one from my freshman year’s second semester. First up, here’s a relatively uncluttered view of my class and work obligations during the week before finals:
I only had six classes that semester (and two only met once a week), but since I worked more than 20 hours a week as well, my time management had to be on point.
Since I knew I’d be studying a lot, I wanted to make sure I actually had time for meals and workouts – so I schedule them as well:
Finally, I had an accurate picture of my week; at this point, I was able to identify the gaps in my schedule and create study sessions for each class.
Note that each session lists specific things I planned on studying:
This is something I think you should definitely do when creating your schedule. Remember Parkinson’s Law:
“Work expands to fill the time you allot for it.”
Additionally, your brain’s ability to work effectively starts to diminish after 25-30 minutes (on average, and not always, and blah blah caveats blah blah).
Keeping these limitations in mind, you’ll study most effectively by planning to achieve something in a limited amount of time. The Pomodoro Technique is an excellent way to accomplish this.
Lastly, here’s a quick look at my schedule during the actual finals week. Note that I didn’t schedule study sessions during this week – probably because I was lazy at the time. You still can.
Three Final Quick Tips
To round this article out, here are three additional tips you can use to improve your schedule even further:
- Pay attention to your body’s energy levels throughout the day. Some people have high energy levels in the morning; if that’s you, try scheduling your hardest study session early. If your energy comes at night, though, study later on and don’t try to force yourself to wake up early (that link is for the early birds)
- Remember that your mind’s efficiency is dependent upon your body’s performance. Make sure to schedule time to get some exercise, and also take breaks and have some high-density fun. Doing so will keep your stress levels down and give you a clear head.
- Ask for help early. If you’re stuck on something, going to office hours can really accelerate the review process. When you do, though, remember the Corson Technique.
That’s it for this video/article/whatever! Good luck on your finals – I’m sure you’ll rock them 🙂
Looking for More Study Tips?
If you want even more techniques that can help you study better and earn better test grades, you’ll enjoy my free 100+ page book called
The book covers topics like:
- Defeating procrastination
- Getting more out of your classes
- Taking great notes
- Reading your textbooks more efficiently
…and several more. It also has a lot of recommendations for tools and other resources that can make your studying easier.
If you’d like a free copy of the book, let me know where I should send it:
I’ll also keep you updated about new posts and videos that come out on this blog (they’ll be just as good as this one or better) 🙂
- Google Calendar
- Sunrise Calendar – a great alternative calendar app
- Fantastical 2 – the calendar app I’m currently using on my iPhone (syncs with Google Calendar)
- Related: Here’s a great revision strategy video from my friend Simon Clark
Hopefully these scheduling tips were helpful to you in some way!
If you have additional advice that I didn’t mention, definitely share it down in the comments so it can help other students.