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Creating a Productive Study Routine

Following a consistent routine to study will ensure success in school or personal studies.


Returning to school after months of vacationing is difficult. Falling back into the rhythm you once had three months ago is a challenge after being out of it for so long. Or, maybe you never truly had the routine you wished for and you’re looking to change that. Creating a plan will set you ahead for your academic journey and put in place a solid foundation for years to come.


Initial Brainstorm

This upcoming semester, you likely have anywhere between 4 or 7 classes that you’re taking. Those classes might all be very high intensity, high effort courses, like AP, IB, or honors classes, or you might have one or two electives that don't require extensive focus outside of class. After spending a week or two in class, and seeing based on your teacher’s assignment tendencies and the syllabus what work should be expected, you can begin to pinpoint your necessary time commitment for success in each course.


Start planning by jotting down a quick list of all your classes and when they are on a sticky note, a spreadsheet, or a Word document. Think about what your goals are for each of the classes and write that below. Do you want to pass Spanish or is the objective to speak the language fluently? Knowing whether you just want to put in what's needed to pass, or if you want to dedicate outside time to meet with the teacher or do extra studying affects your overall time allotments. Once you've established your goals and understand what it will take to achieve them, write down a rough estimate of how much time you should devote to each of your courses any given night. Assume after school you have a total of anywhere between 3-6 hours in the evening for homework and studying, depending on extracurriculars and activities you might have going on.


Time Blocking

Once you know where you want your time to be spent, you’re going to decide when you do certain activities. Using a scheduling aid is very helpful— I use Google Calendar, but some people enjoy Notion, a physical agenda, or an excel spreadsheet. Whatever medium you may use, begin plugging items into the schedule that you already know are non-negotiable: school hours, extracurriculars, exams, dance classes, etc. I recommend color coding your schedule with school, work, personal activities, important exams, and events all in different colors that are clearly displayed upon opening a page. Once you've determined what points of time you absolutely cannot spend studying, find the pockets of extra time you may have from this exercise and decide what those blocks are best used for.

 

Remember that you are not a robot! You should schedule in time outside of school for eating meals, exercising, spending time with friends and family, or simply your own personal free time before filling your entire afternoon with studying. Even if you think you can study that much, it's not healthy or productive!


 

Typically, you want to schedule studying for the class you had most recently first, so you're studying material closest to when it was learned. This strategy helps you to best remember content while it's still fresh in your mind. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, for instance, suggests that you forget 58% of learned material 20 minutes after the lesson, 44% after one hour, and so forth. It takes longer for you to relearn material simply because your brain forgets it, so if you study upfront you reduce your overall studying time in the long run.


Some nights, you might be unable to study for every single class you're in, whatever the reason. Emergencies happen, and time that might have been spent on one course might need to be moved back. You should budget for that within your calendar: leave a few gaps for optional studying, or for potentially taking a power nap, attending your brother's soccer game, or going on a surprise trip to a fancy dinner. You have to make room for adjustments, while also having non-negotiables like what time you go to sleep on any given night, to preserve your mental well-being. Knowing that, you also have to rank your classes by importance, placing the class that needs the most time first in your plan and optional studies after it, and notating as such.


Practicing and Reducing

Perform a "test run" of your plan once you've established it, trying it out for a week or so to see how long certain activities take you and notice adjustments in workload as they come. You might decide one class needs less time while another needs more, which is perfectly ok! Shifting your schedule is necessary and common, but mediating fluctuations and having room for change is better than scrambling when you lack time for all your obligations.


As you continue through school, you'll also want to edit the schedule as exam season comes along. When you know you have a big due date or test looming, you might either add in extra sessions or sub in certain subjects for others in your time split. During final exam seasons, some of your previously non-negotiable items might not be occuring, and you can replace soccer club or dance practice with studying time. It's still recommended to budget in frequent breaks, even in stressful exam-heavy periods, but giving yourself more time for studying will help you to retain information and put your skills to practice.


Throughout school, you may also discover places where you can reduce your workload. The phrase "Study smarter, not harder," is undoubtedly true when prioritizing what to study. The time you put into a session is not what's important, but how much you learn from it. Ensure that you put sufficient time in all areas, but don't exhaust yourself. Maybe you'll find you don't need to rewrite every section's respective notes to learn the material, or that only certain review videos are helpful for you. Find places to reduce your workload and focus your studying to get the most out of it once you've finalized a schedule that works for you.



Conclusion

Creating a study routine is the best way to hold yourself accountable and stay on track with your academic goals. Utilizing a calendar to map out blocks for each part of your life— school, work, family, friends, free time, etc— allows you to have guaranteed times for certain activites and room to choose what you want/need to do at other times. After creating a schedule, consistently improve it as you see fit, alter it in times that need more studying, and reduce workload when possible.


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