Thursday, November 6, 2014

5 Tips for Preparing a Successful Study Plan

As a 3L, I have already been through FOUR rounds of Law School finals, in addition to undergraduate and graduate school finals. I would not say I am an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have had a lot of experience determining what works and what doesn't. One of the biggest things I've learned is that preparing to study can be just as important as studying itself. When I prepare a study plan I tend to be more effective in my studying and outlining and waste less time trying to decide what I want to work on next. 

1. Make a Master To-Do List
This is what I have found to be the best way to really get started when you don't know where to start. The goal in the end is to have a few weeks planned out, but you need to know what tasks you plan to complete. Sometimes I find myself wanted to write everything down, but that is not what the purpose is here. I tend to only write down "big-ticket" items, i.e. Decedents' Outline, Negotaibles Outline, Take Home Exam, etc. There are other things that might make it on to my daily to-do list, that don't necessarily need to be spelled out here, for example, "print notes," "print slides," "email professors," you get the point. Write down things that need to be done, not things you need to do. You can see that I included registration, which might be considered as something you don't need to include, but in the chaos of everything going on right now it is definitely not something I can afford to forget to do!

2. Take into Account Pre-Existing Obligations
When you start trying to figure out when you are going to have time to work on each task, don't forget about any pre-existing obligations. The first thing I do after I've printed out my weekly calendar is to fill in work, class, and other meetings. This lets me see how much "free" time I actually have and also ensures that I don't plan to work on something if I'm already obligated to be somewhere else. If you make your own template, it is easy to go ahead and fill in any thing you already have scheduled that takes place on a weekly basis so that you are not having to constantly write it in. As much as I love to have this plan, it can be annoying to write "work" 18 times in each week's plan. Obviously, as you will see on the "final" product at the end, it took me one week's planning to realize this.

3. Be Realistic with Yourself
Being realistic with yourself and your plan is essential. If you aren't realistic about what you think you can accomplish on a daily basis you are setting yourself up for failure. Not trying to be harsh, but this is true. It is a tough place to be when you have scheduled 12 hours of straight work and 6 hours in you are ready to pull your eyeballs out. Trust me, we've all been there, but there is a balance between overestimating and underestimating yourself. Some people might think, set the bar low so that you always meet your goal. In some cases that might work fine for you, but depending on how much work you have do get done, if you set the bar too low, that is only schedule 6 hours of any kind of activity for the day, you literally won't have time to get it done. For instance, I schedule every hour from 8 am until 10 pm, but I know that if I were actually trying to engage in something for every single one of those I would go crazy, which is why I let myself have an entire hour (or 2) for dinner, laundry etc. Which brings me to my next tip - schedule breaks.

4. Schedule Breaks
If you are going to insist on scheduling every hour of the day (which there is no shame in because it's what I do!), make sure you schedule yourself a couple of breaks. Whether that break is to watch some Netflix, grab something to eat, or call a friend, just make sure you do it. I have found that I am much more productive and efficient in my studying and outlining if I take breaks every couple of hours and let my eyes rest and my brain focus on something less demanding. I think it is important to schedule these so that you don't feel like you are "breaking the rules" when you take a break and so that you stay on track.
As an aside, it is also 100% okay to block off a Friday night to have fun. This purpose of the schedule isn't to make sure that you are all study, all the time, but rather to show you how much time you still have left and give you a chance to plan accordingly.

5. Compartmentalize Separate Tasks
Obviously with all of these tips, certain things will work better for some than others. In this case, by "compartmentalize" I'm trying to say, "keep separate tasks separate" (which maybe is just what I should have said.) But what I mean is, don't try to do a different task/project every hour. I've learned that people tend to work more efficiently on something when they can work on it for a few hours at time. That way, in the even that it takes you thirty minutes to really get a grasp on what you are doing/how you want to organize your outline/etc., you still have a couple of hours to implement your plan. When I've tried to go back and forth between classes and projects too quickly, I end up getting lost in my thoughts and have very little to show for my time. If you are able to jump around and do so effectively, I applaud you because honestly I get bored doing the same thing for more than two or three hours, but it has still not been to my benefit to actually change what I'm doing more frequently than every two hours.
I also like to work this way because I can get a big chunk of something done and will normally have "something" to show for it, whether that is in the form of page numbers, highlighted notes, or flash cards. I am very much visual in measuring my accomplishments and I feel much better when I can see where my time has gone.

Hopefully it should look something like this when you're done. As you 'll see, I still have some empty boxes for now (I also made this on Sunday, hence why Sunday is blank). I think it is a good idea to give yourself some room to adjust initially and re-familiarize yourself with having to study longer hours as you approach exams.

How do you prepare for exams?

Have a Great Day, Y'all!

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