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Does Having a Study Timetable Work? Four Tips to Improve Study Timetables

Time and time again I hear the same piece of advice being thrown in.

'You need to have a study timetable!!!'

'You've got to plan your week!'

'You can still have a life and be a year 12 student!'

If you've heard one of these phrases, you might be forgiven for thinking that such techniques work, but in my experience with dealing with students and as a student myself, it doesn't work... to a degree.

The timetables that are often praised are the ones where you set week after week, the same time slot for the same subject, and that you use to confidently show to the parents of your study commitment.

For example, on a Monday you might put:

4:00pm - Maths Study

5:00pm - Physics Study

6:00pm - Dinner

7:00pm - Chemistry Study

8:00pm - English Study

9:00pm - Free time

10:00pm - Sleep

However, these timetables often suffer from several problems. I have highlighted four problems and four tips to combat these problems, in the lead-up to the busy exam season ahead.

1. Overestimation of Actual Study - Not Realistic

So you come back home from school and look at your timetable and think you're some productivity genius, giving yourself a pat on the back that you can accomplish a solid 4 hours of straight studying that night.

What you often forget is that you've done around 6-7 hours worth of school and are most likely tired and fatigued and trying to fit in another 4 hours of study. Accomplishing around 10 hours worth of work is mentally draining.

While it's easy to set ambitious goals, following them through is another story. Try and set yourself around 2-3 hours of study each night, and no more. Focus on the important bits, and target the study activities that you know you need to do but don't want to do first.

2. Priorities Change Each Week

The problem with repetitive timetables is that your priorities change each week, you might spend more on physics one week due to an upcoming assignment or test and less on maths as the next assessment is more remote.

In addition, events may come up each week where it may be impossible to commit to a specific study load that day.

When writing up a timetable, change the timetable each week, focusing on the assessments that are the closest and requiring the most attention, and accommodate any events throughout the week.

3. Setting Break Times First

Students often place the break times first as it's the most exciting part of the timetable. The problem is that most break times are placed first, right after school, and it can be hard to transition from full relaxation to a high focus study session.

When setting a timetable, put the breaks after completion of the highest or hardest work first to ensure breaks are treated more psychologically as a reward.

4. Timetables are Too General

A big mistake that is often in generic timetables is that they are too general and include phrases like 'physics study'. The problem is that it needs to be more specific to ensure you are more willing to work, get started promptly, and have a clear sense of direction. For example, if I put bake a cake between 1 PM - 3 PM, I would have no idea where to start. However, if I said 1 PM - 1:30 PM, prepare and mix the ingredients, 1:30 PM - 2:00 PM bake the cake... and so on you would know where to begin.

In terms of your timetable, make time slots for specific tasks, such as 'Answer Question 1 and 2 of Research Assignment', as it provides a clear direction of your day and makes you accountable to study by performance rather than by the quantity of what time you perceived to have done in the study session.

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