You just got handed a massive assignment. Maybe it’s a 20-page paper. Maybe it’s a big project or experiment. In any case, it’s tough to know how to tackle those biggies.
What you need is a study plan.
Here’s what I use. It’s a simple, five-step series of study tips to help you tackle a project and take it down without stressing about it. Ready? Grab a piece of paper and a pen and get ready to take notes!
Step one: Look at your end goal
It’s important to understand exactly what you need to do. Let’s say, for example, that it’s a 20-page paper. What kind of paper? How many sources will you need? What kind of research do you need to include? Do you need to include images of some kind? How about presentation? If you’re supposed to present the paper, you might need to get a PowerPoint ready.
The idea is that there are no last-minute surprises. You want to be fully aware of what you have to do and how much time you have to do it in.
It might not be the worst idea in the world to write this out:
My goal is a twenty-page paper, with a cover page, annotated bibliography with at least ten sources, and accompanying five-minute PowerPoint presentation.
Now that you’ve got a target in mind, you’re ready to figure out how to hit it.
Step two: Plan backwards
This is a macro step. Let’s say today is May 1st, and the project is due in three weeks, on the 21st. A major part of making a study plan that works is to set benchmarks along the way.
So for our purposes, let’s take that paper. You’ll obviously want to mark the due date in your calendar, the 21st.
Next, plan backwards. You’ll want one week to revise and edit the paper and practice your presentation. So mark down in your calendar on the 14th: “start revisions/edits and practice presentation.” Simple, no?
Then let’s say you’ll want a week to do the solid writing bit. Mark down on the 7th: “start writing rough draft.” You could go as far as marking out 3 pages a day that week.
That leaves you the first seven days to compile resources, outline your paper and make your bibliography. Mark that down and you’re well on your way to that study plan.
Step three: Baby steps
Now that you have your big-picture plan, it’s time to break it down. Before we do that, though, it’s important to remember baby steps. The smaller you can break stuff down, the better. For big projects, you want to break things into daily steps. It’s not the worst idea to break days down too.
The idea is that small steps are easy to take. You take one, then another, then another and before you know it, your daily goal is done. Do that a few times in a row and suddenly you’ve accomplished a week’s goal. Do that a few times in a row and you’ve completed an impossible-looking task.
It applies as a study tip and as a real-life thing.
Want to get stronger? Work out a little every day. Baby steps.
Want to build a business? Break it down into manageable chunks. Baby steps.
Want to quit smoking? Break the day down into little sections and quit one hour at a time. Baby steps.
Baby steps, people. It’s how you can change the world.
Step four: Make a daily plan
You’ve got your weekly plan figured out. Now you do that whole baby step thing. You don’t need to do this all up front. In fact, it’s often better not to. Just look at that week goal and plan that out.
Plan days out only a week at a time – otherwise you’ll go nuts trying to plan out seven Thursdays from now.
So week one in our example is to compile resources, outline the paper and make the bibliography.
Your daily plan might look like this:
- Monday, May 2nd: Get library resources and take notes on everything
- Tuesday, May 3rd: Internet research … and take notes on everything
- Wednesday, May 4th: Organize research and draft outline
- Thursday, May 5th: Finalize outline and compile bibliography
- Friday, May 6th: Look over everything and polish it up
Daily chunks and that week’s goal is accomplished handily. You might notice that the 7th is missing, and there’s a reason for that.
Step five: Leave wiggle room
Something comes up and you simply can’t get that day’s work done. Maybe it’s a global catastrophe. Maybe you had a headache and couldn’t focus right. Maybe you just had a lazy day (hey, those happen).
In any case, if you fill up every day of your study plan, you’re pretty much fluffed when those days do happen.
The solution? Always leave wiggle room in your study plan. That’s why I left an extra day in the example above. A good rule of thumb is to always leave yourself at least one extra day per week.
When I was in college, I’d always try and plan my week’s work to fit in four days. Invariably, I’d end up going over into Friday, but I never spilled over to the weekend, which was stupendous.
The idea behind wiggle room (and all these study tips, actually) isn’t so much to keep you from falling behind as it is to make sure you don’t get totally consumed by an assignment. It’s to make sure you get some time to enjoy, some time to relax.
After all, that’s the whole point of a study plan anyway, isn’t it?
What do you think?
Have you made study plans before? Have they worked for you or did they turn out less-than-stellar? Tell me the story! Then go check out this post on how to get into the swing of studying.