Time Management - The key to being a successful student:

Time management is not a skill we are usually taught growing up, so developing an organised approach to your studies is an opportunity to learn how to work more efficiently.

Good time management

What is the most valuable resource you have as you work towards your exams this year? Why, time of course! You only have so much of it and sometimes it feels like it just flies by. Come exam time, students often wonder where all of the time went. Then, at other times, it feels like the day will never end. The important thing to remember is that there are 24 hours in every day and that is the same for everyone. Because no student has more time than another, sometimes good time management can make all the difference in achieving great exam results. This is another skill which we are not taught as we grow up, but now it’s time for you to learn how to control your time – and how to spend it wisely. If you can achieve this, you will be able to make sure that the time you spend studying gives you the maximum amount of learning possible.

Although it may sometimes feel like a waste of time, you will actually gain huge time savings when you take a few minutes to plan out your day. Below are some of the many reasons why you may want to learn how to plan your everyday life and get organised in your studies:

It helps prioritise – good timetabling helps you take care of the important and urgent tasks first.

  • It helps with being realistic – we often don’t realise how long a task really takes. Timetabling shows you how long you spend on common tasks such as essay writing and problem solving.
  • It helps you procrastinate less – with a written list of tasks you are more likely to sit down and just get it done.
  • It helps you be more productive – you should know exactly what you will study before you sit down at your desk.
  • It helps give you more freedom – when you plan ahead, you know that you’ll be finished at a certain time. Students who don’t plan well often find themselves working all evening without realising it.
  • It helps reduce guilt – if you know that you’ve achieved your goals for the day then you can spend your free time without your studies on your mind.
  • It helps you track your progress – stick to your timetable and you know that you are on course to get everything done.
  • It helps you plan for the long-term – good organisation removes the uncertainty from your study and helps you focus on getting the best results possible.

Good planning is the key to getting the most from all of your activities. This discipline also helps create a good study-life balance and will benefit you in many areas of your life for years to come.

Be organised

The clear message so far is that good organisation is the key to being a successful student. You have to trust me when I tell you that an organised approach to your studies will mean that you will have to work less over the coming year. With better organisation you will be on top of things from day one and won’t have to cram come exam time. I know it sounds too easy, but it really is the secret to success.

I have found the best approach to be one which breaks your goals up into three different types: short, medium and long-term. A great way for students to describe these would be as daily, weekly and term goals. You can record these in your study planner, with daily goals being quite detailed and term goals being more general and giving you an overall understanding of your studies:

  • Your daily plan can hold a day by day account of yourassignments andareas of study. The best time to prepare your study plan is in the evening time, when you have finished studying and know what needs to be done the following day, so make a to-do list or list of short-term goals for the next day then.
  • Your weekly plan can be used to give you an overall plan for the week, a list of approaching tests and tasks to be achieved over the seven days.
  • Your term calendar gives you a broad view of your semester and helps you to plan ahead. Use this to mark all school assignments, tests, and activities (along with due dates) so that you don’t overlook them by mistake.

A realistic schedule:

Remember, when it comes to study, a realistic timetable is really important. A timetable which is too demanding will cause stress for you and work will pile up before you know it. So keep it simple and plan according to the time you have available – make sure you don’t overload yourself. You will become a better, more productive student as a result.

Take the following tips into consideration when putting together your timetable:

  • Do the groundwork! Spend time on planning and organising yourself.
  • Set SMART goals. 
  • Prioritise your goals and allocation of time.

 Use a to-do list every day. Prepare it the night before.

  • Be flexible – adapt your timetable if something unplanned comes up. Remember to reschedule the missed hours.
  • Consider at what time you are at your best. Then plan to study at this time when you will be most productive, for effective time management.
  • Start as you mean to finish – in control and successful.
  • Avoid being a perfectionist – if something does not work, start again, see what went wrong and approach it differently.
  • Don’t tackle big projects all at once, but break them into manageable chunks. This will make your life easier inApril when the projects are due. 
  • Don’t forget to break up your study time and don’t study longer than an hour in one go, taking at least a five minute break between study periods.
  • Try to develop and stick to a regular study routine which helps prevent procrastination.
  • Don’t forget to reward yourself, giving you the motivation to make the extra effort.

How much should I study?

This is a question which every student asks at some point in their studies. It’s easy to be worried by classmates who claim to be up all night studying. You must remember that it’s not the amount of time spent studying, but rather the quality of the study that counts. It’s also important to note that there is no one answer for everyone. Some students study more effectively than others and will not need to spend as long studying. Each student will find some subjects more difficult than others and have to spend more time mastering those. As always, it’s best to focus on your own needs and abilities. Your goal should be to improve your study methods so that you maximise the results of your work.

Before looking at the amount of time you need to spend studying, remember the following points:

  • Some subjects consume more of your time than others. This is natural and it will depend on how much work you need to do in each one.
  • It’s easy to focus on the subjects we like most, so be careful not to neglect other subjects.
  • It can be difficult to keep on top of everything during the week, so the weekend can be a good time to catch up in some areas.

Every student is different, but below is a rough guide to how many hours you should spend every day on homework and study combined. Remember, it takes experimentation to find out what suits you. Your study times should most of all suit your academic needs and goals:

  • First year – 1.5 hours per day
  • Second year – 2 hrs per day
  • Third year – 2.5/3hrs per day
  • Fifth year – 3-4hrs per day
  • Sixth year – 3.5hrs-5hrs per day

This is just a rough guideline which should be adapted as your situation requires. Of course, the hours should be increased close to exam time to help you with extra revision or project work and each student will have different amounts of work to complete, depending on subject choices and how much preparation has been done so far.

Creating an effective study timetable:

Many of my past students believe that creating their own study timetable was one of the best steps they took to improve their exam results. They suddenly felt in control and on top of of their studies. They now had a proper structure to guide them every day. They said that they finally started to make the most of theirtime. Most of all, every student tells me that it helped give them a properstudy-life balance – something which is hard to achieve during the Leaving or Junior Cert.

Preparation is essential to achieving the most from your school day. I strongly advise you to spend the first half an hour of your evening noting and revising the main topics covered in your classes that day. This will not only help reinforce the key concepts from each class, but also highlight potential areas of weakness where you need extra study to understand things fully. Always start with a subject you dread or find difficult. Not only will you get it out of the way before you are too tired, but with this extra attention you’ll find that you understand the topic more each time and may even grow to like it.

  • Using a blank timetable, write out your daily class schedule and any extra-curricular activities you have.
  • Decide how long you will spend on study each day. Divide the total study hours by the number of subjects, and allocate equal time for each subject – while making sure to keep a few spare hours for subjects that may need extra attention.
  • Plan to study at least three subjects each day (to keep your study varied and stimulating).
  • Remember, Friday evening is a great time to complete homework for the weekend and leave Saturday and Sunday free for study purposes.
  • It is recommended that a Leaving Cert student should aim to study between four and eight hours at the weekend. This may seem like a lot but when you break it up into two or three hour slots, such as 9-12pm and 4 -6pm, it’s not so daunting.
  • Make sure you take the afternoon or evening off to reward yourself on one of the days, to socialise or relax.
  • You will need to include time on your weekly planner for:
          a) Homework assignments
          b) On-going working assignments
          c) New material covered in each subject
          d) General revision for exams or revision of material already covered.
  • To determine short-term goals or weekly needs, each Sunday use additional copies of the planner that you have created yourself to draw up a specific study plan for the coming week specifying exactly what you will work on in time slots of your term/month planner.
  • Discuss your timetable with your friends and family to let them know when you are free and when you aredue to study. They will understand that you must study and will make an effort to fit into your free slots.

Rewards and a reminder:

It is a good idea to build rewards into your timetable to act as a motivator. These could include an hour’s relaxation for writing an essay or a day off once a month for a good grade or for finishing an assignment. Just don’t go overboard.

Remember the saying: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”

Orla Ní Shúilleabháin,The Irish Times: Exam Times, 2013.

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