Tips to create a study plan

Advice from LLM student Toby Boyd and a selection of useful planning schedule apps to plot your year ahead
Two students working on with their study guides
Work backwards from your exam dates to create a basic work plan
Work out how many items you need to read per week to cover a module

Before you embark on the road of learning, being prepared for the journey ahead is a good starting point. A study plan isn’t just for exams, it is particularly useful for distance learning students to manage the year ahead with focus on both outputs and goals.

We take a look at planning ahead with some advice from Toby Boyd and also highlight some helpful apps. Toby is currently studying Master of Laws and in the video below he discusses his approach in setting up his plan.

Where to start

Your study guides will point you in the right direction to essential things like reading lists, important websites for your subject area, the Online Library, exam papers on the VLE student portal and online discussion forums where you engage with your fellow students.

In the video, Toby starts off by going through each study guide and working out how many items he has to cover and considers the reading list for each module, both hard copy books and online reading material.

You should look up the readings online to determine how detailed and extensive they are. Next, work out what you are expected to do for your exam dates. You then work backwards from the exam dates to create a basic work plan.

Once you have a basic work plan, plot your available periods of study time and periods for revision before exam time. Then work out what how many items you need to read per week to cover a module. You may also need to factor in additional reading like case studies and related journals.

As you progress through your reading, summarise what you read in your own notes. If you have them as a reference, your notes will support any learning activities you are expected to do, not only when it comes to revising for exams.

When it comes to revising, review your notes again and consider simplifying them further. All of the above will reinforce your grasp in understanding concepts and aid memory information retention.

On the student portal find prior exam papers and also look at sample exam questions in your study guides. Have a go at doing these before you look at the answers to exam questions in the study guides. Doing mock questions will help you prepare for the actual exam itself and give you a sense of how to pace yourself against the clock.

Manage your time

Work out how much time you can study each day. Create a weekly diary to spread chunks of time around the day. If you can stick to your plan, studying will be more productive. Have a period at the end of the week to self-evaluate to see if you are meeting your goals and expectations.

You can make adjustments for things you need to concentrate on further by setting more time aside on days you have fewer social commitments. If mornings are your best time of the day then factor in the more demanding tasks when you need optimum concentration.

Useful apps to create a study schedule

A regular routine will help get you into study mode. Here are some apps to support you in the process.

OmniFocus 2 is an app to help with creating a structured time frame to get through your readings and do things like setting reminders to look up words that you might not be familiar with. You can categorise your tasks with contexts and group multiple tasks into projects, say for each module. You can also set your mobile up to notify you of an upcoming task to complete.

For paid apps you get more for your money. Jorte Calendar, with 25 million users, is a highly customisable calendar and organiser which you can synchronise with events in your other email and Facebook accounts. Use it to track the modules you want to study, create check points for material and keep a record of questions so you have some context when you ask your tutor.

There are also free planner apps like My Study Plan available on iTunes to organise your exam revision. You can import your exam schedules and use that to generate your own study plan. This app is particularly useful to keep you focused on the amount of time you want to study.

For reading on the go there is PDF Expert, a modest priced app. It allows you to highlight and annotate documents you are reading. This app lets you organise reading material into folders and colour code them, search documents and even merge documents. The built in dictionary is handy too.

If you follow blogs, publications or videos, Feedly will keep you up to date on your topics and save much time scanning websites for subject matter. It pulls in all the feeds together in one simple, handy place and you can set up notification alerts.

When it comes to revision time, flash cards are a useful learning aid. With Studyblue you create your own study cards which you can share with your fellow students around the world. You can also add text, images and audio to your study stacks.

A last tip is to create a balance between work, study, exercise and social life. So do tailor your schedule to fit your study style, as you will be more productive and happier this way. Some people are most productive with 30 minute slots and other people can sustain focus for four hours. If you like to study in shorter periods consider empty time to listen to an audio recording of a lecture when you are in the gym.

More information

Caowrites was studying for BA English when she wrote a post about how to make her study plan on the Official Student Blog. She broke down her plan down into three key sections; goals for the year, her reading goals and the writing skills she wanted to develop. Caowrites now plans to study postgraduate laws.