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Making the Most of Your Time

Each semester, you will spend a lot of time in class or studying so you owe it to yourself to make the most efficient use of your time. After selecting your courses, the next step is to develop a plan for how you are going manage your time to perform to the best of your ability in each course. The more efficiently you plan and use your time, the easier it will be for you to achieve success. The tips that follow will help create a plan for managing your time.


Know what is expected of you in your courses.

It is important to start the semester with a firm grasp of the course expectations and the dates for readings, assignments, quizzes, and exams. You should not, however, rely solely on due dates to map your work for the course. Create your own schedule of expectations for mastering each new concept and section of the course so that you are not faced with cramming it all in for an exam. In addition, many courses build sequentially, so creating an expectation for learning each concept will help you move on to the next.

Develop expectations about how much time everything is going to take. You will want to plan your schedule around your estimate of how much time you will need to study for each course, not decide how much time to spend studying based on your free blocks of time.


Develop your schedule for the semester.

Now that you have your courses and a firm understanding of the expectations, you can plan your schedule. Each person will develop their own strategies for planning their time to efficiently complete all of their work. You can start with a weekly schedule for the entire semester with the knowledge that you will adjust your schedule week to week. There are, however, some basic guidelines for developing a plan.


Understand the demands on your time.

Start with a list of everything you have to do.

Common list items are: courses, work, meals, studying, sleep, exercise, leisure time, research, student organizations, and volunteering. You might have a few additional items.

Separate the list into items that have to be done at specific times and those that are flexible.

Your courses are the obvious core of your plan. Other non-negotiables might be your work schedule and volunteering and research activities that might need to be scheduled at certain times of the day.

List the due dates for assignments and dates for exams for each course.

Include your expectations for the time you need to spend on each course per week.


Make your weekly schedule at the beginning of the semester.

Start by scheduling everything that has to be done at a specific time.

Courses, your job commitments, student organization meetings, and anything else for which you do not decide the time should go into your schedule first.

Effectively using the time left over is the key to your success.

Most of your study time will be at night, but it is important to use free blocks of time during your day to avoid being overloaded at night. This does not mean that every free minute during the day has to be scheduled for studying, but using your time efficiently during the day will help you tremendously.

To be most effective, you will want to schedule specific activities into your blocks of time.

At the beginning of the semester, you can identify specific blocks of time for each course. Look back to your estimate of how much time each course will require outside of class. Identify blocks of time in which you can study that give you enough time to match your estimate for every course. Then, at the beginning of every week, complete your schedule by planning the specific tasks that you will accomplish in each block.


Some things to think about when scheduling your study periods.

Remember that reviewing your notes from a class session as soon as you can is essential to learning the material.

If at all possible, schedule time immediately after class for this. It can be as short as 15 minutes. If you have back-to-back courses, schedule a time later in the day. (See Getting the Most Out of Class Time.)

Is there a kind of studying that you do better at certain times of day?

For example, do you find it easier to concentrate on long reading passages in the morning, but feel equally strong in quantitative work regardless of the time of day? Then your 10:00am to 12:00pm block might be best suited for your literature course.

Does it help you to read the readings right before a class?

If so, then that block of time before class is easy to schedule.

Do you plan on studying with a classmate?

If you want to study with a classmate, scheduling the same study time for a course each week will allow you to get together when you want, without having to search for a time.

How long can you study a subject?

Do you find that you can put in a solid two hours for one course but your mind starts to numb after an hour for another? That can help you decide between what to study during a two-hour block.

Plan for changes.

Each week of the semester will be different, so leave a block of time free in your initial plan. Then schedule work for whatever course has the heaviest demands each week.

You can schedule in meals, exercise, and leisure activities if that works for you.

Some students find this helpful while others like to leave their non-class time blank. Remember that eating well, exercising, and having fun are important to your success and well-being, so do not allow your studying to overwhelm everything else. A good time management plan will help you keep the right balance.


Fill in the details at the beginning of every week.

Start by making a list of tasks you need to accomplish for each course.

Remember, part of your workload for a course might be studying for an exam the following week. So do not simply make a list of assignments due during the current week.

Determine how much time you will need for each course.

Some weeks you might need extra time for one course. This is where the extra study block you scheduled helps.

For each block of time assigned to a course, schedule specific tasks to accomplish.

When you sit down to study, you want to have a plan for what you will learn during that time. You might plan to read a chapter and complete the practice problems or you might plan to complete a set of problems. If you just need to read assigned pages, you will get the most out of it by quizzing yourself to make sure you are learning the important concepts. For more on this, go to Reading for College and Getting the Most of Class Time.