The semester has only just begun and there is still plenty of time until the first exams. You trust the calm before the storm, sit back and enjoy your everyday study life. But the weeks fly by and suddenly the exams are just around the corner. The result? With little time and no plan, you pull one all-nighter after the other, devour brainfood, half-heartedly write summaries and try to salvage what you can.

Let me tell you: It can be so much easier!

I myself have been through a few semesters and have learnt over time how to get through exam weeks without stressing out about studying. How? With a good study plan! And I would like to pass this knowledge on to you. Because I can promise you this: If you make a solid study plan, your uni life will become a lot easier.

Student beim Lernen am Laptop

Why a study plan is so important

A study plan is a structured and chronological overview of the things you have to study for. It helps to keep your time and resources in check. Put simply, with a study plan you set your study goals and keep track of all learning materials. So, instead of taking things as they come and rushing from exam to exam, realise your full potential with a study plan – without pressure and without running out of time.

When you make a study plan, you determine the period in which you prepare and study exam-relevant topics. And not just for one exam, but for all of them. This will change the way you work in the long term and allow you to face future exam weeks more calmly and confidently.

But how can you make a study plan that makes university easier for you?

Studentin schreibt in ihren Lernplan auf Post-it

Step 1: Define goals & get an overview

The first step is to note down your exam dates and get an overview of your time resources and workload. If you are still at the beginning of the semester when creating your study plan, simply start collecting all relevant information from then on – dates of midterm exams and finals, slides, videos, notes, etc.

My tip: I recommend making a separate study plan for each exam and combining them at the end.

Step 2: Organise your learning materials

While you are collecting your learning materials, it's time to get down to business: Organise your notes, slides, handouts etc. and divide them into different subject areas to summarise the content. This approach will make studying a lot easier for you later on, as you can proceed by topic systematically.

It's best to keep an eye on your goals throughout the semester and update your study plan and documents regularly. This will do your future self a big favour – instead of having to sort through a mess of notes and documents, you will already have the well-structured learning materials at hand and save yourself some unnecessary stress.

My tip: Create a list of subject areas for your study plan. For example: Topic X includes all content from lecture slides 1–5, book chapters 23–27, video 2, etc.

Geordnete Unterlagen mit farbigen Büroklammern

Step 3: Define your approach

No study session is like the other! Your study methods might differ depending on the subject and content. And when planning your next study session, it is important to keep that in mind as well. For some subjects you might have to learn numbers and facts by heart, for others you might have to analyse, interpret, summarise or revise. When you make a study plan, the how is just as important as the what – after all, the “how” helps you to estimate how much time you need for different learning units.

My tip: Be open to new approaches and study tips for your finals. You'll be surprised how many new perspectives your fellow students can bring to the table.

Step 4: Estimate your time

The next step is to plan your time: How much time do you have until the next exam? How long do you need for the individual subject areas? If you are making a study plan to make your exam weeks easier, estimating how much time you will need is one of the most important steps. I know that many things can only be estimated roughly but try anyway. Feel free to talk to other students and friends to get a better feel for what is realistic.

My tip: If in doubt, it's better to allow for too much time than for too little. Finishing your study session early is definitely a good thing – too late, on the other hand, would be a problem.

Zeitplan im Kalender

Step 5: Make a study plan

Now that you have worked out the most important elements of your study plan, the basic structure is in place. It's just a matter of putting all the individual parts together into a chronological and clear plan, distributing your available time across the different study sessions. It's best not to plan anything just before the exams – this leaves you with additional time for last-minute revisions and exercises.

How you make your study plan is entirely up to you: old school with pen and paper or with a tool such as Excel, PowerPoint, Google Sheets, Trello or similar.

My tip: Breaks are just as important for your study plan as study sessions. Listen to yourself and your body and plan manageable sessions. If you torture yourself with endless hours buried in your learning materials, you will usually only make slow progress, while your stress levels will go through the roof unnecessarily.

Create a study plan & spare yourself stress

My appeal to you students out there: Create a good study plan and save yourself a lot of stress – it's worth it! Even if it may seem time-consuming at first, forward-thinking planning will save you valuable time and nerves in the end. I can only speak from my own experience and tell you: Good grades are a lot more enjoyable without stressful night shifts.

PS: If you need help creating your study plan, you can also contact the student counselling service for some additional support. Or talk to friends and your flatmates in the home4students student residences in Austria. 😊

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