Today I’m going to talk about the importance of making yourself a study schedule, particularly if you’re taking a course that requires a lot of memorization. I learned how to do this when I was in physical therapy school. We were required to take more than 20 credits per quarter and had multiple tests per week. To make life even more challenging, we were in the classroom 36 hours every week. I did poorly on my first exam and quickly realized that I had to figure out a way to learn a great deal of material as efficiently as possible.
I decided to plan exactly what I would study each day for every subject. That way I knew what I had to do each day and when I was done for the day. I also focused on smaller amounts of material at a time, making it much more likely that the material made it into my long term memory.
I thought I would prepare schedules for the first two exams in the human anatomy and physiology course that I teach at a community college to show you what I mean. Let’s first look at how I would prepare for the lecture exam on blood and the cardiovascular system.
1. Print out the study guides for the units on blood and the cardiovascular system. (If you don’t have a study guide, make your own based on your professor’s reading assignments and lectures.)
2. Add up how many items there are on the two study guides. There are 59.
3. Figure out how many days there are before the first lecture exam. There are 23.
4. Divide 59 by 22 (give yourself a day at the end to review). The answer to that is 2.68, so round up to 3.
5. Focus on three items per day and indicate which items you’ll study per day on a calendar or on your study guide. Write out the responses to the study guide items; then go over and over the material until you know it. If there’s something you just don’t understand, make a note to ask another classmate or your professor about it, either via email or during the next class. Quiz yourself with flashcards or your study guide and, if possible, ask someone else to quiz you as well. Some students find rewriting material several times really helps them remember it.
6. Decide how you want to prepare for the three possible essay questions. Practice writing the responses down until you can do so from memory. Schedule that practice so that you are including it during several days of your study time.
Now let’s look at how to study for the first lab exam. My students have to learn the location of 176 terms. The procedure is very similar.
1. Print out the lab list.
2. Count how many terms you have to learn. There are 176.
3. Figure out how many days there are before the first lab exam. There are 29.
4. Divide 176 by 28. The answer to that is 6.28; round that number up to 7.
5. Focus on seven items per day. This time, take your lab list and make lines under each seven items, and number each section Day 1, Day 2, etc. To study each item, make sure you can identify models, slides, and pictures of that item so that you will recognize it no matter how it is presented on the exam. If you have to reproduce the names of each structure from memory, practice writing them down several times until you can do so automatically.
This type of planning can be used for any course that you take. Yes, it takes some time to sit down and make yourself a schedule like this. I promise you, though, it will be worth it and save you time and energy in the long run. Also, if you can’t study one day for any reason, you’ll know what you need to do to catch up. It’s a system that works, and I hope you’ll give it a try!
Holly Trimble, MS, LPT
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