Studying for a test can be excruciatingly difficult if you wait until the day before the exam to study. But, that’s what many students do. This may be due to poor time management skills,or a student being unrealistic about how long test preparation will take, or perhaps simply having a bad case of procrastination.

Whatever the case may be, a student will not reach his or her full potential without learning how to more effectively prepare for an exam. This skill can easily be transferred over to every-day-life, as well as to a future career. Think about it. Some day Jack or Jill will be in the work force, and Big Boss will say, “I want this presentation ready by Friday.” Jack may end up with a panic-induced form of procrastination, and Jill might end up with a lousy presentation because she pulled an “all-nighter”. Instead, if Jack and Jill learn how to set up a plan for completing a project over several days, they will be more capable in their future employment.

I learned about the 5-Day Study Plan in my job as an academic coach. The idea is simple, but very effective. Block off chunks of of time in your planner each day for 5 days before the exam. Typically these blocks of time will be 2-3 hours of time, depending on the difficulty of the material. The first four days will be used to prepare study material and/or to use the study material. For example, the exam is over chapters 1-8. So, on day 1, you will prepare study materials for chapters 1 and 2. You may be creating practice tests, flash cards, concept maps, study sheets, etc. On day 2, you will prepare chapters 3 and 4, and then use the study materials you prepared the day before for chapters 1 and 2. On day 3, you would prepare chapters 5 and 6, and then review chapters 1-4 using the study materials you have prepared.

Now, let’s skip ahead to think about what day 5 would be like. You have all of your study materials ready, and have already done quite a bit of studying over the last 4 days. So, on day 5, you just need to continue to review, quiz yourself, and utilize the materials you have created. You don’t feel panicked because you’ve already gained a solid grasp of most of the material. It’s a great way to do well on the exam and combat test anxiety.

Adapting the Plan to Academic Papers

Take a moment to think about how you might adapt this idea to writing a research paper. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, you might need more than 5 days to work on it. When you are first assigned a paper, see how many days you have between the current day and the due date. Look at your calendar and choose days and times that you will set aside to work on your paper. Think about the steps you may need to take, and make a skeleton plan for yourself. As an example, you have 2 weeks before your 10-page research paper on metaphysical poetry. In my opinion, the first step is pretty much always research, and that research will help you choose and refine your topic. The second step is nailing that topic down, and the third is beginning your focused research.

The fourth step is to start writing, and you need to identify a date for that. The reason I specifically choose a day to start comes from a conversation I was having with one of my coworkers when I was doing a large research paper. I mentioned that I enjoy the research part of writing so much, I would research a topic “to death” before I started writing. My co-worker brilliantly said, “I think that research can sometimes be a well-disguised form of procrastination.” It was a light bulb moment for me! I was regularly talking to students about methods for combating procrastination, yet I was indulging in it myself. Now, when I am preparing to write , I choose the day I will stop research and begin writing and put it in my planner. Then, I back plan and create deadlines for different parts of the writing process, and put those in my planner, as well. Don’t forget to give yourself a couple of days for editing before you have to turn the paper in!

A lot of people are resistant to integrating this much structure into their lives. But, I can tell you from experience, it is actually very freeing to plan and prepare major projects in this way. The bonus is, it drastically reduces or eliminates the anxiety and stress that comes if you have no plan and end up working on a paper, project, or studying for a test while in crisis mode. Try it. And I mean really try it! Sometimes one of my students will say, “I tried what you recommended, but it didn’t work.” But, when they tell me what they did, they often stop after the planning part. That isn’t trying it. You have to follow through with the plan. If you don’t, you can’t say it didn’t work. The truth is, you didn’t work!

Please come back and let me know how you used a 5-Day Plan in your work as a student or elsewhere. Feel free to ask question, as well. I love to brain storm solutions with students.


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