Archive for the ‘5-Day Plan’ Category

Finals are next week, and the activity around my office has increased quite a bit. Some students are panicking because they have realized that the final will make or break the possibility of them passing the class. Others are doing well enough in the class, but lack confidence or suffer from test anxiety. We even have some students dissolving into tears during these last two weeks of school because of the stress. The most important thing these students can do, no matter which category they are in, is to begin preparing early in a systematic and thorough way.frustrated female student

Here is a good way to make sure you cover the material in a thorough way:

Begin by seeing how many days you have available to study before your final. Now subtract one from that total, and that gives you the number of days you will work on your finals preparation. So, let’s say you have 7 days before your first final. So begin by subtracting 1, which leaves 6 days. Now divide your test material into 6 parts. Over the next 6 days you will prepare and study the material. On the first day, prepare study material for Part 1.  This might mean making flash cards, organizing charts, creating a self-test, etc. On day 2, you will prepare study materials for Part 2 and study the materials you created for Part 1. One day 3, you will prepare Part 3 and study Parts 1 and 2. Continue on until you have completed all 6 days. On the 7th day, you will review ALL 6 PARTS! Each day, this should only take you an hour or two, depending on how much material you have to cover. Once you have completed this study method, you will be well prepared for your exam and can go into the classroom with confidence.

If you have several exams for the week, you will create this type of schedule for each exam you will be taking. Just adjust the number of days according to the time you have left to study.  

Let me know how your finals go and good luck!


Have you learned the hard way that you can’t remember things if you haven’t dispersed your studying over several days? Students are often surprised to learn that 10 hours of studying the day before an exam is not equal to 10 hours of studying over 5 days! The formula I am regularly giving students is TIME + REPETITION = SUCCESS. Time is a vital part of the equation!

The Ebbinghaus Curve of Forgetting shows us that people forget things at a shocking pace if they don’t review the information at regular intervals. You may recall that Ebbinghaus discovered in his experiment on memory and retention, that a huge portion forgotten material is lost in the first 20 minutes! Even more shocking, without any review, the person has forgotten nearly half of what was originally learned after just one hour. 24 hours later, a whopping 2/3 of the learned information has been lost! You can combat this rapid memory decline by using your Cornell Notes in a very purposeful way. If you follow my suggestions for review, you will find that when it is time for a test, you will have already made tremendous progress towards being prepared. Just implement the 5-day study plan a week before the test to seal the deal!

In order to use Cornell notes to combat the forgetting curve, you will want to begin by setting your note taking paper up in the form of Cornell Notes by drawing a line about 1/3 of the way over from the left, and another line a couple of inches from the bottom. Then work your way through steps 1-5, as described in the graphic below. It is just that simple!

Use Cornell Notes to Change the Forgetting Curve!

Using the Cornell note taking method in this strategic way combats the dramatic drop in memory pinpointed in the Ebbinghaus curve. Since we know that most of the forgetting occurs in the first 20 minutes after a lecture, you will want to review your notes in those first 20 minutes. (However, this is not just glancing over your notes, this reading through them and processing them in a meaningful way.) According to the Curve of Forgetting data, that brief review bumps the curve to nearly an incredible 100% again. Your second review should occur within the first 24 hours, the third within the first week, and the fourth by 30 days. Periodic review during that 30 day time period is also recommended. Look at the graphic below to see an illustration of this concept. Each time review is conducted, the curve is boosted. You might also notice that the drop in the curve is less dramatic after each review, because the brain is beginning to move information to the long-term memory.

retention and review 

The regular reviews help make those new neuro-pathways smooth and easier to navigate. This means you have quicker and easier access to the memory, which also helps to combat test anxiety, blank mind syndrome, and other stress-related memory blocks.

Try it! It is an extremely effective way of studying and keeps you from having to use those grueling, stressful, and ineffective all-nighters before an exam.

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.