Natalie Dawes, BTS Candidate Support & Business Development Adviser, says to get your studies off to the best start, it’s all about the planning, in particular the Study Plan.
In the past, I have often been caught out by ‘winging it’ (technical term) with my studies and I’d put money on saying that many of you have too.
It’s when we just dive straight in. Now, let’s not knock ourselves for being so keen to get on with our studies, our levels of motivation are important for exam success. Motivation is though, one of the things that can be maintained, if we plan our studies carefully, as opposed to throwing all we’ve got at it in the beginning, only to find ourselves losing our way.
Planning allows us to think about where to focus our efforts, find ways to stay on track and bring a little balance to work, family life or other responsibilities. Another technical term that comes to mind here is ‘juggling’ and I hope that this article will give you a few tips and tricks with planning, to reduce the likelihood of you dropping a ball.
Let me paint you a pretty picture of when I first started studying towards my Diploma. In fact, that’s a bit of a lie because it wasn’t a pretty picture at all!!
My studies were at first, on an as and when I could basis – this wasn’t going to work. Trying to cram things in around my family and work wasn’t easy. Studying felt quite hard and I knew I needed to change something.
So, I started monitoring my study, paying attention to when I had the most productive sessions and times where it hadn’t been so good. It required quite a bit of self-reflection and honesty around what I was doing but I quickly realised three things:
1. I was most productive in the evenings, in the earlier part of the week.
2. Early morning study worked well at weekends.
3. I got more out of a session when I had a bit of a list to go through, that I could tick off as I went – even if it was adding an item onto another list for next time.
Once I’d learnt when I was studying best, I factored that into my week, with studying Monday & Tuesday evenings from about 7pm (when youngest was in bed) until about 10pm. I’d then study early on a Sunday morning. So that was three planned study sessions each week, or roughly 9 hours.
It was also realistic. It meant it would have very little impact on everything else, it still allowed me to be part of my family and, freed up a lot of time because I’d made a pact with myself that this was how it was going to work. And it did…August 2017 R01 was in the bag and I’m pretty confident that a big part of that was down to some really honest planning.
I mentioned the use of lists and this is important because it wasn’t (and still isn’t) just about when to study. I need a clear objective to allow me to focus. Sometimes it’ll be to read a chapter, sometimes I have to break a chunky chapter down. Other times it’ll be to get my head around just one concept or perhaps I’ll want to go through some exam questions to test myself.
Whatever it is, I write it down. It gives me that objective for the study session that I need and there’s definitely something in crossing off a list that brings a sense of accomplishment. Sure, they’ll be times where that list item gets pushed along to the next study session but that in itself is productive because it’s telling me I might need further support with that area or that I’m not ready to move on yet.
A great place to start when building your own study plan is from the day you will successfully pass the exam. I’m talking about having an exam date goal! For written exams, that’s easier because of course these dates are set in stone. With multiple choice papers, it’s a good idea to have a look at the guideline hours from the CII as a basis point, then think about how many hours you can commit to study each week.
When I was doing R01, I’d committed to nine hours study per week. Was I contractually obliged though? Noooo! So did it always happen? Also no.
I want to stress the importance of flexibility, life happens and there will be times that we cannot commit. Holidays, birthdays…..life’s wonderful curved balls coming at you. So, when building yourself a plan, cut yourself some slack if you need to move the goal posts from time to time…allow the wriggle room and use the plan to give you the structure you need to keep going.
As well as considering how much time each week and when each week to study, also consider having clear, reasonable goals – like my lists (I just loooooove lists!).
Here’s a few SMART tips for your study plan:
Specific – ‘Mini chunk’ your chapters. There is nothing worse than just saying read Chapter 5 and discovering is basically half of the study guide.
Measurable – Schedule checkpoints either with yourself or a mentor. End of chapter tests and mock exams are really good for this but as is talking to the wall. Pick a headline from the part of your learning you’ve been working on, close the study guide and then talk to the wall about it – if you can do so confidently, you know you’ve made progress. If the conversation with the wall is a bit sketchy, you know you need to revisit that area. A mentor can really help here too, unlike the wall, it’s a two-way conversation that will likely uncover any knowledge gaps or indeed remedy them.
Achievable – Don’t set the bar too high, it’s better to set yourself up for success. Doing this will also develop your confidence with studying.
Relevant – This is where making your plan personal comes in. It’s easy to think about Dave who did it this way or Davina who did it that way. What works for one person may not work for another, so make sure your time frames and your objectives are personal to you.
Time-framed – We know the ultimate goal is to pass your exam – but that might be a good few weeks or months away. When something feels far away, it can be hard to stay on track. Think of each week as a goal in itself, with lots of mini goals within it. Find a good rhythm with habits and routine, will mean the weeks will end up flying by and not feel like such a long slog.
A lot of my tips from the above have come from the days of my struggles, where I had very limited support – I’ve learnt a lot about myself as a learner in the process but it did take me longer to find my way.
If only I had some resources back then that could have helped and speaking of which, let me tell you about just that.
For every unit that BTS supports, we have put together a comprehensive study plan. These plans give a full breakdown of each of the learning outcomes, helping you to work out how long to spend on each area. They also advise of important dates, and materials / support available and at what point in your studies to use them.
You can access them on the BTS Careers Zone and from them, create your own personal track to run along, all the way to your exam finish line.
Ready? Set? Let’s go….
View each of our comprehensive study plans for each unit that BTS supports. These plans give a full breakdown of each of the learning outcomes. They also advise of important dates, and materials / support available and at what point in your studies to use them.
Read our Testimonials page to see how we have supported our candidates reach their goals.
Read another insightful article on the mental health side to studying ‘The Importance of Talking about our Experiences’ to find out more about the importance of sharing your journey.