Study Strategies

A Time Management Program for Students

Time management is one of the most important skills for success in higher education, especially in online classes that do not give students a set schedule for organizing their studies. For this reason, I have developed a time management program for online students that

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A Better Method of Study Help

Over the past few years, academia has focused more and more on helping students develop study skills to help them succeed. One limitation of these efforts is that they tend to take the form of workshops or resources that provide general study skill information.

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Give Your Students Tools for Effective Learning

First days of class are really fun. Or at least they can be. There is the energy of starting a new year and seeing a whole new cohort of students. There is the chance to unleash a new and improved pedagogy that reflects all the

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Practical Applications for Cognitive Strategies in the College Classroom

While there has been considerable interest in cognitive science in education, limited numbers of educators are using this information to inform teaching and learning. That’s according to Weinstein et al. (2018), who identify six effective cognitive learning strategies: spaced or distributed practice, interleaving, retrieval practice,

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Interleaving Topics for Better Learning

Interleaving is the process of alternating between concepts during learning by periodically returning to earlier ones. Studies have shown that interleaving content promotes retention (Richland et al., 2005; Rohrer, 2012; Rohrer et al., 2015). Rohrer suggests that this is because interleaving helps students distinguish between

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benefits of study groups

Study Groups: They Can Improve Grades and Learning

Students can learn from and with each other—that’s supported by multitudes of research and maybe in your own experience as well. The learning doesn’t happen automatically, and the group study doesn’t rule out the necessity of individual study. But study groups can improve exam scores

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study strategy research

Study Strategies: What the Research Tells Us

We know a lot about study strategies—how they can be used to improve exam performance and promote a deeper understanding of the material. We also know that many students are attempting to learn course content without particularly strong study skills. They procrastinate and have short

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study strategies that support student learning

A Quiz on Study Strategies that Support Student Learning

How much do your students know about effective study strategies? Most students think they know what works, but their knowledge is anecdotal and experience based. Much research has been conducted on study strategies, with some strategies proven more effective than others. Wouldn’t students benefit from

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Study Strategies

Knowledge of Study Strategies

Consider this scenario: Two sections of an art history course taught by two different instructors. Both professors show slides of paintings—six paintings each by 12 different painters, a total of 72 paintings. Professor A shows all six paintings by the artist, one after the other.

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Time management is one of the most important skills for success in higher education, especially in online classes that do not give students a set schedule for organizing their studies. For this reason, I have developed a time management program for online students that guides them through the process of setting a realistic weekly study schedule and that any instructor can implement.

First step: Explain the problem

Step one is to give students information on the dangers of poor time management and its causes. This comes in the form of a video I created entitled “Why Students Fail.” A number of colleagues have questioned this title on grounds that it is negative, but all communication begins with getting the audience’s attention, and often negative titles do that better than positive ones. For instance, which of the following headlines would more likely get you to read further: “Five Strategies for Building Your Retirement” or “Five Common Retirement Mistakes to Avoid”?

The video provides advice directed at the two most common causes I see for student time management problems. One is that traditional, full-time students with little else but studies on their plates often procrastinate because they don’t have immediate deadlines and eventually fall behind. The other is that nontraditional students who must balance their educations with work and family responsibilities do not understand the importance of restructuring their home responsibilities to make time for their educations. I talk about both issues and then provide a program that works for both traditional and nontraditional groups.

I spend much of the video on the need for nontraditional students to get their entire families on board with their educational planning. They know that they need to set aside time for their studies but often think to themselves, I work eight hours a day and sleep eight hours, so that leaves eight hours a day during the week to study, which is plenty of time. This ignores how much of their free time they spend on family responsibilities and that family often beckons during their free time. Thus, I talk about the importance of offloading some responsibilities onto other family members and setting specific blocks of time that everyone understands are for uninterrupted study. I explain that they need to have a meeting with their family members to divvy up some of their responsibilities and get agreement on a plan. Children need to know that “after work is Mommy’s study time, so you need to go to Daddy for homework help” or that “Saturday is Daddy’s study time, so Mommy will be taking you to your soccer games.” Of course, traditional students also need to set up a schedule, so I discuss the same principles in relation to the friends and roommates that traditional students interact with, but these relationships tend to involve fewer obligations than family relationships, and so I give them a more cursory discussion. 

Second step: Set a schedule

The introductory video is followed by a worksheet that asks students to carve out a weekly study schedule. I provide an estimate for the amount of time they will need to spend per week on the class given the length of the course. For a traditional 14-week class, it might be six hours per week. For classes compressed into seven or eight weeks, I might recommend 12 hours per week. Other instructors will need to adjust their estimates for their own topics and course schedules.

The worksheet contains a sample weekly schedule like the one below as well as a blank week with fields that they fill in. I then require them to submit the worksheet within a week of the beginning of the class. It’s not worth a grade; I just check to make sure they’ve done it.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday 
7–9 p.m.   7–9 p.m. 7–9 p.m. 7–9 p.m. Open 9 a.m.–5 p.m.   Open 
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday 
[Add schedule here.]        [Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.]

Step three: Track and analyze results

Students get their worksheets back after the first week. Then, for the next two to three weeks, they log the amount of time they actually spend studying by activity type (reading, video, quiz, etc.). The worksheet has a template for this, like the one below:

DateTask typeTime on taskNotes
 Example: Reading: 10-page articleExample: 60 minutesExample: 6 minutes per page. Note difficult reading.
 [Enter task type here.][Enter time here.][Enter notes here.]
 [Enter task type here,][Enter time here.][Enter notes here.]

The purpose of this exercise is twofold. One, it gives students a sense of how much time they spend on different types of tasks. For instance, they may learn that they average six minutes per page on a reading or generally spend 30 minutes on the end-of-week quiz. They can use this information for future planning. Two, they learn whether their study schedules are realistic. They may discover that on certain days they have other activities that interfere with studying and so need to modify either their study schedules or their outside activities. Overall, the analysis forces students to reflect on their schedules while being reminded of them daily. Once again, they submit this worksheet to show that they have done it.

Step four: Plan the upcoming week

Once they have a couple of weeks of data on their actual study time, the final step is for students to plan out each coming week for the rest of the class. The template looks similar to the one used for the original plan, but instead of merely setting aside blocks of time for general study, they specific time blocks for each of the following week’s activities. The original schedule was based on the suggested number of hours to budget per week and when they had time in their schedule. Now that they understand how much actual time different activities will take, they can start planning specific weeks according to upcoming work. This is closer to what real time budgeting requires. A week’s schedule will look something like the following:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday 
Reading 1 (30 mins)
Reading 2 (30 mins)
Reading 3 (30 mins)
Review (15 mins)
Quiz 1 (30 mins)
Reading 4 (30 mins) Reading 5 (30 mins) Review (15 mins)
Quiz 2 (30 mins)
Reading 6 (10 mins)
Reading 7 (10 mins)
Reading 8 (10 mins) Assignment 1 planning (30 mins)
Review (15 mins)
Quiz 2 (15 mins)
Assignment 1 workbook (45 mins)
Review notes (15 mins)
Assignment 1 (2 hours) 
Review notes (15 mins)
Assignment 1 (2 hours)
Revise (30 mins)

The entire time management program is hosted on a single worksheet with directions, examples, fillable templates, and a link to the opening video; they return to it and submit it at various times during the class. I also suggest that they consider using one of the homework planner apps listed on this Educational App Store page. The program not only leads to greater success in my class but also develops a skill that serves students well in their future studies and beyond.