How to Make an Exam Study Schedule You’ll Actually Stick To + Exam Planner

Can you believe it’s April now?

Is it just me or does this semester really fly by?

Either way, it’s time for us to admit that finals time is around the corner.

Whether you are having them in a month, or in two, it is probably the time for you to set your study schedule and start studying for exams.

You may think, is it necessary for me to start studying this early? Can’t I just wait till around 2 weeks before the exam?

Yes, yes you can. The only thing is, if you start earlier, you can spread out your work so that you can work less every day. This also makes the study process less difficult.

On the contrary, if you are pushing everything until right before the exam, you will feel stressed and pressured to study everything. You will also have to spend much longer time studying a day, not to mention that you have to study with the fear of not getting everything done.

That doesn’t sound like a nice plan, does it?

So if you want to reduce stress, study more effectively, and ultimately get better grades, it is high time to create your study schedule now.

This is an extension of my previous post: The Best Ways to Prepare for Final Exams – which I spent around two paragraphs to talk about creating a study plan.

Want to create the study guide with a step-by-step action plan? Join the ST Success Challenge and our community ST Student Success Club!

Download the Exam Study Planner

To help you create your study exam schedule, I have created you an exam study planner + a user guide!

You may be wondering, wait, don’t you usually introduce your free downloads at the end of the post?

Yes, that’s indeed usually the case since I want you to finish reading the entire tutorial before getting distracted by the downloadable freebie.

But this time it’s different. In order to make sense of what I am talking about in this tutorial, you may want to first download the free exam study planner.

After you have gotten it, you can then read the tutorial and go through what I have talked about step-by-step.

Want to know the study skills and strategies for studying for exams? Click here to learn some time management skills and study techniques that can help you ace your exams, and download the free exam study kit that comes with a summary guide and exam study planners!


Your Goals and Guiding Principles

When you make a study plan or any plan in general, you need to have some guiding principles in mind so that your plan can actually achieve your aims.

So, ask yourself, what do you want to achieve in the coming weeks?

What is your top priority?

Do you want to get better grades, or do you want to get everything done as effectively as possible?

With that in mind, here are three important principles that I have in mind when writing this guide on how you can make your study schedule.

  1. Study effectively by maximizing the time you have and getting everything done;
  2. Study the right thing;
  3. Manage your level of stress.

Knowing these simple guidance, you can now move on to create your study schedule.

ACTION STEP: Write down your three guiding princples on the designated place on the printable study planner!


Think About Your Time in 25-Minute Blocks

Okay, before we start the actual planning process, there is one thing that I think would be helpful for all of us to know.

As introduced in Boost Your Productivity with the Pomodoro Technique, Pomodoro is a great way to help us overcome procrastination and remove distractions.

It is also an awesome way to help us measure and estimate the time we need for each task.

Plan your study schedule with the Pomodoro technique in mind!

That’s why you should use the Pomodoro technique in your study sessions (download the daily task planner that incorporates the Pomodoro technique here!). What’s more, you should bear the Pomodoro technique in mind when planning your studies.

What does it mean? It means that when you are creating your study schedule, estimate the amount of time you need for each study task you planned by assigning a particular number of Pomodoros to it.

Set a goal on how many pomodoros you need to complete every day.

If you have a regular routine every day (e.g. you have 3 classes on Monday, a full-day internship on Tuesday, no classes on Wednesday etc.), you can adjust the number of pomodoros you want to complete for each day according to how busy you are.

As you can see in the downloadable study planner, I’ve given you a small box on the right-hand side of the first row. It is the place for you to write down how many pomodoros you want yourself to complete on each weekday.

Let’s say you are free from 4 pm – 10 pm (i.e. you have 6 hours of free time) every Monday, you can write down 8 on the Pomodoro – that’s around a total of 4 hours of study time. This gives you sufficient flexibility to have dinner and take a good rest after studying.

Then, when planning your studies, you can plan tasks with a maximum of 6 pomodoros on every Monday.

ACTION STEP: Write down how many pomodors you want yourself to complete each weekday, taking into consideration your normal schedule and the amount of free time you have!


Write Down All Your Exam Dates, Assignment Deadlines and events/commitments that will reduce your study time.

The worst part of having to study for exams is that studying is not the only thing you need to do.

If I have 5 exams, and no assignments at all, that would probably make it easier for me to manage my time.

But that’s not the reality. The two months before the exam is often the craziest days for students because not only do you need to start studying for exams, you also have lots of projects and essays due.

I know this is not ideal, but since this is what happens to all of us, the only thing we can do is to work out a plan that can best manage all of the tasks we have.

Now, you can first print out the exam planner and jot down all the dates and time for your exams.

Next, you can check your syllabus and write down all the assignment deadlines you have.

I also suggest doing this in red so that the deadlines and exam dates stand out.

Another thing you have to write down is events, work, interviews etc. that are not in your regular weekly routine but will reduce the time you have for studying that day. This helps you to plan your study tasks.

ACTION STEP: Write down the dates of your exams and all the deadlines of your assignments.


Plan How You are Going to Complete Your Assignments

Alright, all the deadlines are now on your calendar, and you are probably stressed by how many things you have to do by now.

Don’t be afraid just yet. You are going to make it.

Since the dates and timeline of studying exams are presumably more flexible, we can start by planning out how we can finish your assignments first.

As you can see in the study planner I’ve made for you, I’ve separated each date box into two rows.

I want you to fill in the first row with your assignment plans.

When planning your assignment completion date, here are some of my recommendations:

Leave a few days before the deadline to do a final check.

First, leave around at least 3 days before the deadline of the assignment because (1) we never know if something happens and we didn’t end up completing one task or two, (2) it’s better to leave a few days to check your assignments.

Break down your assignments into smaller steps, and spread those tasks out.

Second, better spread out the work process than to squeeze it all in two days. It is scientifically proven that it’s better to start working on something as soon as you can, since your brain does organize your thoughts without you noticing, and you may have some ideas on your work while you are idle. The earlier you start working on something, the more time you leave for your brain to comprehend and organize the things you’ve been working on.

Because of that, I suggest breaking your assignments down into multiple steps, and schedule these steps over a period time, and make sure that you have your final product 3 days before the deadline.

Spreading out your tasks and finishing earlier also helps reduce stress, which complies with our third guiding principle.

Make sure the time you spend on the assignment is proportional to its weighting.

Of course, the time and effort you spend on an assignment should also be proportional to the weighting of the assignment.

Even if you love a project a lot, it won’t make sense for you to spend 15 days working on this project that weighs like 15%, and spend 2 days on this huge essay that counts for 50% of your grade, right?

ACTION STEP: Break down each of your assignments into smaller actionable steps, and spread out these tasks and set a due date for each task. Write all of these in your planner, as well as the number of pomodoros you need for each task. Have the final product of all your assignments 3 days before the deadline.



Prioritize What You Need to Study

Now we move on to the actual planning step for your study sessions.

The first thing we are going to do is to prioritize what you have to study (remember our second principle – study the right thing?)

When thinking about what is important and which course/topic you should spend more time, take into account of:

  • How familiar are you with that topic? (If you don’t know much about it, give it a higher priority)
    • Did you attend the lecture of that topic? (If no, give it a higher priority)
    • Have you done an assignment on that topic? (If no, give it a higher priority)
  • Is that topic likely to appear in the exam, or are you going to choose that topic when answering an essay exam? (If yes, give it a higher priority)
  • How much is that final going to count to your grades? (If it has a huge weighting, give it a higher priority)
  • What’s your current grade in that class?
  • How much do you see studying can improve your grade?

By higher priority, I mean:

  • Studying the topic/course first; or
  • Spend more time studying that topic/course; or
  • When you have limited time, choose to study that topic/course over the others.

Let’s turn to the second page of the printable study planner now. You can see that I’ve prepared you a topic list for you to fill in the course you need to study for and also the topics. I also provide you with a box for you to prioritize your course and topics.

ACTION STEP: Fill in the topic list by considering the priority of each course and topic you need to study.


Scheduling Your Study Tasks

Finally, it’s time to schedule your study tasks. Most of you tell me that you struggle with sticking to your study plan. While overcoming procrastination is highly vital if you want to stick to your plan, having a good study schedule is also key to help you work on your tasks as planned.

Here are a few tips for you.

Try to be flexible with your schedule.

Nobody is a 100% productive all the time. For me, I can be super productive one day, and the next day I just can’t seem to focus as well as the day before. After a good day of rest, I can be productive again.

If you can find out your productivity pattern, that would be ideal. You can schedule your study tasks according to how efficient you are.

The way I do it is to make myself study more on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and schedule less task for myself on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I find this alternating schedule works best for me.

You should also prevent planning lots of study tasks on one day thinking that you can study during all your free time. As I said in the previous point, if you have around 6 hours of free time, it’s better to schedule 8 pomodoros, that is, 4 hours of study time since you never know if some urgent matters pop up or you are not feeling well that day.

Try not to plan your study tasks till the day before an exam. Leave around a week before the exam to be completely task-free. So, in case you didn’t get something done, you still have time during the last week to catch up with those tasks.

Follow the teaching timeline of your courses

When you are planning your study tasks, also have your lecturer’s or teacher’s timeline in mind. If you plan to study chapter 9 one week before chapter 9 is even taught, you will be very discouraged to follow the study plan since you feel like you should wait till chapter 9 is taught in the class.

This would also lead to procrastination, and your study plan will be messed up.

Therefore, when scheduling your study tasks, make sure to have your syllabi with you and plan according to the teaching timeline.

Make sure to estimate the time you need for each study task

Since we want this study plan to actually work, we need to be realistic and estimate our time as accurately as possible.

Remember that you have written down the Pomodoro goal for each weekday? And also the extra events/commitments that are going to reduce the time you have for studying?

Now, write down how much time you need for those events, make sure to also count the travel time.

Now, when you add up the pomodoros you need for you to work on your assignments (which you have previously planned), and the extra events/commitments, the deduct it from the Pomodoro goal you set for that day, that’s the number of pomodoros you have for studying that day.

Pomodoro goal of the day = No. of pomodoros for assignment tasks + time for your commitments/events + No. of pomodoros for study tasks

Or look it in another way…

No. of pomodoros for study tasks = Pomodoro goal of the day – No. of pomodoros for assignment tasks – time for your commitments/events 

It seems a bit confusing when I say this. Okay, let me give you an example.

Here’s an example on how you can schedule your study tasks

Let’s say, after considering your class schedule, you find out that you have 5 hours to study on Monday.

That means you can do a total of 9 pomodoros (nine 25-minute work session+ five 5-minute breaks + two 25-minute long breaks).

You then set 9 pomodoros as your goal for every Monday.

But you realized, on April 20 (Monday) that you have an interview that day that takes 2 hours in total including travel time.

So that takes away 4 pomodoros from your study time.

You’ve also planned to write your first draft for your essay that day, which takes 1 hour (i.e. 2 Pomodoros) away from your study time.

Let’s do some easy calculation now. 9 – 4 – 2 = 3 pomodoros.

You have 3 pomodoros left for you to study on April 20.

Then you look at your topic list and think that you can do one chapter from your Psychology class – that would take around 2 pomodoros.

You can also review your cue cards for a chapter from your Sociology class – that takes around 1 pomodoros.

Viola! Now you can schedule two study tasks for that day: Study one chapter of your psych class + review your cue cards for a chapter of your sociology class.

These all seem a bit complex. But if you have done all the steps I mentioned, this honestly take so little time.

And it gives you one of the very realistic, but clear and specific study plans that motivate you to follow them.

After all, when you have to create a study plan, careful calculation and estimation are required. By looking your time as 25/30-minute time block, it actually makes the estimation process easier.

This also prompts you to use the Pomodoro Technique to guide your study sessions.

ACTION STEP: Schedule your study tasks in the printable study planner. Consider the time each study task takes, and measure that number of pomodoros you have each day for studying.

Want to know the study skills and strategies for studying for exams? Click here to learn some time management skills and study techniques that can help you ace your exams, and download the free exam study kit that comes with a summary guide and exam study planners!


Love this post? Share it so others will know!

Want to create a perfect study schedule for final exams and actually stick to it? Want to get a printable template and planner for your study plans? This post is a guide to help you make a study and assignment plan for your finals with some downloadable planners and guides!


Tell me what you think about this tutorial in the comments!

  • Do you find it helpful? Does it motivate you to use the Pomodoro technique when studying?
  • How did you make your study schedule?


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