How to Make a Study Schedule That Actually Works

22 Feb, 2024 | University Preparation

Studying can sometimes feel like a daunting task, no matter how old you are or what level you’re studying at. You might be left thinking:

How can I balance academics with my other commitments? 

How do I stay consistent with a study schedule? 

Is there a “good” or “bad” way to study? 

When you’re facing these questions, you might want to consider creating a study schedule. 

While studying can look different from person to person and field to field, there are a few ways to create – and maintain! – a study schedule that actually works. To help you get started, we’ve gathered a range of tools and tips to help you enhance your academic performance and reduce the stress of exams and assignments. 

Take the following anecdote:

A talented student musician was struggling to balance their rehearsal schedule with a series of Mathematics assignments. They were wondering how the two seemingly opposite disciplines might coexist within their studying habits. 

While talking to someone else in their orchestra, the student was given the following advice: each time they practise their instrument at home (one hour each evening), they could take ten minutes to review their Maths assignments. This would create a consistent studying routine that fit into their existing schedule and acknowledged their existing responsibilities.

After trialling out this tactic, the student’s Maths grades improved – as well as their skills in the school orchestra! This demonstrates how a personalised, achievable study schedule can help.

So, What Is a Study Schedule?

A study schedule is a structured plan outlining when and what a student will study. It can be understood as a time-management strategy to aid students in achieving their academic goals.

A well-structured schedule can be pivotal in helping students achieve success while also managing personal interests and commitments.

Why Do I Need a Study Schedule?

Just as the student musician discovered, the need for a study schedule can often present a set of confusing – or, at the very least, contradictory – aims. 

How can a student prioritise their studies and their extracurricular activities? What if there simply aren’t enough hours in the day? These questions are certainly valid – and are actually important reasons to make a study schedule! 

If you’re finding it difficult to manage your time and obligations, you might be feeling the effects on your academic performance, your stress levels and your tendency to procrastinate. 

A personalised study schedule can help to combat this.

I. Improved time management

A well-structured study schedule can help you to allocate your time more efficiently to balance competing obligations. 

It’s also a great introduction to different time-management strategies (e.g. making a physical study calendar as a visual reminder) that can be applied to your professional and personal life in the future.

II. Reduced stress and anxiety

An organised study schedule can also provide a sense of clarity and reassurance that can help minimise your stress levels. 

By eliminating the need for last-minute cramming and all-nighters, you’ll see both a reduction in anxiety levels and an improvement in performance!

III. Better academic performance

On the topic of academic performance, a strong study schedule will typically help you develop a more consistent and focused set of study habits and revision sessions. This consistency can have a positive impact on the retention and understanding of your academic material, boosting your overall school performance.

How to Create a Study Schedule That Works

In order to achieve the benefits of a personalised study schedule, it’s important for students to understand exactly how to create a routine that meets their individual academic and extracurricular needs. 

While this can differ between students, here are a few general tips to keep in mind!

Student sitting cross-legged, working on their laptop

Step 1: Self-assessment and goal setting

1.1 Identify Your Academic Goals

To start, reflect on your overall academic objectives. This could include:

  • Improving your grades
  • Excelling in a specific academic subject or discipline
  • Achieving a particular academic milestone (such as passing your GCSEs)

Consider which goals are most important to you.

1.2 Assess Your Current Study Habits

Once you’ve identified your academic goals, take a moment to assess and evaluate your current study habits. Ask yourself what’s working, and what needs improving?

This will ensure your study schedule accurately reflects your current needs and goals.

1.3 Define Clear and Specific Goals

After reflecting on your existing study habits, take some time to define clear and specific SMART goals that align with your academic aspirations.

SMART goals refer to Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound goals. An example of a SMART goal for waking up earlier could look like:

Specific: I want to wake up earlier to have more time for my morning study routine.

Measurable: I will track how many times I snooze my alarm before getting out of bed, as well as how long my study routine typically takes.

Achievable: My schedule allows me to go to sleep early, so I can still maintain my goal of eight hours of sleep.

Relevant: I feel rushed trying to complete my studying for the day. In practising better sleep hygiene, I can feel less rushed or anxious while studying.

Time-Bound: In one month, I want to wake up two hours earlier than I wake now.

Step 2: Prioritise your subjects and tasks

2.1 List Your Subjects and Courses

Once you’ve identified your SMART goals, you can begin to apply them to your current routine. A good place to start is to create a comprehensive list of all the subjects and courses you’re currently studying.

For students with a particularly busy extracurricular routine, it may be useful to list these obligations alongside your academic commitments.

2.2 Prioritise Based on Importance, Difficulty and Deadlines

Try to prioritise your academic obligations based on their importance, how difficult you find the subject or topic, and the amount of time until the final exam or submission deadline. 

This can reduce the anxiety attached to extensive to-do lists, while allowing you space to focus on one assignment at a time and allocate more study sessions to challenging subjects.

Three students working on laptops and in notebooks

Step 3: Create a weekly schedule

3.1 Choose a Scheduling Tool

There are an increasing number of digital and physical tools that can be used to create an efficient study schedule, so choose a tool based on your individual preferences and habits. This could be a physical planner, a digital calendar app, or an online scheduling tool.

Examples of apps and online tools that can be used for scheduling your study include: 

  • OneNote: Microsoft’s handy tool can be used by students to organise their notes, calendar entries and project responsibilities all in one place.
  • Trello: This app can be used by students as a means of collaborating, managing academic projects, and setting relevant academic deadlines.
  • Forest: This is a great one to help students minimise distractions and increase productivity, fostering greater academic consistency and performance.

Try out a range of different tools to see which ones work best for you.

3.2 Block Your Fixed Commitments

Once you’ve chosen your preferred scheduling tool, add in your fixed commitments. These might include your school classes, part-time job shifts or extracurricular activities – such as the orchestra rehearsals of our musician friend!

3.3 Allocate Study Time

Now you can make use of the remaining time in your schedule to organise your academic commitments. 

Start by dedicating specific time slots to each of your priority subjects. Keep in mind that these study slots should align with your optimal study hours and remain realistic for your daily routines – make sure to factor in time for rest, too!

3.4 Include Breaks and Free Time

Adequate breaks and free time are just as important to academic success as consistent studying. Be sure to integrate short breaks between your study sessions to allow yourself time to rest and recharge.

It’s a good idea to block out time for leisure, exercise and social activities to complement and maintain a balanced routine.

Sticking to Your Schedule

Once you’ve created your personalised study schedule that combines focus, consistency and rest, it’s time to stick to it!

Managing your time

Effectively managing your time plays an important part in maintaining a productive academic routine.

Time Blocking

Time blocking is a time management method where individuals divide their day into relevant blocks of time, each devoted to a specific activity. For a student, this might look like allocating Monday and Wednesday mornings to Mathematics study, and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to Science revision.

In dedicating blocks to a specific task or goal, you’ll have a clear outline and study plan at the start of each day, avoiding last-minute cramming or a lack of focus. 

Time blocking is also helpful in setting a routine without relying too heavily on perfectionism or “what ifs?”.

If you’d like to trial out time blocking, start the day with a clear sense of what you’d like to achieve, prioritising your goals according to deadlines and difficulty. You can then create time blocks to organise your day between rest and study.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management strategy that alternates “pomodoros” – focused work sessions – with frequent short breaks to avoid mental fatigue or unnecessary study stress. The core principles of the technique include:

  • Working in focused intervals
  • Taking short breaks throughout a given session
  • Working within a set time period
  • Every four pomodoros, taking a slightly longer break (typically 15-30 minutes)

This technique is especially useful in enhancing productivity, as it allows students to combat distractions and recognise exactly how much time should be devoted to a given assignment.

Embracing Flexibility

As with anything in life, a study schedule may not prove 100% consistent at all times. Try to be adaptable and flexible with your schedule, practising consistency to the best of your ability.

When unexpected events or disruptions do occur, it’s important to make relevant adjustments. Re-evaluate your existing responsibilities, and make tweaks to your routine where needed. 

If you become sick and lose a day of work, for example, you might want to focus on an immediate deadline for a few days and leave an easier task for the following week.

Staying accountable

Learning to hold yourself accountable is a skill that can improve academic performance in the classroom and contribute to healthier routines in daily life.

Study Buddies

One way to maintain accountability is to find a study buddy or join a relevant study group. Studying with peers who can relate to the stresses of academic life – and provide support and encouragement! – can make revision feel less stressful or monotonous. 

Similarly, if you and your study buddies are familiar with each other’s study schedules, you can help one another remain consistent week to week.

Three students sitting on sofas, talking

Tracking Academic Progress

You can also maintain accountability, and keep yourself motivated, by tracking your academic progress. 

Consider keeping a study journal or using digital tools to manage procrastination and chart your successes. 

Celebrating milestones

Most importantly, take the time to celebrate your academic achievements! These might be small accomplishments, like creating a study schedule, or broader milestones, such as gaining your GCSEs or A-levels.

Whatever their size, milestones are a fantastic way to measure successes and recognise the progress you’ve made!

Creating an organised and personalised study schedule, using the tips and techniques above, is an important first step in meeting your academic goals and managing your different obligations. 

Trial out some different methods, and see what works best for you and your schedule!


By Adam Kluge

Adam (he/him) recently completed his MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Oxford. His research exists at the intersection of law, politics, and history – and he welcomes opportunities to further explore these areas through personal and pedagogical practices. He completed his undergraduate degrees at Columbia University and will begin a PhD in Criminology at Oxford this autumn.

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