April 29, 2011
Here on our campus, final exam week is almost upon us. The last day of classes is next Tuesday and final exams begin in just over a week. Many students, unfortunately, tend to go into a bit of a panic mode during finals. It can seem a little overwhelming. If you have multiple exams on one day coupled with final papers or projects due during finals week, it is easy to wait until the last minute and try to cram in study time for those last few exams. However, consider an alternate plan.
Many years ago, I came across a wonderful little jewel of a study strategy called the “5 Day Study Plan”. I’ve always credited Dianna Van Blerkom the author of several excellent student success textbooks for this plan. At least to my knowledge, it was while reading an early addition of her book, “Orientation to College Learning” that I first became aware of the 5 Day Study Plan. Since I first learned about this plan, I have shared it with literally hundreds of students enrolled in my STLC 101 class, students who participate in Academic Coaching, and any students who I think need help planning their study strategy for exams.
The plan relies on some very sound learning theory. First, it forces students to engage in spaced practice. Cognitive scientists have known for a very long time that we learn much better when we space out our learning over several days, than we we try to engage in marathon study sessions (ie. cramming). Also, the 5 Day Study Plan builds on metacognitive strategies. Students who follow the plan should have a very good idea BEFORE they take an exam if they are adequately prepared.
The 5 Day study plan is actually rather simple. First, the student should divide up the material for the test into about 4 equal “chunks” of material. This could be textbook chapters, topics from the syllabus, or perhaps just an even number of class days. Once the material is evenly divided, you start the plan by preparing the oldest “chunk” of material. Preparing means going through your textbook, your class notes, and any other resources and putting the information you need to study into a format that is ready for review. You could make flash cards, create self-tests, make study sheets, or create charts. The possibilities are almost endless, but the goal is to prepare this material for review. On the first day of the plan, that would be all you would do. You don’t look ahead to the other “chunks” of material yet.
The next day, the student would do two activities. The first is to prepare the next oldest “chunk” in a similar fashion to Day One. After that has been accomplished, the student would then spend a few minutes (or longer) reviewing the material that was prepared the previous day for the first chunk. Day Three, the student prepares chunk three and then reviews chunks one and two. It is often the case that the material prepared the first night doesn’t need as much review time at this point, since you have been working with it all three days. On the fourth day, you prepare chunk four and review chunks one, two, and three. The final day, the student will review all of the material again and take the time to take any self-tests which have been prepared.
If this is confusing or unclear, I refer you to the following document entitled “ FiveDayStudyPlan” which does a great job of summarizing the plan and also contains example study plans from some actual students as well as suggested preparation and review activities.
In all the years I have worked in this field I have never had a student who tried the 5 Day Study Plan who didn’t feel that it was helpful. Many students have adopted this as their official way to study for all of exams. My only regret is that I would have known about this plan when I was a college student. I know it would have saved me a lot of anxiety during final exam week.