Jane Birkenhead, October 2 2019

TOEFL study schedules: how to be flexible and productive

Let’s focus on some TOEFL studying strategies. Where I live, the start of the new academic year happens at the same time as the start of autumn. Somehow, setting new goals and making plans goes really nicely with the colder weather. It’s a time to get cosy inside with tea and blankets and books. So, let’s talk about study schedules!

You’ve probably been told - many times - that if you make a study schedule then you’re taking a big first step to achieving your TOEFL goals. This is very good advice. 

However,  the number one rule for using study schedules is that you must make them work for you. You can’t take a template, or even someone else’s study schedule, and try to use it if it doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle or your way of studying.

On one level, this is really obvious. If you use someone else’s schedule and it says... 

“7pm - 9pm: Read 2 TOEFL reading passages, paraphrase the paragraphs, answer the questions, check the wrong answers, write down new vocabulary and phrases” 

...and you work evening shifts, then of course it won’t work! But I’m talking about something different. 

I’ve seen some study schedules where every minute of every day - from waking up to going to bed - is filled. They have times for meals, for going to work, for relaxing, exercising and for studying. These plans are great if you like that kind of detailed organization. Some people do like to have their days mapped out like that as it makes them feel safe and comfortable.

But what if you don’t? Many people (me included!) feel too constrained by that kind of approach. If I feel that I’ve got no room for variation then I’m more likely to rebel and not study at all. And that isn’t a good attitude! Also, if you miss a study slot in a very detailed study schedule, you may have to move a lot of things around to fit it in later on. This can be disheartening and sometimes you won’t bother to try.

There is another, more flexible way, to organize a study schedule. This is the approach that I prefer and it’s how I’ve always organized my own studying. It’s how I studied for all of the courses that I’ve done when I’ve been working at the same time. In other words, it’s what I’ve done when I know I have to study but I also have to do a hundred other things as well! 

How to make a flexible and productive study schedule

1. Set your goals for the whole week

If you’re taking lessons with a teacher, then some of your goals will be your homework but you may want to self-study other things as well. If you’re studying by yourself, then you have to set your own goals. Be realistic - don’t write down too much. 

2. Decide the times when you can study

You may decide that there is no point in trying to study during lunchtimes at work. Sure, you have 45 minutes when you could study but you like to eat your food, chat to your friends and go for a walk. Don’t force it. If it doesn’t suit your style, then that’s okay. But if you do manage to review something for 15 minutes, just one lunchtime, then that’s great.

It’s the same for the evenings. You can say you’re going to study for 2 hours, 4 evenings a week. (It’s fantastic if you can manage this by the way!) Those 2 hours may happen as soon as you get home from work because everyone else is out and the house is nice and quiet. Or another evening, you may prefer to eat dinner with your family, then study afterwards. Or you may prefer to do one hour as soon as you get home, then another hour late at night when your children are asleep.

You can divide your study time up however you like and in whatever way works best for you and your other commitments. And it doesn’t have to be the same every day. The point is that you should know 1. Your weekly goals and 2. The approximate times when you can study. 

But, here’s the important part. For this method of studying to work, you need to be motivated and committed. If you’ve said you’ll study for 2 hours, and suddenly it’s 9pm and you’re tired and just want to take the dog for a walk then go to bed….watch out! 

You may find that you fall behind if you have too many evenings like that. In that case, you may be better off with a more detailed TOEFL study plan.

Written by

Jane Birkenhead

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