A woman recently asked me, “I registered to take the exam in the fall. What should I do to make the best use of my time between now and then?”
To make the best use of her time, she (and you!) will need to take some several steps. Whether you have 8 months, 8 weeks, or 8 days left before the exam, take these 8 steps to make the most of the study time you have left.
1. Identify your trouble spots
It only makes sense that your biggest weakness will take up most of your study time. So plan to give that topic more time. Just don’t give it all of your time! Assign a percentage of your study time for the more difficult topics, and a smaller percentage for the easier topics.
2. Decide how many hours to study each week
Exam-takers often have grandiose ideas of spending one hour each day of the week to study for their comprehensive exam. I don’t think that’s realistic. Most people who are preparing for this high-stakes, career-critical exam already have a full-time job and a family. If you schedule 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week, you will be more likely to stick to the schedule. Having two days “off” gives you an opportunity to catch up if some unplanned event crops up.
3. Schedule your time; get into a routine
Commit to a time and write it on your calendar. The operative word here is “commit.” If you can get into a clear routine for studying, you’ll find it’s easier to continue your study streak. You might even want to use an App like “Streaks” to help you keep track of your ability to stay on track. Or, see if you can find an accountability partner.
Scheduling your study habit is critical, but so is actually “showing up” at the appointed study time. If you can’t always go whole-hog, author James Clear suggests doing at least a little bit of what you had planned, rather than nothing at all, because it helps you to get back on track.
In general, your scheduled study time should be at a time when you are at your peak. Avoid scheduling study time when your brain isn’t working. For example, I can’t do anything that requires brain power after about 9 PM. My husband, on the other hand, often seems to be just getting started at that hour! Tackle the most difficult study tasks when you’re at your best.
4. Find odd moments to study
Ever notice those odd moments during the day that all but go to waste? When you’re studying for the IBLCE exam, plan to make the most of them. For example, if you typically arrive at the dance studio 5 minutes before your child is dismissed from class, use those minutes to study something that is easy to start and stop, such as flashcards. They have been proven to be a successful exam strategy, they are portable, and they don’t require a large block of time.
If you find an extra 5 minutes a day to study during an unscheduled study time, that’s an extra 35 minutes a week, and an extra 280 minutes (4-plus hours) over an 8-week period.
5. Budget your study hours appropriately
Let’s say there are 6 major areas for your comprehensive exam, and you have 8 weeks left to review. Tackle the two toughest areas during the first 2 weeks, and use the next 6 weeks for the other 4 topics. Use the final week to take some practice exams.
A word of caution, though. Do NOT take practice exams in the day or two prior to the exam. It will only raise your anxiety level, and you will not have much, if any, time to look up the information you don’t know. If you don’t do the “look-up” part, the effectiveness of using the practice exam will be limited.
6. Enlist help from friends and family
Let friends and family know how much you have riding on the exam, and when you’re available and when you’re not. If you ask well in advance, someone might be willing to watch your children while you study. If babysitting seems like too big of a favor to ask, maybe you could ask someone to pick up your children from school or sports. It would likely save you those 30 minutes you were looking to find for studying!
Here’s another thing: A colleague at work who knows how difficult the IBLCE exam is might be eager to help you find study time! Of course, if friends or family do help with child care or other responsibilities, return the favor after your exam is over!
7. Find a good study environment
Find an environment that you find is conducive to studying. You may prefer to study at a desk; others like sit in a big chair with their feet up. Still others like to study outside, sprawled under a tree.
A word of caution: Do not study in bed. Research shows that even if we don’t fall asleep in the face of such temptation, when we “work” in our bed, our brain learns to associate the bed with work, not sleep. So avoid that, if you possibly can.
Make sure your study environment has everything you need. First, gather all of your books, markers, note paper and related items. (I have a dedicated tote bag to hold all of my stuff.) Conversely, clear away any distracting items. If your computer is helpful, use it, but consider using the “full screen” feature to minimize distractions.
8. Plan for the unexpected
Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned! Get ahead in your studies so that if the unexpected occurs, you have some cushion, and won’t find yourself falling behind. Usually, falling a little behind feels discouraging, and then it’s harder to keep trying, so you end up falling even more behind.
Write down some possible strategies for how you might cope if you or your children get sick, your work situation changes, or you lose power for several days.
These eight steps are fairly simple to implement, so get going now!