Grad School Hacks: How to Make a Study Plan

study plan phoot

By Caitlin Keller

Juggling work, school, and other commitments can make you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Luckily, a solid, realistic study plan can free up space in your mind–and your schedule–and help you stay on target in school and life. Here are some simple tips for a great study plan that works for you.

Plan ahead.

You can expect 10-15 hours of work per week for a typical 3-credit, online graduate course. Block out time within your general schedule to dedicate to your coursework. Review the syllabus and mark important due dates, too; weeks with major assignments due may require you to dedicate extra time.

Remember: the time you set aside for schoolwork should be treated as a serious commitment. Avoid multitasking on non-related tasks, and make sure you work in a location that allows you to focus.

Make a weekly to-do list.

While it is likely that the course will have some routine tasks, take some time to list out everything specifically related to the week. Be sure to include items that are not directly graded, too: watching lecture videos or reading peer posts on a discussion board. Your weekly list will serve as your checklist to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Break your to-do list into smaller tasks.

Most items on your to-do list will require multiple steps to be completed.  Break these items down into the discrete tasks you will need to do in order to accomplish them successfully. For example, a discussion board assignment will require you to review the discussion prompt, complete the associated reading(s), write an initial post, review peer posts, reply to peer posts, and respond to any replies on your initial post.

It is also important to look ahead and include tasks that are part of larger, long-term assignments. This will help you from procrastinating and getting overwhelmed as formal due dates approach.

Assign tasks within your general schedule.

Start by estimating how much time each discrete task will require. Productivity tends to be highest in small bursts, so consider assigning tasks in 20-30 minute blocks.  You may need to break your tasks down even further to make the time working on them most productive.

Fit the discrete tasks into the weekly schedule that you have outlined for yourself. Reading, watching lectures, and creating outlines are good tasks for the beginning of the week, as you’ll need to complete them to start other assignments and projects. Discussion board and other collaborative obligations work best when spread out throughout the week to keep you regularly engaged.

Be sure to schedule breaks between blocks to help you reset. Breaks can range in length, depending on how much rest your brain needs. Use breaks for tasks that will help you refocus, such as eating a healthy snack, getting in some exercise, or taking time to engage with your pet or a loved one. Try to avoid activities that can lead to prolonged distraction, such as checking social media or watching TV.

Maintain your routine as much as possible. 

Once you have outlined a general schedule, keep that time dedicated to your coursework.  Having a routine will help you remain productive and avoid procrastination.  If you can, assign routine tasks to the same blocks each week so you get used to the rhythm and it becomes second nature.

Be realistic.

If you are not a morning person, don’t schedule yourself to wake up an hour earlier to complete your work. While it may seem that this is available time to fit into your schedule, it is unrealistic to expect that it will be productive if you typically aren’t during those times. Expecting to work on tasks during a lunch break or a child’s soccer practice is only realistic if you can be in a distraction-free space removed from interruptions.


With these quick tips, your study plan will be off to a great start. As long as you keep your schoolwork a priority and stick to the plan, you’ll reap the benefits when grading-time comes around.

Want more insights on managing time as a part-time graduate student? Read this. If you’re a current or former student with other study plan ideas we left out, leave them in the comments!

About the Author

caitlin keller headshotCaitlin Keller is an Instructional Designer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Her primary role involves partnering with teaching faculty to create and develop pedagogically sound courses for online, blended, and face-to-face environments. A former online graduate student herself, Caitlin has a passion for using her experiences and expertise to maximize the potential and success of online learning for both students and instructors.  Outside of work, Caitlin enjoys reading, skiing, and seeing as many musicals as possible.

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