Studying can be a mess – with so many subjects to handle and so much information to cover, you can feel totally overwhelmed.

What you may not have thought of is using timed study to help keep yourself in check.

So, let me take you through how and why you should do timed study!

Why should you time your study?

Studying under timed conditions can be very helpful, for a whole bundle of reasons!

Reason #1: Timed practice for exams

First of all, exams are held under timed conditions so the practice of having timed pressure for practice questions is a good learning experience.

Reason #2: Keeps you motivated

There’s also the nature of timed study – having a time limit for your study will help make you motivated to be effective.

This is mostly because having a strong schedule for study, especially if it’s one that has enough break time, can really help keep you sane by giving you a sense of control and self-direction.

Reason #3: It keeps your on schedule

To cap it all off, timed study allows you to compartmentalise – by scheduling yourself to change subjects after a break, you can keep yourself fresh.

That’s more helpful the more difference you have between your subjects. If you can use timed study to totally switch gears to a different way of thinking, you can really maximise your study potential.

So how does times study work?

It’s surprisingly easily!

Step 1: Decide your time limit for study blocks

This step is pretty easy if you’re doing something like a practice exam – NESA prescribes time limits pretty clearly, so just steal them.

It can be a bit tougher in a general circumstance – how long should you set your time periods before taking a break?

A good starting point is the Pomodoro method, which involves separating study into 25-minute blocks separated by 5-minute breaks. Each 25/5 session is called a “pomodoro”, and each set of 4 pomodoros followed by a longer break of around half an hour.

The handy thing about this is since it’s an established study method, there are purpose-built apps timing your pomodoros.

But what if 25 minutes just doesn’t sound like enough for you?

That’s cool. For me, trying to fit my timed study into 25 minutes wouldn’t have been effective. With the set of subjects I was taking, oftentimes 25 minutes would be insufficient.

So I basically extended the Pomodoro method into a longer-form session.

Step 2: Decide the frequency of your study blocks

During my HSC year, I’d spend 2 hours solid studying and put an entire subject to bed – then I’d take half an hour off.

I didn’t time the half hour strictly – instead I would make a cup of tea and then watch an episode of a TV show or anime to blow off steam.

I’d only do this twice a night, so basically two study blocks that were one hour each. 

Yes – that means I only studied two subjects a night. But with seven nights in a week, that’s 14 slots to fill. I only had 4 different subjects, so that worked out for me. If I took Saturdays off, I could do each subject 3 times a week.

Step 3: Decide when you should take a break

Focusing for 2 hours straight isn’t for everyone, so maybe you’ll do best to pull it back to 45 minute sessions, or whatever works for you.

Experiment a little bit to know what your maximum time is, and work around that.

Note: The most important part is to remember, whatever the length of your session, you should pair it with breaks around 20% of that length.

Step 4: Decide which subjects to study each night

Once you’ve decided on a time structure, try and pair up subjects that work well together.

I always liked to swap between Maths and French as a set, and Chemistry and English.

I found that swapping between subjects that utilised different skills helped to maximise my potential. It’s up to you what you want to do, but that’s my recommendation.

Step 5: Time to set your mind to it!

Now you’re all ready to go! If you’re using the Pomodoro method as-is, check out the list of apps on the link up above.

If you’d like to change up your schedule a little bit, either set up an elaborate system of alarms on your phone or net yourself a kitchen timer and set it manually.

What about timed practice exams?

Longer-form timed study can be more difficult – most people aren’t used to keeping their heads down over an entire 3 hour exam.

So it can be helpful to do practice exams in groups, or ask a parent to supervise to help maintain the atmosphere.

There you have it – timed study is a powerful technique you can use to optimise your performance at home.

By both limiting the time you have to study and scheduling yourself a good amount of breaks, you can really put yourself into a positive situation. Work smarter, as well as harder!

Now set out and time your study!

Looking for some extra help with your HSC studies?

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Matt Saunders is a huge nerd who first got into writing through fanfiction. He’d known science was the path for him since a young age, and after discovering a particular love of bad chemistry jokes (and chemistry too), he’s gone onto to study Forensic Chemistry at UTS. His HSC in 2014 was defined in equal parts by schoolwork and stagecraft, which left him, weirdly enough, with a love of Maths strong enough to inspire him to tutor any level, along with 7-10 Science and HSC Chemistry.