How to schedule your time for the A-levels

With the A-levels just around the corner in less than 2 months, we have reached the time of the year where panic among students are common and many students fluster over the amount of work they have to catch up to be ready for the exams. Here are some tips that would help you manage your time to prepare well for the A-levels.

Plan your time

An old adage states that if you fail to plan, you’re really planning to fail. This cannot be closer to the truth, and resounds with the way most successful students plan their out their schedules ahead of time. Instead of planning an elaborated fixed calendar way in advance, use a simple default calendar. Start by filling it up with your regular obligatory commitments; school lessons, CCAs, travelling time, eating time and sleep etc. By charting out these fixed recurring activities, you’d have a clearer idea on the amount of free time available to you for leisure, exercise and studies. A calendar like this becomes particularly useful going into the final months just before the A-levels, where every hour becomes even more precious and time management becomes of utmost importance.

As a guide, here’s a breakdown of an A-level scholar’s calendar:
Total of 168 hours a week
Minus 56 hours sleep (8 hours a day)
Total of 112 hours awake
Minus 13.5 hours of school lessons
Minus 4 hours of church activities
Minus 7 hours of eating (2 meals a day half hour each)
Minus 16 hours travelling (1 hour per trip)
Minus 4 hours of tuition (2 students)
Minus 2 hours of CCA
Minus 5 hours exercising (5 times a week)
Total of 60 hours left for other activities

As you can see from the above, time left for personal study and recreational activities becomes very limited after obligatory activities are deducted. You start out with 168 hours, and are left with just under 60 by the end of it. As a general rule of thumb, try to segment this remaining 60 hours into at least 50 hours studying and 10 hours for leisure activities, bearing in mind that everyone’s capabilities and requirements are different (e.g. some people need more sleep than others).

While it is commonplace at this juncture for some students to forgo activities such as sleep and exercise to squeeze out an extra few hours a week to study, avoid that. Studies and empirical evidence have shown that maximum productivity is achieved through a good balance of rest, exercise and healthy eating. For simplicity, aim for at least 8 hours of daily sleep, 3 hours of weekly exercise, and a diet that consists of a good mix of fruits and vegetables. Remember, more hours do not necessarily equate to more productive hours and pursuing the latter is a smart strategy.

What about those who already have schedules but find them hard to adhere to? Here’s where surrounding yourself with good company will make all the difference. Keep yourself accountable to friends and family who can empathize or are going through the same A-level examination as you. This not only helps you stay in check with each other’s progress, but also provides positive peer influence and support during this much needed period. If you don’t yet have such a group, join one. A good number of students form study groups at this juncture to motivate each other and help each other out with their academic queries and doubts. Don’t fall by the wayside.

Sever all non-essential activities
At this juncture, finishing well is the key. With less than 8 weeks to the A-levels, you only have approximately 400 cumulative hours left to study. This is not the time to lose focus. Instead, cut down on all lightly segmented non-essential activities, no matter how trivial they may seem. Seemingly harmless stuff like a trip to Youtube or Instagram could easily amount to 15-20 hours a week, and saving on that means that much extra time saved for you to study. If you’re always glued to a screen, apps such as Self Control can help you avoid such distractions, and even let you stay longer in the flow.

While many subconsciously equate studying to how many hours they’ve clocked at the study table, the real separation stems from how efficient you are while at it. Focus is the key; and therein lies the difference between the best and the rest. The former don’t just commit time to studying; their energy and attention goes into it to help them absorb mass content in as little time as possible, all while the rest are struggling to keep focus and from getting distracted.

Moreover, it's important to note that our hours are never equal. Renowned author and researcher Tim Harris noted in his book that each of us have certain time periods that are more productive than others. Your goal therefore, is to slot the most brain intensive activities to your most productive periods. Leave rote tasks such as mealtimes to your semi-active hours.

Focus on the result
The last tip on managing one’s time is to focus on the result. The end goal is the final exam for each subject at the A-levels. Anything not relevant to this final exam and not tested in any way therefore becomes a waste of precious time. For Science subjects like Physics, all the topics would be tested. However, for humanities subjects such as history and literature where not every topic would be tested, plan and map out what the likely topics for the 2016 A-levels could be.

In either case however, the emphasis is on solving exam format questions and getting really familiar with it. No other goal should trump this in relevance. This means that the most efficient way to prepare for the exam is to do practice papers over and over. This sharpens the very skill most relevant to the final exam and therefore the most distinguishing factor for grades. As you may have (or will soon) glean from doing exam papers, not every skill taught in school is important for the actual exam; only about 20% of the skills taught in school are actually utilised in the A-levels. For a JC student, distinguishing this 20% of skills will come with experience and doing more practice papers. Getting someone more experienced with the A-levels to distill with you which skills are important may also be a worthwhile investment.

The A-levels will end. While many students fluster at this stage, the tips in this article would put you in steadfast hands if you apply them religiously. Plan your time wisely, cut out your distractions and channel your focus to the most important things. To students taking the A-levels in less than 2 months, constantly motivate yourselves and look to the light at the end of the tunnel. This is just the pain before the balm. Study hard and all the best!

Isaiah Zhao
Isaiah is an education technology writer, currently serving as the head of content at Yodaa. In his free time, he researches on online marketing and education tips.