Time to learn: it's never easy to combine work and study and the commonest complaint is lack of time. You can't slow down the clock, but, writes Ruth Prickett, there are ways to ensure you get maximum return on every precious minute.

Author:Prickett, Ruth

When one set of exams finishes, it's natural to heave a sigh of relief and banish your books to the back of the cupboard under the stairs. But this is the best time to conduct a detailed review of how the past few months have gone and plan ahead to ensure that the next exams go as well, or better, than the ones you've just completed. For a start, have a look at areas where you felt rushed or under-prepared. Ask what you could do to improve this before the next sitting.

Is it a question of spending more time practising or revising, or should you book a place on a revision course? If other people in your group find similar areas tough, why not form a revision group? Ask your tutor to go over any particular areas again and ask yourself whether you made the best choice of papers to take together. It is probably unwise to line up two papers that you find exceptionally tough for one sitting.

Think ahead: if you know that next year you will be busier at work, or that in the summer season you'll be playing cricket every weekend, don't opt for the easier papers now and leave yourself with no choice but to take the ones you find hardest later on. Either you'll end up struggling, or you'll have to postpone the sitting, which could be demotivating.

If things went badly, ask yourself why. If you didn't allow enough time, don't just promise to allocate more next time. Look at what stopped you. If it's family commitments or a demanding hobby, what can you do differently? Some people find that they work better early in the morning, especially if they know they will be distracted in the evening. You may need to warn other people that you won't be able to captain a sports team next season, but would be happy to play whenever possible, or ask your manager to let you drop a time-consuming project if it's eating into your study time.

Let friends and family know when you will be free and when you are working--and make it clear that the one depends on the other. Study leave can easily turn into an excuse for endless cups of tea or even work-displacement DIY. Some people find that they work better if they go away on their own for a few days to revise without interruptions.

Tips for time management

  1. Plan the practicalities--for example, arrange for the kids to go out for the day if you need to work at a weekend, or find out whether your flatmates are planning to invite friends over to watch football over a key weekend. If you share a house, it might help to put up...

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