Finding More Time in a Day: Tips and Tricks to Get Those Study Hours In

by Mindy Moss, FCAS

Picture this: You have your study materials, and you know your exam date – now all that’s left is to start studying. How are you going to carve out hundreds of hours over the next few months to get that studying in? While I don’t have a perfect answer to that question (because honestly the perfect answer likely only exists in fiction – I’m looking at you Hermione’s time turner), I do have some tips and tricks that have worked for me in the past.

  1. Make a schedule. I know this sounds cliché, but it really helped me. Not only did I schedule how many hours I was going to study each day, but I also added what sections of material I wanted to cover. If I was feeling super ambitious (or if I had a very busy week ahead), I would schedule out my days. Here’s an example of what that might look like:
    Start End Task
    6 7 Gym
    7 7:30 Breakfast with the family
    7:30 8 Get ready for work
    8 12 Work
    12 2 Lunch and study chapter 3
    2 5 Work
    5 6 Go to park
    6 7 Eat dinner with family
    7 7:30 Put kids to bed
    7:30 9:30 Study chapter 4
    9:30 10 Relax...
  2. Set realistic goals for yourself. If you can wake up at 5:30 a.m. and study, go for it! If you’re never going to be a morning person, don’t set yourself up for failure by planning to do something that isn’t realistic. Instead, look for times in the day when you have the most energy and try to squeeze in hours then.
  3. If you really want to change your sleeping habits to study (which I did manage to do for one of my sittings), try habit bundling. Habit bundling is when you do something that you love when you are doing something not so fun. For example, if I want to wake up extra early in the morning to study (the not so fun thing), I might start my coffee the night before and program it to finish at 5 AM. If I’m really feeling like I need the extra motivation, I could make it my favorite flavored coffee as well. Obviously, this example is only applicable if you enjoy flavored coffee, but hopefully it gets the point across.
  4. Find an accountability partner. I had a manager who had “study incentives.” If I met all my study hour goals in a particular week, he would send me a Starbucks gift card (can you see that I’m really motivated by coffee?) This really helped keep me on track. You could also find accountability partners by studying with a group!
  5. Fuel your body. Okay, another cliché piece of advice, but it’s going to be hard to study and stay alert if you aren’t fueling your body appropriately. I’m not just talking about food here. Make sure you’re getting enough water and sleep as well. Study snacks are amazing (my top choices were Peanut Butter M&M’s and Dr. Pepper), but make sure that you’re still eating meals in between study sessions.
  6. Plan to fail. Not fail the exam but fail at getting all your study hours in for a particular week. Things happen; life happens, and sometimes that means de-prioritizing studying. If in your initial schedule you’ve left some days or weeks of “catch-up time,” you won’t feel as stressed when you don’t get through the material you planned for a week.
  7. Last, but not least, find time for you. I know what you’re thinking: “What?! In an article about finding the time to study, you’re recommending that I find even more time? Unlikely…” But hear me out on this one. If you only study, work and take care of things that need to be done, you might lose yourself. If you lose yourself, you’ll be miserable. If you’re miserable, you won’t be able to study well (and honestly, you’ll be miserable, and no one wants that). My most productive study season was after I started going to the gym in the morning. That was my time to focus on self-care and ground myself for the rest of the day. It doesn’t matter what the activity is or what time of day it is (and it can be as little as 5 minutes), but make sure that you take care of yourself during study season too.

My last piece of advice is to not be discouraged if these tips and tricks don’t work for you. These are some things that have worked for me, but everyone is different. If you recently graduated and are transitioning to studying while working full time, check out Beyond Actuarial Problems: Successful Exam Study After Graduation from our March 2022 issue. At the end of the day, experiment with what works for you as an individual, and good luck studying! You got this!