Semestrial Planning

Charles Emmrys PhD

Thinking Behind this Approach

The idea of semestrial planning is to put in visual form the work schedule for the semester for all courses so that the entire semester’s work is accessible at once. This accomplishes three objectives. They are:

  1. The key to a good semestrial work schedule is to know what is due at what time. Your semestrial plan gives you that information at a glance.
  2. Semestrial plans allows for a day by day work schedule allowing student to know just what they should be working on each day of the semester and when each task should be completed. This gives the student more control of the academic process. The more in control you feel, the less anxiety you feel.
  3. To see the work schedule each day preps your unconscious for focussing on the work at hand. As such, it is a good way to combat procrastination and last minute cramming.

How do you Draw it Up

Semesters in university are typically thirteen weeks long. Lengths vary for spring or summer semester courses.

Find or draw up graph paper that allows you to have a column for listing your courses and then a column for each day. The graph would look like this for a fictitious 16 day semester:

Planning table, blank

Next you fill in your agenda by putting in the exams, essay due dates or lab due dates. This should all be provided in the syllabus that your prof will hand out in the first week.

The schedule now looks like this:

Planning table, filled out

X = Exam

E = Essay

L = Lab Report

Finally, you fill in the study or writing time that will be needed for lab report writing (three days) for exam study (two days) essay writing (four days).

But here is the trick. You cannot be doing more than two prep or writing activities at once. So if you follow this rule, watch what happens to the schedule.

Planning table, managed

Study Exams = S X

Essay Writing = S E

Lab Writing = S L

By following the no more than two projects or exam studying activities at any one time, you notice how you started essay writing for the English essay the first day and finished it on day 4 even if it was only due on day 8. That means that this demanding activity was out of the way before the stress of midterms was on you. You will also note that on days 9 and 10, there was simply no way to avoid tripling on project work. Those are realities of student life but you can see that if you finish something ahead of time, you can give your other tasks the time they deserve.

As you gain experience with university level courses, you will begin to get a sense as to how much time is needed to research and produce reports and essays. Until you get that sense, give yourself one day per page.

Semestrial planning means that during each day, you should be able to see clearly what work you need to be focussing on. Since a semester is never 16 days but closer to 90 or 95 days, your graph paper would have to be 40 to 70 centimeters wide to be practical. Pasting lined pages together end to end does the trick.

Then What do You Do With It

I recommend that you scotch tape the semestrial plan at eye level above your desk or work space. Having your desk against a wall allows you to paste it up so that every time you raise your head, it is there doing its work in your subconscious.


Good semestrial planning allows you to be more rested and get higher marks. But semestrial planning does not replace good note taking techniques or good essay writing plans. It does not replace good relaxation strategies either. But it does make all of the above more effective and gives you a higher quality of live as a student.

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