Creating a study schedule

One of the things that students enjoy most about Athabasca University is the flexibility that online learning provides. However, course flexibility can also present challenges for learners. It’s easy for study schedules to slip when life becomes busy.

Review your course schedule

Many courses include a study schedule that is typically laid out for 6 months with some courses providing a 4-month schedule. If you are on a 4-month schedule, you will need to condense the 6-month schedule to ensure you complete it on time. You need around 15 hours of study time each week for each course you are registered in. Plan for about 3 hours of study per day, 5 days a week. Plan for about 2 hours of study per day if you plan to study 7 days a week. Here are some more helpful tips on creating a semester study schedule.

Select a scheduling tool

There are many different scheduling tools available. Pick one that works for you. For a ready-to-use solution, consider this downloadable Excel scheduling tool. To make optimal use of this template, you’ll want to apply the following steps:

  1. In column A, enter the start date of your course. Ensure the schedule reflects the number of days available in keeping with your course contract, which may be 4 months or 6 months. Create a schedule for each course you are enrolled in using the tabs at the bottom of the worksheet.
  2. In columns B and C, divide up the number of reading pages and assignments over the number of days available.
    • Note: you may find it helpful to fill in column E when filling in column B and C.
    • Schedule reading and assignments for 80 per cent of your available days, leave 20 per cent availability for review, research, assignment prep, etc.
  3. In column D, list the reading title and source for your reference.
  4. In column E, identify the number of assignments required for the course and insert them at reasonable intervals to get feedback as you progress through the course.
  5. In column F, identify the number of exams in the course and insert them. Schedule the midterm exam halfway through the course, and plan for a final exam toward the end of your contract.
    • Go back to column B, clear some days before the exams (up to 7 for a final exam) for review and exam preparation.
    • Also, in column F, insert a deadline note at least 20 days (about 3 weeks) before each exam to submit an Exam Request form. Insert a note to contact the invigilator you plan to use to schedule the time, date, and place for writing each exam.
  6. Insert a deadline note at least 30 days (about 4 and a half weeks) before your course end date for submitting a Course Extension Request form ONLY if you need one.
  7. Take your schedule and input it into your phone calendar with timed alerts, this way you will get reminders prior to your deadlines and due dates.
  8. Insert a deadline note At least 30 days before your course end date for submitting a Course Withdrawal form only if necessary. Note, this option is only available under certain circumstances. A “W’ for ‘withdrawal’ will appear on your transcript rather than an “F.” Contact your tutor to learn more.

Review and repeat

Repetition is the key to learning. It is advised to study in 20-minute increments before taking a short 5-minute break. A digital timer (sometimes called a Pomodoro timer) is a fantastic way to manage your study time. Be sure to review learning objectives systematically, and at the end of each page, ask yourself:

  • “What is this page about?”
  • “What did I learn from this page?”
  • “How does this relate to the previous pages?”

Before starting the next study period, review what you studied in the previous period and before starting tomorrow’s new material, review what you studied today.

Working with calendars

Using a schedule may initially seem over-restrictive but persist and soon you will realize that you are achieving your goals, that you are succeeding.

A few tips:

  • Smart phone/tablet apps for study skills and time management can be excellent tools.
  • Once you've established a practicable routine, work just a bit ahead of your scheduled assignments; that way, when unexpected things come up, and they will, you'll still be on track.
  • Do keep in mind you will need a 5–10-minute break each hour to maintain your focus.
  • However, you divide your study week, treat that time as seriously as you do your job or your sleep time.
  • Keep paper and pen by your bed; they are invaluable for recording thoughts that may otherwise steal your sleep time.
  • Never leave home without some portion of your coursework that you can review. Think about the 10–30-minute wait you have at the bus stop, in the doctor's office, after hockey practice, etc.


We have created a few hard-copy planners for you to print to help you keep track of your tasks. Also see tip list above, re: time management apps and tools.


Avoiding procrastination

Procrastination, the bug that bites AU students!

by Julia McDonald

Ever been bitten by the procrastination bug? Its venom causes you to put off or avoid studying or completing assignments. If so, you are not alone! Procrastination has plagued the lives of many AU students at one time or another, some students are chronic sufferers. Casualties of this affliction reported feelings of guilt, increased anxiety and stress, poor performance on exams and assignments, and repeated extensions. If not treated properly, chronic procrastination can lead to low grades, failure, uncompleted courses, suspension of funding, even withdrawal from university

This menace has afflicted the lives of AU students long enough; inoculate yourself with these remedies:

  • Do a profit/loss statement. List what you have gained and lost by putting the task off: What do I gain by not studying for my accounting exam? What do I lose? Seeing it in black and white will help you see the benefits of getting it done.
  • Put it in writing. Make a contract with yourself. Write on an index card that you will complete the assignment by a certain date. Sign it and show it to your partner, children, friends, co-workers. They can provide encouragement, even a little nagging to help you get the assignment completed; post the contract in a prominent place as reminder.
  • Get time wise. Set priorities; do the most important projects first. Break projects into smaller, more manageable sections and set a deadline for each one; be realistic in what you can accomplish. Use to-do lists and schedules. Study in small blocks of time, taking a short break every hour. If you find a task unpleasant, divide your study time into several 25-minute blocks. A helpful time management tool that you can use is the Pomodoro Technique. An effective way to keep track of your time is with the Tomato Timer.
  • Reward/celebrate. As you accomplish each task, (e.g., write an outline for a term paper) reward yourself. Spend an hour playing with your kids, watch TV, rent a movie, or take a hot relaxing bath. When you get the paper written, celebrate by treating the family to dinner, to a movie, or just you and your partner go out. Do something fun. You deserve it. You got the job done!
  • Get help if needed. Contact an AU advisor for more techniques on overcoming procrastination and other study skill issues.

Stick with it!

Determination, perseverance and self-discipline are the most significant factors for success in online learning.

What distinguishes successful from unsuccessful online learners is what you do on days you do not feel like studying. If you return to your studies regularly, you are more likely to succeed in an online learning environment even when you don’t feel like it. Remember the following tips for success:

  • At the end of each week, review the material studied in the previous 5 to 7 days.
  • At the end of each month, review material studied during the last month.
  • Before each exam, complete a thorough review of course material up to that time.

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Contact our Counselling Services team to discuss study skills and time management techniques to help you succeed.

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Updated March 06, 2024 by Digital & Web Operations (