Planning is one of the most important skills students must master, but for those with executive function challenges, this is notoriously difficult. I spend a great deal of time helping students build their own personalized approach to planning, so it actually works for their idiosyncrasies.
“Backwards planning” is a specific strategy I use with students who have long-term projects or upcoming exams/tests. It’s flexible, easy, and powerful. The most important benefit is that it greater empowers long term memory and integration of learning.
1. Get your planner ready (it doesn’t matter if it’s a paper planner, wall calendar, or electronic planner).
2. Plugin the dates and times for your exams or the final due date of the project.
3. Begin to plan study or work sessions backwards from the due date to the current date.
4. Be intentional and as realistic as possible about how much time you devote to each session.
A quick note on motivation: The hardest thing about backwards planning is sitting down and starting. You just do it. The magic is in making the plan, and you don’t have to follow it exactly. Trust me, this skill will help you for your entire life, regardless of what you end up doing. You got this!
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Hello, this is Seth with SethPerler.com, and I am here to talk to you a little bit today about backwards planning. So right now it’s December 2014 and I have a lot of students who are getting ready for finals this weekend. We’re going to be having winter break coming up soon, and as you well know with middle school, high school and college, this is the time to prep for your final exams for the semester. The students that I work with, one of the things in common between all the students that I work with, is that they have trouble planning. This is an executive function issue and you can look at some of my other videos to learn more about executive function. But basically, it’s the brain’s ability to figure out what steps are required in order to order to realistically plan and realistically manage time is very challenging. So one of the things that I do with a lot of these students when it comes time for big projects or when it comes time for exams, is to do what’s called ‘backwards planning’. So here is a calendar I’m about done with and I’m going to kind of show you on this calendar how we might go about doing in backwards planning so this is something that you can apply today. It does take a few minutes, and if you are a student watching this you’re not going to want to do it because it takes extra time upfront, but you probably also know that it will save you time and energy, and effort, and everything in the end. So if you can motivate yourself to do this, this will really save you time and energy. But the problem is that you have to put in the upfront effort, I call this front-loading in order to make it happen.
So anyhow, let me go ahead and tell you how it works. Basically you want to first start out with what all of your exams are. Let’s say that on Friday you have a science exam, and let’s say you have a math exam too. Now whether using a planner on your wall or whether you using Google Calendar or iCal or something like that, or whether you using an actual paper planner, you want to start off with getting the exam written in right away. So let’s say this one is at 2 pm, this one is at 3 pm, whenever it is, get those marked in your planner. Now, you want to get your other exams for the week listed. Let’s say on the 18th you have a LA exam and let’s say that on the 17th you have a social studies exam so you get all your exams written out. Now we’re going to look at how to actually study. What you want to do is you want to get stuff into long-term memory, not short-term memory. Anytime you cram, you’re just getting stuff into short-term memory. Believe it or not, you can study less total time if you break it up into small segments and get more out of it with long-term memory then you would if you just cram the night before. So let’s say that you crammed for 2 hours a night before, then that’s two hours worth of studying. But let’s say that you broke that up into three 30 minutes segments. A half-hour, a half-hour, a half-hour, for three days. You’ll actually get more out of something like that because you’re going to be able to build it as long term memory better. So what we want to do, is let’s say that today’s the 11th, for example. Thursday night you’re probably not going to want to do much studying, but this where we are today, I’m going to start hearing I’m going to go backwards. So for the math and science exam clearly on Thursday night before the exam, I need to study. So, study math for 60 minutes, and study science for 60 minutes. The more specific you can be, you can actually say, study math (for example, in your electronic calendars this is really easy to do,) from 4 to 5 pm study math and study science from 7 to 8 pm. And of course, you can study more, you can study 2 hours a night before, 3 hours a night before, whatever you need, but you’re going to start making a plan. Whether or not you hold to the plan exactly, you’re going to start making one. Obviously the night before, those are the only two we have to study for it because those are the only two we have the next day. Now the LA exam the night before, obviously you’re going to study, let’s say we’re doing 60 minutes, and let’s say that you want to refresh your science and math. So then you’d write to study math, let’s say for the 20 minutes, and study science for 20 minutes. So the total study time is an hour and 40 minutes to sell time to eat, workout, do whatever you do after school, but you’re giving a little bit to the two that are coming up on Friday, and you’re giving a lot to the one that’s coming up the following day. Now if the social studies exam is on the 17th, definitely that’s where our focus is going to be on the 16th. So study social studies for 60 minutes, perhaps we study LA for 30 minutes, and then perhaps we study math and science for just 15 minutes each. That’s a total study time of 2 hours for all of your studying. But your primary studying is going to be your 60 Minutes social studies because that’s what you have the next day.
Then you want to look at the day before, let’s say that your hardest exam is going to be science, perhaps on this day before, on this Monday night, perhaps you’re going to study 60 minutes for science, perhaps we’re going to study 30 minutes for math, perhaps you’re not to study for LA at all that day because you’re going to do a lot on Sunday or something. And let’s say that you’re going to study 30 minutes for social studies. Now on your Sunday, that’s a big day. That’s the day when you should probably get on all of them. So let’s say that you do 45 minutes each. So here is a total of 2 hours of study, here is a total of 2 hours of study, here is a total of an hour and 40 minutes of study, here’s a total of 2 hours of study. On this day, you’re going to have about three hours of studying. Now, you could obviously make it four or five, I don’t know what your situation is but be realistic about it, as realistic as you can be. And again, I’m going to say that over and over and over, if you watch my videos, if you read my blog, you’ll know that it doesn’t matter if you follow the plan exactly, it matters that you make the plan. It’s about intention. When you are intentional, when you are conscious, when you have an awareness, when you’re trying to plan out what you’re going to do that really empowers you, a lot. So, let’s see for Saturday do 45 minutes each. Let’s say you did your Saturday for 45 each also. Again, let’s say that math is the scariest one for you. Maybe on this Friday night, actually, you know, what, on the Friday night after the week before exams, I probably say don’t even think about school. You just finished your week, you’re done. You’re open you’re free. Have a good night, relax do something good for yourself on that Friday night. Don’t even think about it. And maybe on this day, on the 11th, maybe you work on study guides. And maybe you spend 15 to 30 minutes per class again for a maximum of about 2 hours of study.
Now, let’s look at how this is going to pan out in the long-term when we add up how much studying you’ve done for any particular class. Let’s just take math for example. We have 60 minutes here, 20 minutes here that makes an hour and 20 minutes. 15 minutes here, that makes about an hour and 35 minutes. And a half-hour here, that makes about 2 hours. 45 minutes each that makes about 3 hours of math. 45 minutes that makes 3 and a half to 4 hours of math and then maybe with the study guides, maybe you’ve done a total of 4 to 5 hours of math. Over the course of all these days, you’ve collectively spent about 4 hours on math. Now that 4 hours is going to get you into longer-term memory, into real learning rather than at memorization the night before. And here’s how this looks. Let’s say that you have something that you want to remember. This is short-term memory, (I know this is a mess,) long-term memory (enjoy the mess, this is a beautiful thing). If you want to get something from short-term to long-term memory, imagine that you could just spend a huge amount of time cramming. So this method is more of doing a little bit and it’s almost like leapfrogging your memory. You’re building, building, building. It’s much more effective.
So just wanted to go over that. Again, this is called backwards planning. This is generally for middle school, high school, and college students. And it can be for elementary students, particularly if you’re doing for a project. So backwards planning is generally intended for anything long-term, whether it’s studying for an exam or doing long-term projects, whether they be in writing or any other class. So, I think that’s about all I got for you. I hope you’re doing awesome, and I will see you soon. Take care.
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Wow! Another timely video, Seth. We are currently in the throes of planning for science exam and several projects. I think the visual aspect of the calendar planning will help Diego in terms of time.
bonnie perler says
We think you are awesome!!! Love listening to your helpful and meaningful blogs.