Keep Calm and Make a Plan (for wine and spirits studies)

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As mentioned in last few posts, I have been bombarded lately by questions about the what, how, when, and even why of studying. I’ve written a lot about study techniques in the past, and last week I tackled the question where to find the time. This week I’d like to offer up some advice on how to plan your studies by taking your gigantic-goal-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow and breaking it down in manageable week-by-week and day-by-day goals.

In other words, this post is about how to create your study plan. Here’s my take on the subject:

Eyes on the prize: The first step is to establish your long-term goal. If you are seriously into the study of wine or spirits, your goal is likely to be a certification exam—but it certainly could be to get accepted into a certain school or program of study, to land a certain job, or just to increase your knowledge. It’s all good, and it’s up to you.

Establish your timeline: A goal needs to have an end date. As Harvey MacKay says, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” Write the end date down and calculate how many days, weeks, and months are left between you and your goal.

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Gather your materials: Before you can complete your plan, you need to know what you are studying. If you are studying for the CSS, CSW, or any other intro- or intermediate-level wine or spirits certification, you will most likely have a text book (or books). If you do not have an assigned text (or pre-made list of sources), you will need to create your curriculum, starting with a list of topics, and then locate the resources (books, periodicals, websites) yourself.

Break it up: Take the number of weeks you have until your goal, and divide by half. This will be the length of your initial study plan with the goal of making it through a first reading of your material. Divide your study materials by the number of calculated weeks. If you have a text book, this should be fairly simple: week 1—pages 1 to 45, week 2—pages 46 to 89, and so on. If you have a list of topics, it could look something like this: week 1—red grapes, week 2—white grapes, week 3—Northern Rhône Valley, week 4—Southern Rhône Valley, and so on. Make a list of your study materials broken down by one-week increments and put a big red star on every fourth week.

Break it down: Take your first week’s study material and divide it more-or-less evenly over six days. For starters, it is best to do this one week at a time. Using a template like this generic weekly study planner like this can help, but plain old notebook paper will as well. At the top of the page, list what you need to cover for the week. Next, fill in your study goals for six days. The seventh day each week can be a free day, or a make-up day for those weeks when life goes wonky (and it will). Having weekly and daily goals will help keep you on track, create checkpoints for the material, and help you to organize your study materials ahead of time. This step is where the magic happens; a six-month journey through a 300-page text book is daunting; a daily goal to read and take notes on three specific pages is easy (easier)..

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Create your study blocks: Ideally, you should schedule one or two “long” study blocks each day (for 30 minutes to one hour) at the same time each day. One in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening is ideal, but you are going to have to look at your available time during the week and create some study time. In addition, schedule at least three “short” (10-minute study) blocks each day. Click here for advice on how to find the time to study.  Note: it has always worked best for me to schedule in the specific time slots for each study block week-by-week. It’s one of my “things to do” every Sunday morning.

For the longer study blocks: You have three goals for the first half of your study plan: (1) read through the materials, (2) take notes on (or highlight) the materials, and (3) make flashcards or notecards from the materials. Your focus should be on discovering the material and grasping the “big picture” of the subject matter. Use your longer study blocks to progressively plow through the material—at least until you have covered the assigned pages/topics for the day. (At the end of this first half, you’ll create a new plan for the second half of your timeline that will include revision, repetition/memorization drills, critical thinking exercises, and practice tests).

For the shorter study blocks: Use the first short study block of the day to review your latest new reading material. Use the second to do some follow-up research on topics you are not clear on, or some background research to create context and deeper meaning/understanding of the material. Use the last one to go through your ever-growing stack of flashcards or note cards.

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Notes to yourself: As you complete your study blocks, jot down a quick note to yourself—just a few words—about what you covered on your study planner. For your longer study blocks, record what chapters, pages, or references you read or reviewed. For the short blocks make a quick note of what activity you completed (for instance; reviewed chapter 1, researched the Gironde River, studied flashcards from chapter 6).

The routine: Having a study block at the same time each day has a myriad of benefits: your schedule is easy to memorize, you can create a routine, and you will develop a positive habit.

Here’s the hard part: Stick to the schedule—there’s not much point in making a study plan if you don’t stick with it (so much easier said than done). However, as life has a tendency to get in the way of even the best of plans, give yourself a break. Remember those big red stars you placed on your schedule every four weeks? If you can make up any study lags or losses by the end of each four-week period, you should consider yourself a study schedule success story!

Do you have any ideas for creating a study plan? Let us know!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

2 Responses to Keep Calm and Make a Plan (for wine and spirits studies)

  1. Bob Hart says:

    Ello Jane- thanx for all the informative email. – I can only express what worked for me when I studied for csw/css – before the webinar began I would make a file folder for each segment of the class – also I allowed myself 9 months of studying before taking the exams; having a deadline instills motivation- so for csw I made 12 files and everything pertaining to that segment would go in the file flash cards downloads all pertinent info. When the webinar ended for the entire class I attacked each folder and did not read any novels/newspapers just the subject matter. I had a study buddy (my wife) and pounded away reading each chapter in case I missed some smidgeon of info the I would study 4 files every day and rotating them from 1-4 then 5-8 then 9-12 for csw until I got to the point where the info was becoming garbled so I said damn the torpedoes and made a date for the exam – I worked this system 7 days a week ; it’s quite a job – I must have made about 3000 flash cards but they helped – just wanted to let you know my study habits – stay away from the subject and it’s easy to forget – cheers and again many thanx for everything- ticker Hart

    Sent from my iPhone

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