Photo by Drew Coffman

Fail to plan, plan to fail

Introducing project management into exam preparation

Exams are right around the corner and for most students, this calls for all-nighters, Netflix marathons and cramming in last minute notes that seem oddly unfamiliar. We all had our fair share of cooling down a bit after a stressful semester, but this burst of free time is often what catches most students off-guard. Despite no lectures or tutorials being offered, preparing for exams is still quite a workload and will require a constant effort to ward off procrastination. As a student myself, I believe it’s not so much taking the exam that determines the grade, but rather the preparations leading up to it. After all, you can only harvest the effort that you initially placed in. Even during the exam, you might experience a guilt feeling regarding your misuse of time or if you only had gone through the slides one more time, you would have been more prepared. Planning and putting in the time are the key criteria in having a successful exam. This concept shares a similar root when it comes to delivering a large-scale software project on time. One would need to determine how the time and resources are being allocated in order to meet the deadline. So what if we combine these two areas of concepts and arrive with stern conclusion:

Project Management Methodologies + Exam Preparation = Managing how to prepare for an exam in a constrained timeframe

This semester, I had the opportunity to be enrolled in many interesting courses offered within the Software Engineering department. The one that stands out the most, revolved around the concept of introducing project management methodologies and practices to an open-source project. I worked alongside three other students for a period of three months, where we learned how to plan a project, develop documentations and simply how to work as a group to deliver a solution. Yes, that includes writing pages and pages of requirements specifications, design documentations, test reports and all that fun stuff. My personal focus was on shipping fast, in other words, finding opportunities to deliver large sums of content in a short period of time. This was absolutely dependent on how the planning was structured and resources being utilized. In the end, we did manage to finish the project and had the opportunity to share the idea amongst colleagues and faculty members in a form of a presentation. So what if we can apply the same principles in our exam schedule. Two main criteria I would like to extract from the project that were useful, would be scheduling and issue tracking. Scheduling is the act of forecasting the bigger picture. Our domain would include our start date up until the exam date consisting of only milestones to achieve. For most student that have more than one exam, this schedule would be in reference to all the other course’s milestones in order to balance out the study session. Issue tracking is a detailed representation of scheduling, which can be looked as a to-do list with additional parameters. This is the chance to basically plan out which tasks need to be executed and how. For our exam schedule, we can define the tasks as review chapters 1-3 and then break it down to specific sections of those chapters in reference to any lecture slides or practice questions. Furthermore, the course label would help distinguish which task correlate to which course. Note that the issues being created has to fit in the timeframe that has been initialized in the schedule component. It would not make much sense if an issue was assigned for the days, where you are scheduled to review content for another course. Always remember to review your progress and not be afraid to make changes if a certain task takes more time than expected.

Being able to manage time and forecast long-term planning takes a lot of practice, something that can be easily overlooked during exam season. Truth be told, this was also my first year in developing a detailed overview on what I hoped to study. After using it for a few days, I am starting to see my progress and how much more I have left to do to meet my goal. To help you get started with creating your own schedule and issues, I have created two templates on Google Sheets in which you can copy over to your Drive and start customizing.

Scheduling

How to Edit

Open the exam schedule template in Google Sheets, then click File and select Make a copy to add it to your Google Drive for editing.

How to Use

  • Start by replacing the “Course #” placeholder with courses you have exams for in Row 1
  • If you planning to study on a specific day and course, just fill in that cell with what you wish to achieve (ie. Chapter 1–3). This will create a highlight to let you know how busy you will be.
  • To define your exam date, fill in the cell of the specific day and course by writing ‘Exam’. This will create a highlight of a darker color, so you can get an idea on how many study session you might require before the exam date.

Issue Tracking

How to Edit

Open the exam issue tracker template in Google Sheets, then click File and select Make a copy to add it to your Google Drive for editing.

How to Use

  • Create a new issue by filling in the information of task title, what needs to be completed, course label, priority and the corresponding due date. Be sure to be as detailed as you can when describing what needs to be completed.
  • If a task is completed, simply fill in the cell corresponding to the task with a ‘x’ to mark it as complete. Continue on with the next task.
  • You can sort the list depending on the course label, task title and due date.

Changes I’ve made so far

Here are some of the changes I have made this semester, that allowed me to become more productive:

  • Sleep early — Sleep at 10 and wake up early. I can ensure you that no one will be up to bother you.
  • Cheat Sheet — Create a cheat sheet, even if you are not allowed one. Condensing content into a limited space helps to prioritize your focus.
  • Work concurrently to avoid being blocked Pick two courses and work side by side. Working on the same thing for a long time is boring.
  • Be creative — Do something fun and creative during your break. It will help to clear your thoughts and take some stress off.

Good Luck!


Feel the need to procrastinate? Check out my LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub and Blog. Thank you!