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One of the main issues I have when it comes to studying is that I don't have a tangible goal. At school, if the teacher says "hand it in this paper tomorrow", you know that when you finish the paper, you're done. And, you know where to start (look for information, make a plan, etc.)

But studying is different, because:

  1. If the subject is broad or if you don't remember it very well, you don't know where to start. Do I start reading about the subject, or do I go straight to the exercises and hope for the best?
  2. You don't know when you're done. You can never get enough practice for an exam, because they are all different and something new might come up.
  3. It's a long term process, not a one-afternoon thing. Therefore, it's hard to divide the whole thing into smaller tasks.

So my question is: how does one set goals or milestones when studying?

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One good method is designing from the future:

  • In order to have final goal Z on date D26, subgoal Y needs to be met on date D25 - etcetera
  • The process is not nessarily lineair in task (it is in time), if A and B are requirements for C, you plan A-B-C or B-A-C.

This method gives you the advantage that at any date you planned, you can check if you're still on schedule, and tweak your schedule.
When other people are involved/concerned it will also show you the earliest possible moment where you realize (when you are honest) that you are not going to make Z on date D26. You can then
a) Reschedule
b) Contact those people to tell them you're going to be late
c) Tell them when the task(s) will be done based on the new schedule.

BTW I disagree with your three 'counter' arguments:

"It's hard to divide the whole thing into smaller tasks". They don't have to be about content, you can always define simple to-do tasks like "Read chapters 1 though 3".

"You don't know when you're done" Yes you do recognize the moment when you know enough based on the experience you have gained so far. You cannot plan for unknonw 'new things', so why bother.

"You don't know where to start". You can ask, don't do everything on your own. Then just start. If you took the 'wrong' approach start differently. This will happen, so plan for it.

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These are all things which I used to do all time:

1) Check the old exam papers and spend some time on teaching scheme & exam pattern.

2) Prepare a plan about what kind of topics and subjects have been asked in past. Try to figure out average weight-age of topics.

3) Depending on weight-age prepare a plan, which topics you will complete first and which amount of time should be spent on which topic.

4) Stay focused about your goal. If you are giving any exam there must be reason behind it. Try to figure out that reason, and put emphasis on its importance.

5) Once you have started first step keep going on with steady pace, keep practice it. Whenever you got boared, think about your goal. why you are doing this and how important its for your happy life.

6) After spending some time with this kind of dedication, you will become expert of your topic. It will give peace and joy to your self.

best of luck for your future :)

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