How to Get Rid of Study Backlogs

Five Parts:Don't press panicMaking a planGetting organizedGetting stuck into clearing the backlogSitting the exam post catching up

Backlogs in your studies are unhelpful at best and extremely worrying at worst. You're not sure whether you've read what you need to have read or covered the topics thoroughly when a backlog pile awaits your attention. To get on top of your study backlogs, try the suggested solutions outlined in this article, including preparing a list, finding the materials and getting stuck in.

Part 1
Don't press panic

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    Stay calm. Panic is your enemy and can cause you to give up before you even start. Remind yourself that you can dig yourself out of the mess of being behind in your studies. It requires directed thinking, a willingness to really dig in and study harder for a time and an acceptance that you're not going to be as thorough as you'd have been by keeping up but you can be broadly informed.
    • Realize that being organized will be a bit part of getting the backlog cleared. Spending time on planning and organizing is not dead time––it's absolutely essential.
    • Be prepared to prioritize. The works that matter most must get your attention first; peripheral items can be worked through should there be sufficient time left.

Part 2
Making a plan

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    Make a plan. List out all the study arrears first. Choose a form of order that works best for you and makes sense. Then, organize them "difficulty" wise, namely, place the easiest subject through to the most difficult subject in your list. Or, organize them semester wise. By having a sense of what is easiest through to what is hardest, you can begin to make sensible choices about how you allot your time and whether it's feasible to attempt the harder stuff at this late stage or to aim for greater achievements in the easier things.
    • Within the harder topics, select the easier materials. They may be all you have time for but an ability to show a basic grounding in the harder materials is better than to prove you know nothing at all because you failed to even read the easy material. Assessors will still give you marks for basic knowledge but they'll also know when you haven't learned anything at all.

Part 3
Getting organized

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    Gather the needed materials. Find out whether you have the notes, books and materials for the subjects. If not ,collect them from your friends who have already cleared that subject or who are more organized than you. Make photocopies, print-outs, digital files, etc. Visit the library if possible, for articles and textbooks you don't have but need. If you have online library access, set aside some time to do very pointed research to download key articles and chapters that will inform your revision catch-up.
    • When doing fast research, do not allow yourself to be waylaid by interesting but tangential subject matter. You simply don't have time; stick to the basics and what needs to be covered only.
    • Collect previous semester / year question papers for the subjects. You may get them from your college library or the Internet. If there are practice exams or previous exams, get copies of these. You can see from working through these what you know and don't know and the sorts of things that will be likely to come up in your own exams.

Part 4
Getting stuck into clearing the backlog

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    Find out who else is taking the same subject(s). This might be someone from your class, someone who has previously taken it or someone who is knowledgeable about the subject matter in general. Ask them for help, especially from friends and seniors who have already passed in those subjects. Ask them to explain the whole or part of a subject. Ask them questions about their research and revision progress to help guide yours; if they've taken the exam before, ask them about that too.
    • If possible, go for private tuition. Tell the tutor how behind you are and that you need help with fast tracking your revision. Be prepared to put in extra time for tuition and follow up.
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    Clear the decks and focus solely on catching up and revising. Cancel appointments, call off outings and make room for your backlog flurry. However, don't fret and don't make it all about work. Take breaks and remind yourself often that you can, and will, do it.
    • Focus on that which matters, not on harder work. You are not in a position to shine at this point, but you are in a position to get the solid information learned and remembered, so that you can prove your grasp of the basics.
    • Build on what you already know. You already know many things. As you read through the new information, relate what you're newly learning to what you already know, so that it quickly makes more sense to you.
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    Try to reduce the time spent on all other activities and spend more time reading. You don't have time to re-read, so as you go, note down pertinent points quickly and in your own words. Using your own words helps the concepts and ideas to stay stuck in your mind for recall.
    • Do not read word for word, page for page. Be prepared to read quickly and to pull out the most pertinent areas of the books and articles rather than a leisurely read of the whole article. It is important to get the main points, not dig deeper at this stage.
    • Keep a separate notebook or paper pile for each subject.
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    Try to condense the whole subject into few pages (20) of A4/printer paper size sheet printouts. Once you have the core essence of the subject, it becomes much easier to revise just before the exam and it gives you a sense of fulfillment that you've at least covered the basics, enough to draw together these twenty pages.

Part 5
Sitting the exam post catching up

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    Be realistic about your chances. Most of all, aim to pass. This probably won't be the time for distinctions or even credits but you can aim to pass, with the coursework covered sufficiently through addressing all of the basics.
    • Most pass marks require 50 percent but your school may vary on expectations; find out in advance and be prepared to meet at least that.
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    Give it a go. Other people have been where you are time and again and it will no doubt be something that happens for time immemorial. When the exams are over, use the experience to spur you onto being more organized and timely for future subjects, so that you're not stuck in this messiness again.


  • Nutshell notes can help you cram for entire subjects when you haven't a clue where to begin. Many academic booksellers carry such notes for a variety of subjects.

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Categories: College and University Study Techniques