Skills
Productivity
Learning

A Smarter Approach to Study Planning: The GROW Method

04.25.2024

Table of Contents:


In this study planning guide, you’ll learn how to save loads of time by:

  • Staying organized with your studies, especially when taking multiple classes
  • Prioritizing on the most important topics
  • Avoiding one of the biggest time wasters: overstudying topics you already know
  • Making studying fun through this gamified strategy as you watch your knowledge grow consistently. I mean, just look at how satisfying it is to see these trees all turn green over time 🤩.

Introducing the GROW Method:

(This image is taken directly from our Study Quest program, but we’ll teach you how to make your own version in this guide). This is a proven strategy that we’ve tested across thousands of students and gotten amazing results.


You can’t learn everything. And that’s ok…

When I was in medical school, I wanted to master 100% of everything I learned. In an ideal world, I would be that doctor that knew every detail about every disease. But I quickly realized that this was an impossible feat, given the amount of material we had to cover, and having to take exams every other week.

This was about when I discovered the 80/20 Rule: 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. In particular, 80% of my exams involved a core 20% of the material. To get the highest return on my time invested in studying, I needed a way to make sure that I was focused on the most important topics, and not wasting time relearning topics I didn’t need to.

And the G.R.O.W. Method was designed to do exactly this. G.R.O.W is an acronym (if you’re in our Study Quest program then you’ll get the pun here).


G is for Grid: This is how I prioritize my studies by importance first

“The more decisions we have to make, the more likely we are to make no decision at all.” - Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice

Planning our studies using a grid is how we can remove the burden of overthinking and make sure you focus on the most important concepts. It gives us a big picture overview of all the material from our classes.

Step 1: Create a grid calendar or table where you list all the topics for an exam in the left column. You can use any app or tool to create your grid:

  • pen and paper
  • excel or google sheets
  • Notion (I created a basic free template just for this)
  • ipad and stylus
  • or anything you want really

I also created a PDF version of this if you prefer (students who do their note-taking in an Ipad with GoodNotes or Notability have loved this template) Here’s what it looks like:

Step 2: Create 1 grid for every exam. Pull out your syllabus and put all the topics in a column down the left side of your grid.

Step 3: Each time you review a topic, record the date to the right. This will help you keep track of when the last time you visited that topic. And that’s all there is to the grid.

Tying it back to the big picture, this grid will help you:

  1. Stress Less: the feeling of having total control over all your material is such a relief 👌
  2. Make Better Choices: The dates you write down can help you decide what to study next, allowing you to focus on topics you haven't looked at in a while.
  3. Track How You're Doing: As time goes on, you can look at your study records and redirect your attention to the areas that need more help

If you want to take this a step further, we’ve integrated the entire GROW Method into our Extended Brain Notion template so that you can link each review date with specific notes in your Notion system.


R is for Rating System: This is how I keep a reality check on how well I know my stuff

Taking a data-driven approach to our learning makes it easy to systematically improve, and saves a ton of time. This is how professional athletes train: they have coaches and personal trainers that track every number from calories to weights to personal records. Monitoring progress allows them to make better decisions and adapt their training protocols.

Well, think of yourself as a knowledge athlete. And the data that I highly recommend you track is to regularly rate your confidence level of every topic.

  • How well do you actually know this topic?
  • How confident are you in handling this topic if it were to show up on the exam?

Using the “stoplight system”, record your confidence with the topic after reviewing it.

  • red = low confidence
  • yellow = medium confidence
  • green = high confidence

Let’s look at a quick example of what I mean. I have low confidence in the material from lecture 1. I have medium confidence in the material from lecture 2. And I have high confidence in the material from lecture 3. I have not yet looked at lecture 4, so I have no rating for it yet.

But of course, your table is going to realistically look something more like the following. Here is an example from a student using a PDF:

And here is an example from a student using Notion:

How to assess your confidence

Every time you decide to review a topic on your grid, it’s important to use specific study techniques that will truly evaluate your confidence in the topic.

Study techniques that *don’t* accurately measure your confidence (avoid these):

  • passive re-reading of your notes
  • passive re-watching lectures and recordings
  • summarizing long notes into more condensed notes

Study techniques that more accurately evaluate your confidence (do these):

  • Practice Questions: Close your notes and test your knowledge through actively applying
  • Teaching: Quiz yourself, or teach the information to an imaginary audience.
  • Mind Maps: Draw a mind map from memory after studying a topic. This helps you visualize the information and how different concepts are linked

How to rate your confidence

Based on the techniques that you used above, you can now rate your confidence level after reviewing that material. Consider the following reflective questions to help you with this process:

  1. How correct were my answers? Did I recall them confidently, or did I stumble and feel unsure of myself?
  2. What areas are confusing? What happened when I was learning that caused this confusion?
  3. How did I feel about the experience? When and how did this happen?

Remember to record your confidence level after each activity.

To tie this back to the big picture, remember to:

  1. Be Honest: If you don't fully understand a concept or topic, acknowledge it. It’s the first step to improvement.
  2. Be Consistent: Rate your competency on a consistent basis. The more data you have, the more accurate your analysis will be.
  3. Differentiation: Don't just rate your overall understanding of a subject. Break it down into individual topics or concepts and rate your confidence in each.
  4. Use Evidence: Support your self-ratings with evidence of performance. This could be test scores, feedback from teachers or peers, or personal reflections on your understanding.

Advanced Metrics for the Top 1% Student:

Most people will get the majority of benefit from rating confidence alone. If that is you, then feel free to skip past these advanced metrics. But if you’re looking for that extra edge to get ahead, then consider these next two metrics:

Mood Check

Can you focus when feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or bored? - it would be really challenging since learning is a very active process.

Check in with yourself to ensure the right headspace before studying.

Record your mood in the GROW table, and notice any trends in mood that correlate with unproductive study sessions.

  • what seems to trigger these moods?
  • what do you tend to do before study sessions that put you into these moods?
  • what could you do prior to a study session to address your moods?

Here’s an example of a student’s mood recordings:

Focus Time

We want to keep track of how long we've been working so that we know when to take a break. Most people don’t understand that taking strategic breaks will actually improve your endurance, and trying to power through will wear you out quicker.

It’s always rewarding to see your focus time stay consistent over time. It’s even better to see your focus time increase over time, showing that you are building that endurance.

Here are some general guidelines to manage your energy and focus:

  • know when to break. Take at least a 10 minute break every hour of focus, and a longer break after 3 hours.
  • monitor focus stamina long-term for improvement.

Our brain and body usually work in 90-minute cycles (these are ultradian rhythms).

But ultimately, it’s not about how many hours you’ve studied per day. Our goal is to study smarter, not harder. What’s more important is how well you used those hours. What quality of learning were you able to achieve?

Focus Time is about tracking your focus duration during your study sessions. It helps you:

  1. Take more breaks: When you feel a drop in focus or sharpness, take a quick break.
  2. Time your breaks: We don’t want a 5 min break to become 2hrs. Time yourself, and stay disciplined to it.
  3. Physical Activity: During your breaks, engage in some form of physical activity like stretching, a quick walk, or some yoga poses. Physical movement helps clear your mind and reduce stress. Keep your body moving while your brain takes a rest, because when you begin studying again, the brain will be highly active and your body will not.
  4. Rest Your Eyes: If you are studying with a screen, remember to rest your eyes regularly. Use the 20-20-20 Rule: for every 20 minutes of screen time, you should look away at something at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.


Now let’s put all these metrics together:

  • confidence
  • mood
  • focus time

Everything will be recorded and tracked in your GROW table. So if something isn’t working, you’ll be able to immediately spot trends and make adjustments.


O is for Overall Outcomes: What's Your “Study Score card” Saying?

The goal is to have as many topics rated with the color green as possible by exam day (green indicating high confidence).

In an ideal world, if we had all the time we needed, we would GROW our grid to be 100% green by exam day.

But that's not always possible… so we prioritize.

Now let’s look at what that same GROW table would look like if the review sessions were allocated in a smarter way. Notice that all the last dates on each row are green. This is focused on the overall outcome of the grid, rather than on any single topic. This GROW table shows that you’re ready for every topic on the exam.


W is for Weak Spots: How I make sure I’m prepared for any problem they could throw at me

Instead of planning my studies in advance, I focus on reviewing the weakest topic at that moment. I can’t predict ahead of time which topic will require more attention than another. That’s why I use a grid to track my weaknesses.

The topic that needs the most attention at any time would fall into one of these categories:

  1. The one I’m least confident about: I make sure to focus on these so that I can significantly enhance my overall outcomes on the grid.
  2. The high yield topics: These are the most testable and most core concepts. These are the 80/20 topics. I want to make sure to dedicate more time to topics that are most likely to appear on the exam, and dedicate less time to topics that might not appear on the exam at all.
  3. Longest since last reviewed: The longer the time since I last reviewed a topic, the more likely I am to have forgotten some aspects of it.


If there is a red topic in the grid, then I’ll focus on that one first.

If there are multiple red topics, then I’ll choose the ones I haven’t reviewed in the longest time.

By using the GROW grid and consistently recording my dates and ratings, I don’t have to worry about remembering which topics are weak and which ones were last visited. It’s all here, neatly tracked on my grid.


Putting it all together

Here’s a demo of how the entire system works:

Check out our youtube video for more information on the Grow Method: The Ultimate Study Scheduling Tutorial (the GROW method)!

The GROW Method Verdict: Honest feedback from our students:


Pros:

  1. Strategic Approach: It encourages students to assess their understanding and confidence in different topics, allowing them to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Promotes Self-Assessment: These are the most testable and most core concepts. These are the 80/20 topics. I want to make sure to dedicate more time to topics that are most likely to appear on the exam, and dedicate less time to topics that might not appear on the exam at all.
  3. Efficient: By focusing on the 80/20 rule, students can concentrate their efforts on the most important 20% of topics that will yield 80% of their results. This can save time and increase productivity.
  4. Flexible: The method is adaptable to any subject or field of study, making it a versatile study tool.


Cons:

  1. Requires Discipline: The GROW method requires consistent effort and discipline to maintain the grid and regularly assess performance.
  2. Overemphasis on Weaknesses: The method's focus on weak spots may potentially lead to an overemphasis on areas of difficulty at the expense of consolidating strengths.
  3. Potential for Stress: If not managed well, constantly monitoring progress and identifying weaknesses could potentially increase stress levels.


And that’s the GROW method. It’s all about smart planning.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." - Benjamin Franklin

The GROW method is one of the many evidence-based techniques that we teach in the Study Quest program. If you found this helpful, then definitely consider leveling up with our complete study system in the program.

© CAJUN KOI

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