Simple steps to backwards plan for the term

Have you ever underestimated the time it takes to complete an assignment or study for an exam? Do you find that no matter how early you start, you don’t have enough time? Backwards planning can help with this.

Here’s how:

  • Assignments and tasks are broken down into manageable tasks
  • Tasks are spread out with enough time for unexpected challenges, like getting sick or getting stuck on a difficult concept
  • You have clear direction for what tasks need to be done and when they're due

Follow along and work through the steps using the backwards planning worksheet (PDF)

3 simple steps to plan backwards

Step 1: Find the deadline. 

When is your assignment due or when will you write the test/exam? You’ll be working backwards from this date.

Tip: Technical difficulties and system glitches happen. Plan to submit your assignment at least a half hour before it’s due. 

Step 2: Break down tasks. 

Break down your assignment or study plan  into separate tasks, starting with the deadline. 

Example 1: Research essay due December 1 

  • Submit
  • Revise, edit and format
  • Go to the Writing and Communications Centre for feedback on essay structure
  • Write the conclusion
  • Write the body
  • Create a thesis statement
  • Create an outline
  • Research
  • Pick a research topic  

Example 2: Chemistry exam on December 8 

  • Write the exam
  • Complete a mock exam
  • See Teaching Assistant (TA) or instructor again for help with practice questions
  • Create and complete practice questions
  • Review what to include in review notes for exams
  • Create course review notes of study concepts
  • Create course review notes of study terms and theories
  • Book an appointment with a Peer Success Coach for help creating review notes 
  • Review lecture review notes 
  • See TA or instructor to discuss concepts I’m uncertain about

Step 3: Assign due dates.

Determine how much time you need for each task. You might choose to arrange your tasks in chronological order or leave them in reverse chronological order.

Example 1: Research essay due December 1

  • Pick a research topic (November 1)
  • Research (November 2-11)
    • Find scholarly sources
    • Read sources
    • Create a reference list/bibliography
    • Synthesize materials (combine information from sources to focus on overarching concepts and think about how they fit together)
  • Create a thesis statement (November 11-12)
  • Write the introduction (November 11-13)
  • Write the body (November 13-24) 
  • Write the conclusion (November 26)
  • Go to the Writing and Communications Centrefor feedback on essay structure (November 26) 
  • Revise, edit format (November 26 – December 1)
    • Revise structure
    • Include more examples
    • Double check formatting for in-text citations
  • Submit (December 1, 11:30 p.m.)

Example 2: Chemistry exam on December 8 

  • See TA or instructor to discuss concepts I’m uncertain about (November 14) 
  •  Review my lecture review notes (November 14-19)
  • Ask Prof or classmates for notes from missed lectures (November 17)
    • Do readings from missed lectures
  • Create course review notes of terms and theories (November 17-20) 
  • Create course review notes of study concepts (November 20-27)
  • Create and complete practice questions (November 27 - December 5)
    • Work through practice questions
    • Check answers
    • Create list of problems to bring to the TA or instructor
  • See TA or instructor again for help with practice questions (December 5)
  • Complete a mock exam (December 6-7)
    • Do a timed practice test
    • Check answers
    • Revisit tough questions and review them
  • Write the exam (December 8)

Tip: Determining how much time to give yourself can be tricky, so don’t hesitate to chat through it with a Peer Success Coach!