Studying is tough. Whether you’re a veteran student getting a Ph.D. or someone starting high school, figuring out how to stay focused while studying is a challenge that we all face. Whether your biggest challenge is social media, procrastination, time management, or a combination of all three, we’ve got a variety of tools and techniques that can help minimize the stress of studying and keep you focused on what matters.
How to stay focused while studying, a guide:
1. Find a suitable studying environment.
Your bedroom or classroom isn’t always the best possible place. Find a nice, quiet place with a large, comfortable chair, like your sitting room, preferably without a television, a computer or a cell phone within your reach. Don’t overthink about social media and try staying away from social media. The library is usually a nice place to study because it’s quiet. Perhaps your parents’ office is another potential location, provided it’s quiet and offers few distractions.
2. Schedule downtime.
No matter how much you have to study, it’s important to that you schedule downtime into your study sessions. Self-control and mental energy are finite resources that will finally run out as the day goes on. It’s important to schedule small breaks to check Facebook, look up a question that was off-topic, or grab some coffee to prevent burnout and keep you focused for longer. Also, having a small reward to look forward to at the end of each session can help you stay motivated.
3. Have Everything Ready
There is an old adage that states, ‘Well begun is half done. Even before you spend the night before an exam getting ready, you should also spend the days before the night before getting ready. The night before an exam is not the time to hunt up that book from the library your instructor insisted you look over. Everything you need to prepare for the exam should be available for your use the night before so you can make the best use of your time.
4. Write down your worries.
Will I do well on this exam?
What if I forget the key concepts and equations?
What if the exam is harder than expected?
These kinds of thoughts probably run through your head before you take an exam. But if these thoughts run wild, the accompanying anxiety can affect your grades.
Here’s the solution …
In one experiment, researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that students who wrote about their feelings about an upcoming exam for 10 minutes performed better than students who didn’t. The researchers say that this technique is especially effective for habitual worriers.
Psychologist Kitty Klein has also shown that expressive writing, in the form of journaling, improves memory and learning. Klein explains that such writing allows students to express their negative feelings, which helps them to be less distracted by these feelings.
To be less anxious, take 10 minutes and write down all the things related to the upcoming exam that you’re worried about. As a result of this simple exercise, you’ll get better grades.
5. Simplify, summarize, and compress the information.
Use mnemonic devices like acronyms, as these are proven to increase learning efficiency.
Example .1 If you want to memorize the electromagnetic spectrum in order of increasing frequency, you could use this acronym/sentence:
Raging Martians Invaded Venus Using X-ray Guns
(In order of increasing frequency, the electromagnetic spectrum is: Radio, Microwave, Infrared, Visible, Ultraviolet, X-rays, Gamma rays.)
Example .2 Stalactites and stalagmites – which ones grow from the top of the cave and which ones grow from the ground?
Answer: Stalactites grow from the top, while stalagmites grow from the ground.
Study smart by using mnemonic devices whenever possible. In addition, you could summarize the information into a comparison table, diagram, or mind map. These tools will help you learn the information much faster
6. Use flow charts and diagrams
Drawing diagrams will help you to visualize information that would be hard to describe. This creates a visual memory in your mind which can be recalled in an exam. Visual aids can be really helpful when revising. At the start of a topic, challenge yourself to write down everything you already know about a topic – and then highlight where the gaps lie. Closer to the exam, condense your revision notes into one-page diagrams. Getting your ideas down in this brief format can then help you to quickly recall everything you need to know during the exam.
7. Speak Out Loud Instead of Simply Reading
You’re more likely to remember something if you speak it out loud instead of simply reading it over and over.
Although this may make you look a little crazy, give it a go! You will be surprised how much more you can remember when you’ve said it out loud. Warning: Don’t try this in a crowded library!
8. Study multiple subjects each day, rather than focusing on just one or two subjects.
It’s more effective to study multiple subjects each day, than to deep-dive into one or two subjects.
For example, if you’re preparing for exams in math, history, physics, and chemistry, it’s better to study a bit of each subject every day. This approach will help you to learn faster than by focusing on just math on Monday, history on Tuesday, physics on Wednesday, chemistry on Thursday, and so on.
Because you’re likely to confuse similar information if you study a lot of the same subject in one day.
So to study smart, spread out your study time for each subject. In so doing, your brain will have more time to consolidate your learning.
9. Arrange a Study Group or Find a Study Buddy
The chances are very high that you are not the only one preparing for the same exam the night before. Find someone or a group of someones that you trust to stay on task and want to do well and study with them. It is best to arrange this ahead of time, but this can be a highly effective way of preparing for an exam. It makes the best sense, however, to keep the number small and to work with people who might be slightly higher performing than you are in class.
10. Block distracting websites + apps on your phone, tablet, and computer
If you’re like most of us, distracting websites and apps can be the death of any productive, focused studying session. You sit down to study and before you can even begin, you get a notification or a headline that catches your eye. Seemingly small distractions like these quickly steal minutes and then hours. On average, it takes 23 minutes to refocus on your work once interrupted.
Luckily, using a site blocker like Freedom can make all the difference. Freedom allows you to temporarily block distracting sites and apps across your Mac, Windows, and iOS devices. Select what sites or apps you want to block while studying, choose your devices, select for how long, and voila – all your worst distractions are blocked. With Freedom, you can even schedule recurring blocks that align with your scheduled study sessions to help make focusing a habit.
11. If you don’t snooze, you lose.
Make time for sleep. To work at your best, you need your rest. For young adults, that’s typically seven to nine hours. It can be hard to get to sleep when you’re feeling stressed or have had your brain switched on all day studying. Unwind before bed by taking advantage of free mindfulness meditation apps like Headspace or Australia’s recently revamped Smiling Mind. If you find yourself thinking about your work, jot it down on a notepad for the morning.
12. A fit body helps a fit mind
Exercise regularly. Choose whatever you enjoy most – going for a walk, run, swim, yoga, dance class, or visiting the gym. Exercising with a friend can make the activity more fun, as well as providing additional motivation.
13. Try the Pomodore Method of Productivity
The Pomodoro Technique is perfect for splitting your study sessions into manageable chunks of time. It’s simple – select one task to work on, set a timer, work until it rings, and then take a break.
Only you can decide what time range works best for you, but generally, the Pomodoro Technique requires you to work for 25 minutes on a singular task, completely uninterrupted. Once the timer rings, take a three- to five-minute break. Then, complete the cycle three more times before taking a 25-30 minute break. This helps prevent burnout and keeps you focused, motivated, and on-task.
*Pro-tip: You can use Freedom to help block distractions during your 25-minute intervals so that you won’t be tempted to exit your Pomodoro session for Facebook or email before it’s ended.
14. Take regular study breaks.
When your brain is working, you need to take regular study breaks to help your brain absorb more information but also to keep you motivated and focused when you are working. Take a short break after 45-50 minutes of study as your focus and concentration will become impaired after this period, anything new after 1 hour 30 minutes does not get assimilated.
15. Listen to the Correct Type of Music
In our blog post “Music for Studying: 10 Tips to Pick the Best Study Music” we looked into the area of how the correct types of music can lead to more productive studying by elevating your mood. Have you made your Mozart Spotify playlist yet?
16. Reward yourself at the end of each study session.
Before starting a study session, set a specific reward for completing the session. By doing this, you’ll promote memory formation and learning.
The reward could be something as simple as:
- Going for a short walk
- Eating a healthy snack
- Listening to your favorite music
- Doing a couple of sets of exercise
- Playing a musical instrument
- Taking a shower
Reward yourself at the end of every session – you’ll study smarter and learn faster.
17. Focus on the process, not the outcome.
Successful students concentrate on learning the information, not on trying to get a certain grade.
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s research shows that these students …
- Focus on effort, not the end result
- Focus on the process, not on achievement
- Believe they can improve – even in their weak subjects – as long as they put in the time and hard work
- Embrace challenges
- Define success as pushing themselves to learn something new, not as getting straight A’s
Not-so-successful students tend to set performance goals, while successful students tend to set learning goals.
What’s the difference between these two types of goals?
Performance goals (e.g. getting 90% on the next math test, getting into a top-ranked school) are about looking intelligent and proving yourself to others.
In contrast, learning goals (e.g. doing three algebra problems every other day, learning five new French words a day) are about mastery and growth.
Most schools emphasize the importance of getting a certain exam score or passing a certain number of subjects. Ironically, if you want to meet – and surpass – these standards, you’d be better off ignoring the desired outcome and concentrating on the learning process instead.
18. Don’t Stay Up All Night Before an Exam
Make sure to get adequate rest the nights leading up to your exams. When you sleep, your brain assimilates the information you have learned when studying so getting a good night’s sleep will help you remember those pesky maths formulas you need for your exam!
19. Go Offline
Unless there is some vital reason you need to be connected to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and so on, you should consider dropping off the face of the World Wide Web for a few days. It might start with the need to google the name of something that might be on the exam and end two hours later with you laughing over a cat video and hating how you got sucked down yet another rabbit hole. For the 12-24 hours leading up to the exam, the only thing you should be focused on is the exam. Everything else can wait.
20. Get Motivated.
Meditation is one of the study methods that can help students stay focused when studying. Not only will meditation help you concentrate when studying but it will help reduce pre-exam stress as it improves both mental and physical health. If you do your revision well and prepare for the exam, you will do fine. Get to a point with your revision so you can enjoy the exam when it happens. Do not think that the exam is a big deal, think of it as something to challenge your learning.
- Set a goal for yourself, even if it’s a bit unrealistic. Push yourself to do better than what you think you can do, and who knows, maybe you’ll surprise yourself.
- Motivate yourself with a reward. This takes a bit of self-control, so ask someone in a position of authority to help you out if you need help. Give yourself a reward if you study well, feel prepared, and do well on the test.
- Tell yourself why studying is important. This is different for each person. Maybe you care about getting that perfect 4.0. Maybe you really care about the subject material. Maybe you made a bet with your dad and you can’t stand losing. Whatever it is, remind yourself of why you’re working hard and tell yourself it’s worth it.