Maryann Aita, Writer and Expert Tutor
I've worked as a study skills tutor for dozens of students and all of the strategies that Michael and David mentioned are great. Every student is different, of course, so you have to find what works for you, but some tips that my students have found helpful are:
1. Use a Timer. Getting a digital timer (one that doesn't buzz while it counts down) can be great to help you focus and get better at knowing how long it takes to get your work done. You can set it for increments of 15, 20, or 30 minutes.
After you set it, put it aside so you aren't looking at the time go down while you work. Knowing you have a time limit, though, will help you to stay focused for just that time limit.
After each increment, you can take a 2 - 5 minutes break to stretch, get some water, a snack etc. Just don't start doing anything like playing a video game or watching TV because it's hard to do those things for only a couple of minutes.
2. Make a Study Space. If you have a desk in your bedroom or a kitchen table where you always study, make that desk or table your exclusive study space and study there every time you study. If you don't have any room in your house, you could designate a coffee shop or library for studying. When you study in the same place, your body starts to learn that this is where you study and you'll be more "in the zone" when you sit there. Be sure to avoid studying on your bed because that's already the space where you sleep. It'll be hard to stay awake.
3. Reward Yourself. I had a friend who would lay out a row of gummy bears on her desk and eat one after she finished taking notes on a page of her textbook. Even if it's not candy, make sure to give yourself something small for each goal you set. Like Michael said, set small and specific goals. Rewarding yourself after every page your read of a science textbook or after every chapter you finish of a novel, for instance, is a great way to stay motivated.
4. Stay Active. David has an excellent point about studying actively and writing things down, drawing pictures, reading aloud etc. You can also:
- Use color coding or make a "game" with yourself about what you're studying.
- Write your own practice quiz and try to ace it.
- Stay physically active, too. Get up and walk around every half hour or do a jumping jack. Sitting for long periods of time can be tiring (even though it doesn't seem like it) .
David H. Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD
General Guidelines That Help Improve Concentration
- Remove distractions or yourself from distractions. Loud music? Friends who keep talking to you? Text messages and social media?
- Find a type of music that soothes your mind. Some people like studying to rock music!
- Get enough sleep! You can’t remember things if you don’t sleep.
- Go to a place that is conducive to studying, such as the library.
- Take frequent breaks to get your blood circulating and to rest your mind.
Make your studying more efficient by practicing “active studying.” Active studying utilizes visual learning, learning by repetition, auditory learning (hearing yourself or someone), and motor memory (learning by doing or remembering the feel of the book at certain moments; or your emotions as you wrote something down).
- Take notes as you read.
- Underline and annotate the margins with your thoughts. Interact with the material. Do you agree? Disagree? What would be the alternative perspective?
- Write short summaries of 3 key points of each chapter.
- Do practice problems.
- Write your own practice problems.
- Make a cheat sheet of core equations or concepts.
- Create mini-lesson that you can teach to someone else.
- Review your notes daily or frequently, even if it’s just 20 minutes of review.
Michael Schoch, Answers questions on Noodle
You may want to check out some of the advice and articles available on Noodle's study tips topic page.
There are many sites and articles devoted to concentration and studying, but some common suggestions are to prioritize your tasks, break your work into manageable segments, and find a quiet and suitable work space.
An idea I've found helpful is to keep your work goals very specific but also realistic. For example, don't plan to simply study everyday, but instead plan to study every day for two hours after breakfast. Since you know when and for how long you will be studying, it becomes a little bit harder to procrastinate.
Another strategy is to divide your day into work segments and reward segments. Always make sure that the reward comes after the work. For example, you can plan to work for an hour, then reward yourself with something simple like coffee or a stretch break. If you finish an entire project or essay you can reward yourself with something a little more exciting. If you place a small reward at the end of every work period, you will start to positively associate your work with a feeling of accomplishment.
Of course, no study tip or strategy is perfect and procrastination can always slip up on you. When all else fails, go back to the basics and make sure that you're well hydrated, fed and at least somewhat rested.
I hope that helps. Good luck in your studies!