How to improve your concentration

Many students complain that they just can’t concentrate, and that minds race from one thing to another and their thoughts are all over the place - except on their studies. 

But almost everyone has the ability to concentrate. Think of a time when you were totally engrossed in something you really enjoyed, for example a movie, a book, a game of rugby or netball. The trick is to use the right strategies to unlock your natural ability to concentrate and apply these to your studies. If, however, you try the strategies below and still struggle to concentrate, contact the Library and Learning Centre; we may be able to provide additional support.

Getting started

  • Your choice of study space can influence your level of concentration. Choose a study space with good lighting and ventilation, which is a tidy, organised and pleasant place to work. This will help reduce distraction.
  • Leave your cell phone outside or turn it off.
  • If you like music that’s okay, just ensure it is not a distraction.
  • Draw up a study timetable that takes into account your energy levels at different times of the day, and stick to it.
  • Divide your work into logical sections that have a beginning and an end. Our brains are holistic, so you’ll find it easier to work on something that forms a whole, rather than something that's left hanging midway.

Make a plan

  • Draw up a study timetable that takes into account your energy levels at different times of the day, and stick to it.
  • Divide your work into logical sections that have a beginning and an end. Our brains are holistic, so you’ll find it easier to work on something that forms a whole, rather than something that's left hanging midway.

Set goals for each study session

  • Before you begin studying, take a few minutes to think about what you’ll achieve.
  • Write down your goals for the study period. For example: ‘Summarise pages 40-65’ or ‘Complete the outline of Assignment 1’.
  • Set yourself a time limit before you start. For example: 'I’ll summarise Chapter 2 in 40 minutes'. By doing this, you're setting yourself a goal and your subconscious mind will start working on completing the task in the time available.

Take breaks

Research has shown that people:

  • Remember best when they study for shorter periods then recap and consolidate what they learned, as opposed to studying for longer periods.
  • Learn better at the beginning and end of a study period.

So, plan to study for about 30-45 minutes, review what you have learnt, then take a five to 10 minute break.

Build in variety

  • Change the subject or study strategy every few hours. This will lessen the chance of your becoming bored.
  • Use your study break for exercise (or perhaps housework). This changes the pace and helps to get rid of extra adrenaline.
  • Alternate reading with more active learning exercises. For example: mind mapping or writing model answers.

Just say 'Stop'

Every time you notice your thoughts wandering, tell yourself to 'stop'. Then consciously bring your thoughts back to your studies. Initially, you might have to do this many times each study session, but with practice you'll find you are able to focus for longer periods.

If you find it almost impossible to re-focus try taking a break, switching to another subject or topic, or using a different study strategy.

Schedule worry time

Allow yourself time to worry but decide beforehand when and for how long you’re going to worry. Then, when something distracts you while you're studying, or if you start to feel anxious about something during the day, write your thoughts down and set them aside, telling yourself you’ll deal with them during your worry time. 

Learn actively

To help you concentrate and remember, learn actively. Active learners do something with what they have learnt, this may include:

  • Putting what they learned into their own words.
  • Comparing what they are learning with what they already know.
  • Linking new facts to what they already know.
  • Applying what they are learning to their own situation, and
  • Using the new information.

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