Staying focused can be so hard especially when you are studying something you don’t think is interesting, UGH! I’m going to teach you tricks I know work because I have had success. I’m not a genius, but I have considerable experience and success in staying focused while studying.
I graduated with a 4.0 GPA and have received numerous academic achievement awards. I’m not trying to brag. I just want to establish that I know how to focus when I study. I will teach you the methods that work best.
Best Strategies To Improve Your Focus Now
Have a study plan organized and broken into small steps.
The first secret to staying focused is to have a complete study plan so you know what you need to do every day. You need to be organized to focus better. Having a plan helps you focus better because you don’t need to worry about trying to figure out what to do next.
Make Your Plan for the Semester
This initial plan will be flexible because you will decide every day about what to study the next day and plan at the end of the week what to study the following week. The main thing is to know when things have to be completed and how much time they will take to do.
Plan Your Day
You can decide each day what to do first. Every evening, decide what tasks to do the next day. Some people prefer to do this first thing in the morning. Either way is fine. Choose the most important tasks and only work on those first.
The priorities are based on due dates in this order 1) study for tests 2) doing graded assignments 3) doing other study assignments.
When I have multiple courses I am taking at once, I usually study and do assignments for each class on the days the classes meet. As a generic example, if Monday and Wednesday are math and science class days, I attend the classes and I study math and science on those same days.
Also, I set aside time on the weekend to catch up on studies because I’m usually behind schedule.
Now I want to cover some of the learning techniques I use to focus and retain material better. These are very well established ways to study more effectively.
Use smart learning techniques to study better.
Educational researchers have tested many study techniques. They’ve found the ones that work best to focus and learn study materials.
Make questions about the material you are studying and then quiz yourself to answer the questions. It is confirmed by research as a great way to learn and remember.
Here is a search that lists many online flashcard sources if you prefer digital study cards.
Spaced or “distributed practice” is studying for a test for weeks beforehand, at spaced intervals, instead of cramming the days before.
When we almost forget something, our brains work harder to recall that information. Studying at spaced intervals allows your mind to build connections between ideas and expand the knowledge that can be recalled more easily.
To implement this method, review your study materials in spaced intervals like the schedule below:
Make a plan to study at the beginning of each quarter or semester. Set aside some time each day for studying and reviewing the material. If you do this bit by bit, your exams will be a breeze. You need to begin no later than 2 weeks before any test.
The Leitner System is a method of “Spaced Practice.” It organizes the way you study your flashcards in 5 boxes using spaced learning principles. I use a modified system because I think 5 boxes is too complicated to fool with.
Modified Leitner System with only 3 groups or boxes.
Each group (box) determines how frequently you will study each set of cards, similar to the following schedule:
Box 1: Study every day.
Box 2: Study every two days.
Box 3: Study every 5 days.
I don’t use actual boxes. Instead, I bind cards together with a rubber band and use 1 blank card to identify the group as 1, 2 or 3. You can also use the blank cards to keep track of when you studied by marking down the dates.
The image below shows how to annotate the group (1) and a study date ( 8/5). Then you can use a rubber band or clip to keep the cards together.
Cornell Note Taking Method
The video explains well how to use the Cornell Note Taking Method.
Briefly, you divide your notes page about ⅓ for a left-handed column (CUE) and ⅔ for the right-hand column (NOTES) on your page.
You also reserve about 2” at the bottom to make a brief summary of the notes on the page.
You take notes on the right-hand side while reading or from a lecture.
Then soon after you finish notetaking, you formulate questions and cues about the notes. You put these in the left-hand column.
You also summarize the notes on the bottom of the page after you finish taking notes.
You can then study later by covering the notes on the right-hand side and reading the cues or questions on the left-hand side. You recall the notes from looking at the cues and questions.
If you’re a fan of Evernote, they have a template for Cornell Note Taking.
- Evernote Sign up Free Account
- After you sign up, go to the link below and click “Use Template” in the upper right corner.
- Evernote Cornell Notes Template
- The Evernote smartphone app is also available, but a little small. It works OK on an Android tablet or iPad though.
The Feynman Technique
Richard Feynman was a Nobel-Prize-winning Physicist who was also famous for being a great teacher and explainer. The steps below are designed from his widely acclaimed study method.
Here is another explanation of the Feynman method.
This is a method of asking questions about your subject that cause you to think about it in many different ways.
Eliminate distractions by organizing your environment.
Keep your workspace clear. Only keep items in your work area that you need for the task at hand. I learned as a young manager to completely clear my desk at the end of each day before leaving work. I put away everything except an organized folder with a list of tasks that I left on the desk. I would always start the next day with a nice clean workspace and my list of tasks and plans.
Reduce noise distractions. If you are bothered by sounds, use noise-cancelling headphones when you need to. Or, you could use a white noise device. White noise provides a consistent, calming sound to focus on while you work.
Turn off notifications for emails, social media and news. Save checking your messages and emails for break times or you can schedule time for responding to messages.
Dedicate time to study and use time management tools.
Here is an article with fantastic techniques for managing your time wisely.
Have a buddy or group to help you stay accountable.
A buddy or group is a good way to stay accountable for your study plans.
Use motivational techniques to stay focused on your study goals.
I call this the Isaac Newton momentum trick. Once you get in motion you tend to remain in motion.
5 Minute Trick
A variation of the momentum trick is the 5-minute trick. Here, you commit to studying for 5 minutes.
The Seinfeld calendar is a way for you to see when you’re not following your study plans. It’s easier to get off track if you’re not paying attention.
Conclusion: How to Stay Focused While Studying
You don’t have to use every strategy covered here. I achieved success using mainly flash cards to quiz myself to prepare for tests. At the same time, I haven’t needed a buddy to help me stay accountable.
These methods have all been confirmed to improve study focus and academic performance. So, choose the ones that fit your personal style and go.
Best wishes in your efforts to focus while studying.
Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology – John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, Daniel T. Willingham, 2013. (2020). Psychological Science In The Public Interest. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1529100612453266 https://pcl.sitehost.iu.edu/rgoldsto/courses/dunloskyimprovinglearning.pdf
Weinstein, C. (1982). Training students to use elaboration learning strategies. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 7(4), 301-311. doi: 10.1016/0361-476x(82)90013-3 https://doi.org/10.1016/0361-476X(82)90013-3
Levin, J. (1988). Elaboration-based learning strategies: Powerful theory = powerful application. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 13(3), 191-205. doi: 10.1016/0361-476x(88)90020-3 https://doi.org/10.1016/0361-476X(88)90020-3