All students, even straight- A students, sometimes experience difficulties with their ability to focus. These challenges are exacerbated when the workload is too high, you do not have enough time in the day or you just cannot understand the material as well as you need to.
A strong ability to focus on study material, which is also commonly called the ability to concentrate, is one of the most important characteristics you need. As a skill, it can be acquired.
Below are 11 straightforward and helpful techniques on how to improve your ability to focus (concentration levels) during study times:
1 – Write down key points
Try to write down key points as you read or revise your work. This not only helps you to improve your ability to focus on the material but makes you an active learner and enhances retention of information.
2 – Work with a timer
Set a timer for 30 minutes or 45 minutes at a time. While you are working on a timer, do not allow yourself to get up or do anything other than study. Imagine that there is a connection between you and a task and do not break this connection.
Try to give 100% of your effort during the “timer period”. Then take a break, exercise or have some water. Thereafter, do another study session. Studies have shown that shorter periods of high concentration study advance comprehension and retention of the material.
3 – Summarize information
Make a deal with yourself that you will summarize in your own words every paragraph that you read as you read it. This makes you a more active learner and enhances your ability to focus on your reading. This also improves retention of new information. Students think this takes too long. In reality it takes less total time. Material you summarize usually requires less revision. While you may take longer to summarize the material you will take far less time overall.
4 – Test yourself
Create tests of the main concepts and formulas as you go through the study material and promise yourself to test yourself at the end of the day or week to check how well you are doing.
One helpful technique is to divide a page vertically into 3 columns:
1 – The first column should be small, enough for one number (from 1 to 5), leave it blank. This column is designed for rating your answers.
2 – The second column will contain the concept you are testing. For example, you can write down “Net Present Value” or “Internal Rate of Return”.
3 – The third column will have a brief answer for each concept from column 2.
While testing yourself using this technique, close the 3rd column and test each concept and formula in the second column. Compare each answer with the correct answer in the third column and rate your answer from 1 to 5. Rate an answer 5 if you answered it very well, 3 if your answer needs more work and had gaps and 0 if you could not answer at all. Be tough on yourself when rating your answers.
This technique allows you to identify gaps in your knowledge and allows you to specifically attend to questions which need the most work. For example, assume at the end of the week you have only 15 minutes available to test yourself on one subject, such as Finance.
This may not be enough time to test every question in your list, but you could go through all questions for which answers were rated between 0-2. This will allow you to attend to the biggest gaps in your knowledge.
Test yourself regularly. For example, you can briefly test yourself at the end of each week. Yes, it is difficult but you are making an investment over time so that before exams you can feel calm and prepared.
Moreover, it will improve the depth of your knowledge, retention of information and will positively contribute to your examination results.
5 – Water, sleep and exercise
Drinking clean water, getting good sleep and ensuring regular exercise will improve your ability to focus. Drink a lot of clean water. You need at least 5 to 8 glasses.
You also need to sleep at least 6-7 hours. Ideally you need 8 hours of sleep. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time. Try not to work after 12pm. This is when your body is designed to rest. Keep in mind that sleep that you may try to obtain during the day to make up for the lost sleep at night is not of the same quality as sleep that you obtain during the night.
You also need to exercise as much as you can afford. You don’t have to go to a gym. You can even run from one room to another and back for 5 minutes to get a good workout between your study sessions. Another good workout is dancing. Put on your favorite music during your study break and dance. Find an exercise which is not too time consuming, which you enjoy and which works best for you.
6 – Deep breathing
Learn to breathe deeply while you study. This will help in reducing anxiety and stress levels. This will also help you to increase mental clarity due to increased oxygen and, therefore, will improve your ability to focus.
7 – Dealing with anxiety
Anxiety can be a very bad distracter. If it is something significant, such as an unanticipated family problem (eg your husband losing his job and he is the sole bread-winner), try to find some kind of solution or find a way to make a peace about the situation.
If uncertainty is involved and there is nothing you can do to improve situation, tell yourself “I don’t know how it will work out, but I know that it all will work out great”.
Every time you worry about this major problem – repeat this phrase to yourself.
If you have many little worries that keep on surfacing, put them in a worry list. List them as they come to you and set some time for yourself to think about all of those little problems and find a solution for each. You can use “dead” time for this activity, such as when you are taking a shower or as you are walking to classes or to the store.
8 – Find a trigger word
Every time you feel your mind starts wandering, tell yourself “be in the now” or “stop”. Find a word that works for you and use it to bring your attention back to the task at hand.
9 – Switch subjects
Switch from one subject to another as soon as you feel that your ability to focus is deteriorating. This will help keep your mind alert. This is especially useful when you start studying a lot for a prolonged period of time. Effective concentration becomes more and more difficult.
10 – Take breaks
Take breaks away from your study. Do something that will involve laughing and joy. Watch a comedy, laugh with your friends and loved ones or read a funny book. Although, you may be doing enough reading at the moment, so it is better to do something other than reading.
This will give you energy and will make you feel more rested. Stay away from sad or scary movies. This is not what you need right now. You need something where you can get emotionally rested. Once you take your mind of your studies for a few minutes, it increases your ability to focus on the material.
11 – Find a study buddy
You may be able to improve your ability to focus by finding a study friend. You need someone with motivation, expectations and ambitions similar to or higher than yours. You need a positive influence. If you are a straight-A student, a student who only cares about passing will drag you down. You need someone of your own caliber or higher, if you are inspired to do even better. Than together you can discuss points, search for information to fill the gaps in your understanding and test each other.
As with any relationship in your life, try to make sure that this relationship is mutually beneficial. It is the only kind of relationship that is productive and sustainable. Keep in mind that this strategy will work well if you are an extrovert. If you are an introvert than studying alone may be a better option for you. Introverts may find it difficult to work with someone and this will negatively impact their ability to focus.
A strong ability to focus on the study material, along with mastering reading and other necessary skills for smart learning, is absolutely crucial for achieving academic success in business studies and for ensuring a superb business career . These 11 simple techniques are very effective in improving your ability to focus. Try them and choose what works best for you. Ultimately, you need to develop a bag of your own tricks that will help you succeed.
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