Focus! Read 11 tips to help you concentrate

Students taking a test at the University of Vi...

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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.

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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.

Exam preparation done the right way

Below are some very useful techniques to help you during your exam preparation:

From the core to filling in the gaps


It is always easier to continue with the study module if you already know some of the information. So you have to start from something. It’s okay not to know everything, just build a starting point and work your way out from that point.

Start from learning the most important parts of the study material first. As your body of knowledge grows, continue filling in the gaps. In other words, continue to cover material which is still not clear to you.

One great method to use is possible if you have access to past exam papers. In such cases, start by studying each part that was tested in prior years. As you do that, you will cover most of the critical aspects. Than, cover the gaps in your knowledge.

For too many students exam preparation is an unstructured process. Start by focusing on the main idea first and build your knowledge from there.

Channel your mind chatter


We all have a mind chatter. We are constantly thinking about various things. The majority of such thoughts are useless. During exam preparation it is important to control your mind chatter and to channel it into thinking about your subjects and linking the dots in your study material. Every time your mind chatter resumes, it is taking precious time away from your exam preparation.

Find the ways to channel your mind chatter in a way that is beneficial to your exam preparation. For example, when you doing something that keeps your mind unoccupied and useless mind chatter resumes, start thinking about your material.

Ask yourself which parts of the material are the most important and why. Than ask yourself questions about how different parts of material are connected. Ask yourself what do you understand clearly and what are the biggest gaps in your knowledge. You need to make subjects that you are working on the focus of your mind chatter. This way you take a lemon and make a lemonade out of it.

Give 100% of your effort


When you study, give it 100% of your effort. Read attentively, be focused and use every second you have to do something to improve your knowledge about the subject.

When you study, focus 100% on the task at hand. Be an active learner and not a passive learner. Do something with the material. Be creative. For example, write information down or explain it to yourself in your own words.

Do not allow yourself to become lazy and simply read the material without paying much attention to what you are reading. In this way you are just cheating yourself, no one else. It is your time, your life. As Steve Jobs once said, “you could be doing anything else with your life right now but you have chosen to do this, so give it 100% of your effort… Life is brief and then you die, so you have to be damn good.”

Be self-disciplined


At all times, and especially during exam preparation, you need to be strict with yourself. Demand from yourself to be efficient with the time you have. Do not allow yourself to give in to laziness and weaknesses.

The more you do it – the harder it is to fight giving in. The less you allow yourself to be ineffective and lazy – the easier it is to fight it. As Zig Ziglar likes to say, “If you are hard on yourself, then life will be infinitely easier on you”.

Internalize information


Motivate yourself to absorb and internalize information from each subject you study. It must become part of who you are and what you care about, almost to the point of short-term obsession.

You need to sink into it and build a relationship with it. You need to know it to the point that you can confidently teach someone the knowledge covered in the study material. Only then are you be really prepared.

These points are not a complete list of everything you could do in your exam preparation, but it will put you on the right track to success. Remember, the marks you get will stay on your record for the rest of your life and will likely significantly influence your career  journey.

You are at “war”


If you want your exam preparation to result in A or A + results, you have to take drastic measures. The only exception to this advice applies to people with out of the ordinary intelligence who can gain such results without doing significant amount of work.

To get really high marks, you need to disconnect yourself from all the distraction during exam preparation. Work, work and work, day and night. Your exam material needs to be what you think about when you wake up and when you go to sleep, when you eat and when you taking a shower. And the closer it is to the examination date – the more you need to operate in this manner. Exam preparation must engulf your life.

If you are a straight A student, it sets you apart from other students who are less diligent and driven. When all of you will be applying for the same jobs, who do you think will have a huge advantage over whom? Of course you! Therefore, the first step you need to take to help ensure that you have a great career is to finish your degree as best as you possibly can.

It you already have a degree with average results then consider continuing your education part-time and finish the next level exceptionally well. Academic excellence will always set you apart. It is really hard, especially while working full-time, but it definitely worth it if you want to have a great future.

Good luck with your exam preparation. Give it your 100% and, as Zig Ziglar likes to say, he “will see you at the top”.