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Study Effectively

Do you have trouble staying focused?

Do you sometimes realize that your mind is wandering only 10 or 15 minutes after sitting down to work? Do you often read the same page repeatedly without remembering any of it? Try these strategies to monitor and improve your concentration.

Strategy #1: Take breaks

If your mind begins to wander after a short time:

  • Stop and take a 5-minute break
  • Get up and stretch
  • Jog on the spot to get your blood flowing
  • Throw some cold water on your face
  • Get a breath of fresh air, and go back to work.  

Work with your concentration span at the time, however short it is.

Strategy #2: Plan your work to maximize concentration

  • If you have a long stretch of time to study, alternate studying for different courses.  
    • Example: if you have three hours to study, spend one hour on each of three different subjects.
  •  If possible, alternate the type of studying that you’re doing.  
    • Example: spend one hour reading, and the next hour doing math problems.
  • Do your most difficult tasks during your best time of day, taking into consideration your body's natural highs and lows such as:  
    • Energy level
    • Concentration ability
    • Motivation
  • Save shopping, housework or fitness activities for late in the afternoon or evening if, like many students, that's when you're normally tired.

Strategy #3: Use study methods that enhance concentration

Absorbing large amounts of information for long stretches of time can be difficult.  Try some of these effective study strategies to help maintain your concentration:

  • Verbalize information instead of reading silently to increase sensory input to the brain. Use the 3R's: Read, Write, Recite the material.
  • Teach the course material to someone else; this helps you learn it too.
  • Use mnemonics to memorize: acronyms, acrostics, analogies, key words.
  • Use flashcards to memorize definitions, vocabulary, facts, formulae, etc.  Carry them with you to study in short, spare moments, such as while waiting in line or riding the bus.
  • When reading a textbook, use the SQ4R method to help you keep focused and improve your retention of information.
  • Use concept maps or matrix charts to visualize and organize information.
  • Make up possible test questions and practise answering them.
  • If your course offers them, try SLG sessions to review and discuss course content with other students and an SLG leader.

Strategy #4: Understand the health-concentration connection

  • Irregular sleep, exercise, and eating patterns can be the unsuspected cause of concentration difficulties. Find a regimen that works for you and stick to it to help maintain your brain at its physiological peak. 
  • Knowing how medications might affect your concentration is also important. Visit Student Wellness if you have a concern about this.
  • If you’re experiencing a mental health issue that is impacting your academic work, the University has a wide range of services to help. The Mental Well-being website is a good place to start or check out the list of Mental Health Resources from Counselling Services. 

Strategy #5: Deal with physical comfort

  • Avoid a distracting injury like carpal tunnel syndrome by placing your keyboard low enough that you don't need to raise your forearms to reach it. Try a keyboard tray.
  • Your chair should be comfortable with good back support, but not so comfortable that it encourages napping.
  • Proper lighting is essential to minimize eye strain and fatigue:
    • Ambient light (general room lighting like the ceiling fixture)
    • And task lighting ‐ a good desk lamp for reading and writing.
  • It's particularly hard on your eyes if you work in a dark room with only a desk light or the computer on.
  • The temperature should be warm enough that your hands and feet don't get cold, but not so warm that the room gets stuffy and you get sleepy.
    • Keep a supply of shorts and tshirts at school through the winter to wear when working in your residence room if it get too warm

Strategy #6: Deal with distracting thoughts

  • Reduce the amount of time your mind spends wandering by designating a time to think about a problem.  
  • When you notice that you're not concentrating , say to yourself, "I'll think about that at 4 o'clock."  Then, at 4 o'clock or whatever time you choose, sit down and think through whatever is bothering you.
  • See 7 Strategies to Manage Distractions for more strategies to minimize distractions while studying.

Strategy #7: Refocus with the checkmark technique

  • Keep a piece of paper beside you as you're studying. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, put a checkmark on the paper and get back to work.
  • Making the checkmark is a simple way to help you refocus on your task.
  • Reviewing the checkmarks can help you determine the time of day when you concentrate the best and show you whether your concentration is improving.

Resources to help with studying

Video: Schedule yourself: 6 Easy Steps to Conquer Your CalendarGuide: Succeed at ExamsGuide: Control Procrastination

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