College Study Skills – How to Concentrate

QUESTION:

I tend to drift off a lot when I study and end up wasting a lot of time. How can I maintain my concentration when I study?

ANSWER:

This is a huge problem for students … And, for good reason!

There is just too much to keep track of and remember when you're in college (papers, exams, quizzes, events, your personal life, that birthday card for your mom, feeding the dog, remember to take your vitamins and protein shake, etc). It all boils down to clutter. If your mind is cluttered, you are not going to have an easy time focusing much on anything – even if it happens to be something you like!

So, the real problem is clutter and the solution involves putting all the noise in your head aside temporarily while you focus on your task.

Lets say you have a reading to do for tomorrow's psychology lecture. You know that it's a longer reading (compared to some of the others you've done) and so you estimate that you'll need about an hour. Now, you reason, if you could focus intensely, you'd only need 30 minutes.

So, how can you accomplish more in less time?

Here's a quick method to apply to get you out of your jam:

  • Go to your study place. It must be quiet and free of distractions (food courts, libraries sometimes, near your classes, etc)
  • Go alone. Friends / Buddies are a guaranteed distraction
  • Get settled, open you books, etc.
  • Now, take a moment to de-clutter … Whatever's on your mind – put everything side for the next 30 minutes that you've determined you need. Nothing else should matter during this time except your reading . Nothing!
  • Skim the reading so you know what to expect. Spend a minute or two doing this. Observing the headings can help to size up what you're about to read.
  • Now, start reading quickly (as fast as you can go without sacrificing your comprehension of the material). With enough practice, you'll be able to read progressively faster (while maintaining comprehension) if you force yourself to move your quickest possible each time you sit down to do a reading
  • If thoughts interrupt you …. STOP, take a moment to RE-FOCUS, and start again
  • If you maintain this focus, you will find it easier to get through your task without interruption

Now, this is a very effective method to help you concentrate and you can start using it immediately to start seeing results. Often, however, students still find it hard to focus (no matter how hard they try to de-clutter). If you're having problems getting past the noise in your head, there are other areas you can work on to help you when it comes down to studying and retaining the material, in particular:

  • time management
  • good lecture note-taking skills
  • knowing how to figure out what the professor really wants you to know
  • establishing good study skills & habits

These topics are important because they really help you in the long run from having to become overly cluttered in the first place. If you can master these areas, you'll find that you will not be as 'cluttered' as you are now, so much so, that you'll be able to find time to do things other than study!

Remember, the top 5% students (the A-students) – they work a lot less harder than you think. It's all about strategies and techniques.

Try my method above first and see how that goes. If it does not work, start looking for help in the areas I've suggested above.