Who doesn’t know the feeling of starting a task, starting off well, and then either gradually running out of steam as time ticks on, or just completely hitting a wall at some point.
When you’re studying or preparing for exams, you’re naturally going to be spending a lot of time at your desk (or at least, you should be…), and so it’s almost inevitable that you will struggle to stay focused 100% of the time.
Of course there is nothing wrong with needing to take breaks when you’re studying (particularly during intense exam study). In fact, you absolutely SHOULD take breaks, because this will help to keep you ‘fresh’ (but more on this soon). BUT — because you have a lot to cover in a finite amount of time when you’re studying, you obviously want to be able to smash out decent-sized study sessions without zoning out or hitting a wall every 5 minutes.
Nothing sucks motivation like struggling to maintain focus.
So, what can be done to help you stay focused while you’re studying long enough to kick those study goals?! Here are our top 4 tips for maintaining focus while studying:
1. Study in chunks
The prospect of studying for one hour is a lot more palatable than the prospect of sitting at your desk for an entire day.
Of course — when you’re studying for exams in particular, there are going to be many long days spent at your desk. Preparing for exams is a marathon not a sprint. But you don’t need to think about that right now. All you need to worry about is the hour of study right in front of you. You can study for an hour.
What your ideal ‘chunk’ length of time is — is up to you.
We’ve mentioned hour-long chunks as a guide. You might be able to focus for three hours productively without a break. You might be more productive when you study for half an hour followed by a 5 minute break.
As always, the specifics of how you go about studying are up to you. Remember, it’s YOUR Study Formula that matters, not anyone else’s.
2. Set yourself ONE goal for that chunk
Students often set themselves up to fail when they sit down to study without a goal.
Everyone needs a study plan. Not just in the big picture sense, but every time you sit down to study.
You should be able to focus MUCH more easily and effectively if you have ONE thing to focus on and work towards during a chunk of study time.
Your goals for a chunk of study time might include things like:
- Drawing your own diagram or flow-chart of the process of cellular respiration
- Solving 20 math problems of the same kind (as we’ve discussed previously, and as explained in the Yellow Exam Pack, repetition is the key to success in math
- Making an Essay Plan for the book or film you are studying in English class (and during your next chunk of study time, you could write the first paragraph of the practice essay)
- Making some flash cards
- Completing a particular homework task for that night
- Reading the instructions for an assignment you were given today in class
- During exam study, attempting a past exam to see where you’re at
Setting one goal to achieve during one ‘chunk’ of study time is all about setting an achievable task. It’s about having a clear objective.
Your exam study will ultimately be made up of hundreds of these chunks of study time, which as a whole sounds overwhelming, but when you focus your mind on just ONE task for each chunk of study time, well that’s something that’s not overwhelming and completely achievable, and — extremely productive.
3. If you’re going nowhere — stop
I know this article is all about maintaining focus, so it might seem a bit weird that I’m telling you to stop studying when you’re not being productive.
But sometimes, persevering through a study session when you’re progressing as quickly as a snail through hummus, can really hurt your chances of achieving and maintaining focus later on.
Imagine you have been sitting at your desk for two hours, and all you have managed to achieve in that time is to write half a page of study notes. This would be incredibly demoralizing. And once you become demoralized and frustrated, your chances of picking up focus again are pretty slim.
It might be much better for you, if you’ve tried to focus for say, 15 minutes, but haven’t gotten anywhere, to step back from your desk and have a break for a little bit, and come back to your desk when you’re feeling refreshed and ready to tackle things again.
This way, you’ve only lost 15 minutes of time, rather than three hours.
In saying that, sometimes persevering works. I don’t want you to think it’s best to give up on study when you haven’t achieved focus in the first 5 minutes. Sometimes it does take a little while to get into a study session.
I’m saying that you will probably be better off taking a study break when you’ve really tried to focus, but it’s just not happening.
4. Make sure you’re study space is working for you
The environment in which we study matters.
This isn’t the same thing as your mom or dad telling you to tidy your room.
This is about studying in a place that facilitates focus and productivity, and space is an important contributor to that.
I’m not going to say that your study space needs to be clean and tidy and that everything on your desk needs to be placed at right angles.
What I AM saying, is that you need to figure out and create a study space that works for YOU.
For some of you, this might mean lots of clean space and your pencil case arranged at a right angle to your ruler.
For others of you, this might mean tonnes of color and diagrams and study notes and flash cards everywhere.
Whatever helps YOU get in the zone and maintain focus is what you need to create.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to maintain focus. We all suffer from it, and it’s something that you WILL experience at some point during your exam study. With so many hours of study to get through, it is simply unrealistic to hope that you’ll be able to maintain focus 100% of the time. You are not a robot.
The key (just like with procrastination) is to MINIMIZE how much time we waste losing focus.
Give yourself a bit of time, work on building better habits, and with time, you will find that it is easier to maintain focus for longer periods of time.