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How to focus while studying


This school year, resolve to focus on what you are learning.  Neither intelligence nor talent ensures school success. Focus, concentration and perseverance are essential.

1. Start fresh. If you are tired or stressed, you will not accomplish much. Take a nap (for 20-30 minutes), have a snack or deal with personal problems first. Learn to distinguish between what is important and what is not.

2. Avoid procrastination.  Students tend to postpone studying by busying themselves with other things. Make sure you have everything you need.  If you have to interrupt your studies often to get something, then you will not be as productive.

Are the books you need at hand? How about notes, paper, calculator? By all means, sharpen the pencil before doing mathematics exercises, but going to the bookstore to buy a plastic cover for the science book is not a wise way to spend your time, especially if your homework is due the next day.

3. Prepare a study schedule. Think about what, when and where you are going to study. Research shows that a regular time and place psychologically prepare students for learning. Choose a quiet place, with few or no distractions, and stick to a schedule as regularly as possible. Ensure that there is enough light in the study area to avoid eye strain and headaches.

If your home has too many distractions, then study in the library. Students seldom use the library for research these days, but it is still the ideal place to gather your thoughts and focus your efforts.

If studying is not going the way you want, do not shout or snap at people who make noise. Politely ask them to tone down and/or tell them you need to focus for a difficult test. If you still cannot have the peace and quiet you need (especially if you are  in the dormitory or student activity center), then go to the library.

4. Coordinate schedules with family and friends. Inform them of your study schedule and ask if they have anything planned during those times. This way you will not miss significant gatherings. Remember that family demands come first.

A study schedule also makes it easier to minimize distractions. If a friend tweets or texts you, reply to the message later. If you have already planned a study session, say from

4-8 p.m., then tell your friends not to disturb you during that time. It will be easier to stick to your resolve and to ignore their invitations to chat.

5. Minimize distractions, especially electronic ones. Turn off cell phones, computers, television, radio and other gadgets for a couple of hours. Do not check your Facebook or Twitter account. You will not be missing much if you log off for a time. Eliminating temptation is much easier than resisting it.

Research has also shown that multitasking does not work. If you try tackling many things simultaneously (typing a paper, watching television, chatting with friends), the quality of every single task is adversely affected. Be honest: If you have six or more windows open on the computer at any one time, even if they are for research purposes, how much concentration can you really devote to the paper you are writing?

6. Focus on the most complex subject first. It is not practical to study five or more subjects every day because there is simply not enough time and you do not have enough energy to do so. Choose the subject you find most difficult and concentrate on that first. You have more energy when you begin and you need more effort on the most challenging topic.

Some students find math the hardest and prefer to answer exercises while they are at their most productive. Other students find essay writing the most taxing and prefer to expend the most energy at this task. Still others instinctively shy away from memorization. But for certain subjects, this is still essential, so it would be wise to start study time by doing mnemonics or even oral memorization when you can still focus.

7. Study smart.  When going through the lesson, ask yourself: What are the most fundamental parts? Which are the most important points?  What questions may be expected? This will help you focus on the essentials (need-to-know) vis-à-vis the peripherals (good-to-know) and keeps you on track.

Underline key words and phrases. Do not be afraid to mark your books—if you are finicky, write notes on Post-it sheets and attach them to corresponding pages.

If you have no idea how to structure your study session, you will most likely go through the entire lesson over and over, again and again, in a vain effort to grasp as much as possible, all the while feeling more anxious and frustrated. Many students complain that they study for hours, only to flunk the test.  While they study hard, they do not study smart.

8. Prioritize studies over extracurricular activities. Unless you are confident you can juggle everything, do not run for the Student Council, devote hours to varsity, plan a money-making venture for your club, while loaded with 18 units a semester.

Extracurriculars are important and help make student life memorable, but academics is still top priority. You may be the most valuable player in basketball or football, but if you do not focus on your studies, you may not be able to stay in school long enough to represent it in tournaments of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.

(Next week:  More ways to focus on learning)

E-mail the author at blessbook@yahoo.com.

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Tags: column , concentration , focus , Learning , perseverance , queena n. lee-chua

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