MOST STUDENTS report dissatisfaction with their ability to concentrate. They may have trouble getting down to work in the first place or feel that they never work as efficiently as they would like to. While it is impossible to concentrate 100 percent of the time, it is possible to minimise external distractions and begin to work on internal ones.
Three weeks ago, after my article on note taking in class was published, several students wrote to me requesting for an article on improving concentration. I believe that students who recover from academic difficulties and go on to succeed in university often define their ability to turn things around in terms of MOTIVATION: “You must want to be here”.
Strategies for dealing with difficulties in motivation range from a simple goal setting exercise to a detailed self-appraisal.
Try establishing a regular routine of eating, sleeping and exercise. This is because the ability to concentrate depends on adequate sleep, decent nutrition, and the increase in well-being that come with exercise. Students who maintain all these three generally achieve higher marks.
It is also important to bring interest in the material and a sense of purpose to the task. Why? Because human beings are bored by what is not relevant to them. Therefore, you may need to create relevance—by talking to others or by relating the material to what interests you. In addition, it helps to always sit down to work with a clearly defined purpose and task.
Try writing a WORRY BOOK if frequent worrying undermines you. This can be of great help because worrying deals with issues of the past or future, and studying requires that you be clearly focused on the present. Writing your worries down initially helps to diminish them somewhat; setting aside time and problem solving around what you have written helps further. A good way to start is by writing a letter to yourself each day.
Some important considerations
1. Set aside a place for study and study only.
A. Find a specific place (or places) that you can use for studying (for example, the library, vacant classrooms, quiet areas in the school/college, bedroom at home, etc.)
B. Make a place specific to studying. You are trying to build a habit of studying when you are in this place. So, don’t use your study space for social conversations, writing letters, daydreaming, etc.
C. Ensure that your study area has the following:
1 good lighting
2 good ventilation
3 a comfortable chair, but not too comfortable
4 a desk large enough to spread out your materials
D. Ensure that your study area does not have the following:
1 a distracting view of other activities that you want to be involved in
2 a telephone or mobile
3 a loud stereo
4 a TV
5 a roommate, friend, brother or sister who wants to talk a lot
6 a refrigerator stocked with goodies
2. Divide your work into small, short-range goals.
A. Don’t set a goal as vague and large as ... “I am going to spend all day Saturday studying!” You will only set yourself up for failure and discouragement.
B. Take the time block that you have scheduled for study and set a reachable study goal. (for example: finish reading 3 sections of chapter seven, or complete one math problem, or write the rough draft of the introduction to an English paper, etc.)
C. Set your goal when you sit down to study but before you begin to work.
Set a goal that you can reach. You may, in fact, do more than your goal but set a reasonable goal even if it seems too easy. Of course, don’t forget to pat your back when you achieve these goals.
(The author is a psychologist and a professor of psychology at BSSS. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)