We've all been there: Sitting at a desk or table studying intently, and then…Wham! Thoughts from all over the place invade our brains and we get distracted. If it's not our thoughts, it's our roommates. Or neighbors. Or kids.
These study intruders take over, causing us to lose focus. And focus, friends, is what you need to be able to study for any of the big tests, from the LSAT and MCAT to the SAT and ACT to just your average test in school.
So how do you focus? These five steps will show you how to regain focus if you get distracted, and how to set yourself up for focus success before your study session ever begins.
Already lost your focus? Check out 5 ways to get back on track if your focus is already gone.
Get Rid of Obvious Distractions
It's not smart to study with your cell phone on, even if it's set to vibrate. As soon as you get a text, you're going to look. You're human! You can't focus on studying if you're chatting with someone else, too. So the cell phone is off limits.
Turn off the home phone, too, along with the computer (unless you're prepping on it) and any music with vocals. Study music should be lyric-free! Post a sign on your door for people to stay away. If you have kids, find a babysitter for an hour. If you have roommates, head out of the house to the least popular spot in the library. For that one study session, make yourself inaccessible to people and other external study distractions, so you don't lose focus when someone wants to chat.
Anticipate Your Physical Needs
If you're studying intently, you're going to get thirsty. Grab a beverage before you open the book. You may even need a power snack while you're working, so grab some brain food, too. Use the bathroom, put on comfortable clothes (but not cozy), set the air/heat to best suit you. If you anticipate your physical needs before you start studying, you'll be less likely to need to get out of your seat and lose the focus you worked hard to gain.
Choose an Appropriate Time
If you're a morning person, choose the a.m. for your study session; if you're a night owl, choose the evening. You know yourself better than anyone else, so choose the time when you're at the height of your brain power and the least tired. It'll be much more difficult to focus if you're battling fatigue, too.
Answer Your Internal Questions
Sometimes the distractions aren't coming from the external – they're invading from within! We've all sat down to study and had worries and other internal distractions invade our brains. "When is she going to call me? When am I going to get a raise?"
When these distracting questions invade, accept them, then push them aside with a logical answer:
- "When am I going to get a raise?" Answer: "I don't know the answer to that question right now, so I'm going to focus on what I do know right now."
- "When is she going to call me?" Answer: "Who knows? Who cares. I need to learn this material to get the best score I can right now. I will think about her call only after I've learned this."
It seems silly, but if you answer your own internal questions, you'll focus your mind back where you want it to go. If necessary, write the the worry down, solve it in a simplistic manner and move on.
Some people are just antsy. They need to be doing something, and their bodies don't make the connection that they are doing something during studying. Sound familiar? If you're one of these kinesthetic learners, get out a few things to anticipate an "ants in your pants" issue: a pen, a rubber band, and a ball.
- Pen: Underline words when you read. Cross off incorrect answers when you're taking a practice test. Moving just your hand may be enough to shake off the jitters. If it's not...
- Rubber band. Stretch it. Wrap it around your pen. Play with the rubber band while you're answering questions. Still feeling jumpy?
- Ball. Read a question sitting down, and then stand and bounce the ball against the floor as you think of an answer. Still can't focus?
- Jump. Read a question sitting down, then stand and do ten jumping jacks. Sit back down and answer the question.
Get Rid of the Negativity
It's impossible to focus on studying if you have all sorts of negative ideas about studying. If you're one of those people who say, "I hate studying!" or "I'm too upset/tired/sick/whatever to study, then you must learn how to flip those negative statements into positive ones, so you don't automatically shut down when you open up your notes. It's amazing how quickly studying can become an awful burden with just a poor frame of mind. Here are the top three negative statements people make about studying, and a quick, easy way to fix each one of them.
- Don't be afraid to ask for a little quiet if you're studying in a public place. Here are four polite ways to get people to pipe down when you're trying to study.
- Use a good pen like the Pilot Dr. Grip. Sometimes a leaky or uncomfortable pen can undermine your study session.
- Wear comfortable, not cozy clothes. Your mind will associate relaxing with sweatpants or pj's. Choose something you'd wear to school or a movie.
- Tell yourself something positive in case you get distracted despite following the steps above: "I know I lost focus, but I'm going to try again and make sure I'm successful this time." Positive encouragement goes a long way even if it's coming from you.
- Drink your favorite beverage while studying as a reward for your ability to stay focused. Keep it non-alcoholic!
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